Athena Review  Vol.1, No.1

Angkor, Cambodia

a major ceremonial center of the ancient Khmer culture

One of the most effective imaging sources devised by the US Space Agency (NASA/ JPL) is the Spaceborne Imaging Radar - C/X band Synthetic Aperture Radar method (SIR-C/X-SAR).  Using three microwave wavelengths, L-band (24 cm), C-band (6 cm) and X-band (3 cm), detailed observations may be obtained at any time, regardless of weather or sunlight conditions.

SIR-C  images yield new visual data on features ranging from volcanoes and rivers to large archaeological sites. Available via Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) internet links, these images can be used by anyone interested in earth sciences, mapping, and archaeology.

This SIR-C image, taken from the space shuttle Endeavor on September 30, 1994, shows the area around the huge ceremonial complex and city of Angkor, Cambodia (lat. 13.43 north; long. 103.9 east). The picture, covering a total area of  55 kilometers by 85 kilometers (34 miles by 53 miles), is revealing new settement data on this major Khmer site which once held more than 60 temples and a million residents, dating between the 9th and 15th centuries AD. (NASA-JPL P-45156 )


As the map shows, the city was organized around several vast reservoirs (large dark rectangles, numbered 3, 4, and 6), interconnected by canals used for transportation and irrigationthroughout the entire central zone. The main temple complexes, including Angkor Wat (2),  the larger Angkor Thom (1),  and Preah Khan (5) have been studied for many years. Most of the region is covered by rainforest, making visual air surveys difficult. Aided by the new radar satellite imagery, however, the areas north of Angkor Thom are now yielding up secrets of previously unknown structures and canals. The SIR-C data are being used by archaeologists at the World Monuments Fund and the Royal Angkor Foundation to trace the city's evolution over 800 years , and to reconstruct the vast system of canals and reservoirs.



At right, east of the central zone, are other outlying temple groups.  One, visible as a bright rectangle surrounded by a dark reservoir (7 on detail), contained the temple complex named Chau Srei Vibol.

Of the many remarkable temple complexes at Angkor, those of Angkor Thom (1)  may be singled out as some of the most impressive religious structures ever made. Looming high over the tropical rainforest, the Bayon  temple group of the early 13th century AD includes massive towers with heads of the  Buddhist deity Bodhissatva. Bayon was erected by the last of the great Khmer kings, Jayavarman VII, who ruled from 1181-1219 AD after Angkor had been invaded and sacked by a rival kingdom, the Chams.  The court of Jayavarman VII in the rebuilt city included a widespread bureaucracy, and monasteries containing thousands of priests and officials. Many of the other large temple groups throughout Angkor were also rebuilt by Jayavarman, including Ta Proem (completed in 1186), and Preah Khan (completed in 1191).


for abbreviated text and thumbnail images of Angkor, press here.

for a large (396 k bytes) color SIR-C image of Angkor, press here.

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