Evaluating the Sustainability of an Angkor-Period Engineered Landscape at Koh Ker, Cambodia


Several studies have argued that the collapse of an unsustainable hydraulic network was a major factor in the abandonment of medieval Angkor (~9th to 15th centuries AD) as the capital of the Khmer civilisation. However, Angkor presents us with a great deal of uncertainty due to the spatial and temporal complexity of the archaeological remains. The Angkor-period city of Koh Ker, in contrast, provides the opportunity to study a medieval water management system whose structure and functioning can be discerned with relative clarity. Here we present the results of an investigation into the archaeological landscape of Koh Ker, including the use of airborne laser scanning (lidar). We argue that the system at Koh Ker was a hybrid one, combining elements of a ‘highland system’ of damming river valleys (as in Phnom Kulen) with elements of the classical ‘lowland system’ of reservoirs, canals and bunded fields (as at Angkor). We assess the strengths and weaknesses of this engineered landscape in the context of different hydrological, hydraulic, agricultural, social and demographic models; present evidence for the catastrophic failure of the system during the Angkor period; and assess the implications of these data for our understanding of the sustainability of medieval Khmer cities.

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Cite this Record

Evaluating the Sustainability of an Angkor-Period Engineered Landscape at Koh Ker, Cambodia. Sarah Klassen, Damian Evans, Terry Lustig, Barry le Plastrier, Eileen Lustig. Presented at The 80th Annual Meeting of the Society for American Archaeology, San Francisco, California. 2015 ( tDAR id: 395914)

Spatial Coverage

min long: 66.885; min lat: -8.928 ; max long: 147.568; max lat: 54.059 ;