Ground Verification: Excavations at Preah Khan of Kompong Svay
The Two Buddhist Towers Project (TBT) used the recently obtained lidar data over Preah Khan to help identify evidence of settlement and religious practice inside this important regional complex. An archaeological mission funded by the Robert H. N. Ho Family Foundation Collaborative Research Fellowships in Buddhist Studies, the TBT team seek to address where and when the temple was occupied and how different spaces were used. Initial surveys in 2015 revealed that extensive looting inside the 3rd enclosure between the late 1980s and 1990s has destroyed or disturbed much of the original evidence of occupation across the site. The CALI lidar acquisition over Preah Khan confirmed the extent of the looting pits but also revealed that the 3rd enclosure was organized into a grid layout comprising of ~120 x 120m blocks separated by causeways, canals and water ponds. This is similar to urban grids found within temples at Angkor and regional centers such as Beng Mealea. Using these new data the TBT team identified a grid block in the northwest quadrant that is largely untouched by looting activities.
Excavation at three different locations across the grid block revealed surprising amounts of information about the composition of the settlement and the activities undertaken inside it. Trenches on the western edge of the block showed the interrelationship between the water infrastructure and occupation levels including discovery of post holes, large quantities of roof tiles and the position of a laterite surface that likely served as a causeway. Two trenches excavated in the central part of the block produced substantial evidence of settlement activities. Large ceramic fragments of earthenware and stoneware vessels were found near the remains of pottery stoves and charred animal remains. In addition, the team recovered three Chinese coins. These coins were not likely used for currency but for their base metal to manufacture other objects or for other non-economic purposes.
The CALI lidar provided critical guidance for locating suitable excavation sites and will be used over the coming field seasons to reveal more information about the nature of habitation, economy and ritual within the largest Angkorian period enclosure complex.
The TBT is led by Drs. Mitch Hendrickson (University of Illinois at Chicago), Christian Fischer (University of California Los Angeles), Dominique Soutif (École française d’Extrême-Orient), Julia Estève (Mahidol University) and Cristina Castillo (University College London) in collaboration with the Ministry of Culture and Fine Arts and Phon Kaseka (Royal Academy of Cambodia).
For more information please see the recent article on our work in the Cambodia Daily.
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