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article imageAncient Doom of Angkor Wat Future of Modern Cities?

By Lenny Stoute     Aug 16, 2007 in Science
Urban sprawl, population density, traffic choked highways, unrest among the underclass, greedy government officials. Welcome to L.A., no wait, welcome to Angkor Wat, in the tenth century. And there's no place for you or your belongings.
By day, tourists prowl the ruins, oohing and ahing at the magnificent temples and palaces. By night the monkeys whoop and troop through the jungle shrouding the cold grey stones of what was once the most populous city in the world.
It's been a popular surmise that there was much more than meets the eye to Angkor Wat, the ancient Khmer capital in Cambodia. Now NASA satellites have confirmed Angor Wat is larger than thought by 1000 sq km, about the size of Los Angeles.
Also like L.A., it was a bustling city which sucked the populace and resources out of the surrounding countryside to meets its needs. Similarly, intricate irrigation systems were put in place to meet the ever-growing demands of the city.
Evidence to this effect appears in another satellite map, showing population density being one of the major reasons for the city's demise.
"The large-scale city engineered its own downfall by disrupting its local environment by expanding continuously into the surrounding forests," said Damian Evans of the University of Sydney and one of the authors of the paper and map.
The data allowed the researchers to peer through the vegetation now covering the World Heritage site.
It indicates the medieval settlement surrounding Angkor, the one-time capital of the Khmer empire which flourished between the ninth and 14th centuries, was at least three times larger than previously thought.
The team believes it could have covered 3,000 sq km (1,150 sq miles), the largest pre-industrial complex of its kind. All of this terribly vulnerable to drought and crop failure and entirely reliant on a single complex channel extending 20 to 25km out from Angkor city.
Records indicate the irrigations system was based on the premise there would always be lots of water. When the activities of the city began to affect rainfall in a negative way, impacting both the water supply and the vital rice farming industry, the citizens seemed entirely unprepared.
"We saw signs that embankments had been breached and there were obviously thrown together repairs to bridges and dams, suggesting that the system became unmanageable over time and there were less skilled workers available," Mr Evans commented.
Signs surfaced that deforestation, topsoil erosion and the increasing difficulty of feeding itself contributed to the population's sudden disappearance.
"Angkor was extensive enough, and the agricultural exploitation intensive enough, to have created a number of very serious environmental problems," he said.
In L.A., they worry about having enough water to water the lawns while the Los Angeles river ain't nothing but a cement-sided trickle and the Colorado River is beginning to show signs of strain.
The more expensive it is to irrigate a crop, the higher the cost of the produce in the marketplace and the greater the chance of a farm going under.
As all this information was gathered by US agencies, and with another hurricane season just getting started, you'd think urgent planning on limiting urban growth would've been on the agenda in that country long ago.
And you'd be so wrong.
For this is election season and nobody stakes an election on visionary issues sure to piss off a lot of the electorate.
Especially the "city fathers" and their army of bureaucrats who, Ike the lords of Angkor Wat, are entirely dependent on the amount of taxes they wring from the people.
Meanwhile in L.A., pampered lawns and avocado forests patiently drink the life from the soil as another planeload of of dweebs with stars in their eyes touches down at LAX.
More about Angkorwat, Environmental damage, Future
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