The APSARA National Authority (ANA) and the University of Hawai'i are due on January 20 to complete a research excavation campaign aiming to shed light on the religious and demographic shifts in the Angkor area.

Key focuses of the campaign are the changes in local communities from the pre-Angkorian period to the middle era, and the replacement of the Angkorian temple as the core of the community with monasteries more reminiscent of the complexes now referred to as “pagodas” in Cambodia.

LiDAR data indicate that 12th century settlements northwest of Angkor Wat were demolished in the middle era, also known as the post-Angkor period.

Tin Tina, deputy director of the ANA’s Angkor International Centre of Research and Documentation, said the research project seeks to understand the underlying causes of the urban and demographic changes in the Angkor area from the 13th century onwards.

To this end, the project kicked off on November 21, with a research team initially excavating 20 pits measuring 1m by 2m around the hillocks and ponds in the temple complex, but subsequently digging 104 more to obtain more data.

Tina explained: “The data obtained from the excavations has enabled us to understand the community of people living in the capital of Angkor.

“Their lives may have been shaped by a number of major historical factors, such as conversion to Theravada Buddhism, a decline in Angkor’s central power, the capital’s move to the south [around Phnom Penh], and a brief return of the Longvek kings’ central power in the 16th century.”

Project head Heng Pipal, who holds a PhD in Archaeology from the University of Hawai'i, added that the research aimed to identify precisely where people in the area lived, as well as explore the structural dynamics of the city and the topographical changes in the environs.

It looked into the effects of religious conversion – from Brahmanism to Mahayana Buddhism and then to Theravada Buddhism in the 13th century – on residents of central Angkor city as well as the surrounding countryside.

The project also sought to provide additional insight into the age-old question of whether Angkor was truly ever “abandoned”.