The Hidden Landscapes of the Cambodian Early Modern Period (c. 1400-1800): A Landscape-Scale Geophysical Exploration

Author: Belinda Duke

Duke, Belinda, 2021 The Hidden Landscapes of the Cambodian Early Modern Period (c. 1400-1800): A Landscape-Scale Geophysical Exploration, Flinders University, College of Humanities, Arts and Social Sciences

Terms of Use: This electronic version is (or will be) made publicly available by Flinders University in accordance with its open access policy for student theses. Copyright in this thesis remains with the author. You may use this material for uses permitted under the Copyright Act 1968. If you are the owner of any included third party copyright material and/or you believe that any material has been made available without permission of the copyright owner please contact with the details.


This research investigated three Early Modern (c. 1400–1800 CE) sites at Srei Santhor, Longvek and Oudong, in central Cambodia through a landscape-scale multimethod remote sensing and geophysical approach. The ephemeral nature of the Early Modern material culture – in addition to contemporary (c. 1900–current) urban and industrial expansion – has resulted in the Early Modern landscape being largely hidden in the subsurface. The Early Modern period is chronologically situated between the Angkor period (c.800–1400 CE) and the advent of modern Cambodia (c.1800–1900 CE). Evidence of this period is limited to historians’ interpretations of primary documents, such as the Royal Cambodian Chronicles, with recent archaeological investigation providing new avenues for investigation. As there is partial comprehension of the specific material characteristics of the Early Modern landscape, an alternative approach was required. The methodological approach was taken to investigate the hidden landscape remains of Early Modern capital cities to consider how the result may augment the current understanding of this period of Cambodian history. This data was combined with historical information and archaeological excavation data to consider how the hidden landscape may broaden current research, which often views the Early Modern period as one of decline.

The geophysical datasets expanded our understanding of occupation at the Early Modern sites, by detecting potential additional settlement sites which were identified through a spatial analysis of the rice field configurations. In addition to this, magnetometry identified large sections of culturally modified sediment which suggest areas of occupation are hidden under the contemporary rice fields. The analysis of the rice fields and large landscape features at Longvek – in light of historical analysis of primary texts such as government codes and tax reforms – found evidence which supports current discourse around political control over the landscape, such as farming and human labour resources. The capacity to construct large-scale landscape features and have influence over rice field construction suggests a central political authority may have had control over human resources and rice production and taxation. Additional evidence was found which supports notions of continuity between the Angkor and Early Modern periods. Early Modern cultural material which appear to mimic Angkor period symbology, purpose and functionality of landscape features, suggests a level of physical adaptation was occurring. In this instance, changes which appear to be major were actually attempts at maintaining the social and political status established by the Angkorian kings. What was once understood to be a stark change in material culture, can now be viewed as a system of adaptation based on established Angkorian principles. Examining the subsurface landscapes of Early Modern Cambodia has demonstrated how the hidden physical landscapes can add to academic debate and provide new avenues for investigating historically significant archaeological sites in Southeast Asia.

Keywords: geophysics, ground-penetrating radar, magnetometry, Cambodia, archaeology, Early Modern, post-Angkor, landscape scale, landscape archaeology

Subject: Archaeology thesis

Thesis type: Doctor of Philosophy
Completed: 2021
School: College of Humanities, Arts and Social Sciences
Supervisor: Martin Polkinghorne