All is not as it has seemed in Cambodia, according to new research published in the Journal of Archaeological Science. Using aerial scanning technology that determines precise elevation points beneath even dense jungle foliage, archaeologists say they have uncovered multiple metropolises between 900 and 1,400 years old that might have made up the largest empire on the planet at the time, reports the Guardian. The findings also upend a key chapter in the history of Southeast Asia. Historians have long thought that the city of Angkor was abandoned in the 15th century amid a Siamese attack and occupation, but the research finds no evidence to suggest that a million people uprooted themselves in a mass migration, reports Cambodia Daily. Instead, it appears that the population remained and thrived, boasting complex waterway systems that emerged centuries earlier than thought.
"What we had was basically a scatter of disconnected points on the map denoting temple sites," lead archaeologist Damian Evans of Australia tells AFP. "Now it's like having a detailed street map of the entire city." He says more maps will be published in the months ahead, but his second round of scans, which were taken in 2015 after the first round in 2012, has his peers abuzz. "It is as if a bright light has been switched on to illuminate the previous dark veil that covered these great sites,” says New Zealand archaeologist Charles Higham. "It is wonderful to be alive as these new discoveries are being made." The technology, called Lidar, forms a 3D model of any stark changes in ground height. The maps illustrate just how extensively developed the area was around Angkor Wat, a UNESCO World Heritage site. (See why this underwater find isn't a lost city after all.)