Ancient stone inscriptions tell tales of a city called Mahendraparvata. The once-mighty metropolis was one of the first capitals of the Khmer empire, which ruled in Southeast Asia between the ninth and 15th centuries. It was long believed that the ancient city was hidden beneath thick vegetation on a Cambodian mountain, not far from the temple of Angkor Wat.

Now, thanks to an incredibly detailed map, researchers can "definitively" say that the ruins, overgrown by thick vegetation on the mountain of Phnom Kulen, are in fact from that 1,000-year-old city. The ancient city was never really lost, as Cambodians have been making religious pilgrimages to the site for hundreds of years.1

  • 1. "It's always been suspected that the city of Mahendraparvata that's talked about in the inscriptions was indeed somewhere up here in the mountains," said study co-author Damian Evans, a research fellow with the French School of the Far East (EFEO) in Paris. Now, "we can say for sure: Definitely, this is the place."

Chevance, Jean-Baptiste, Damian Evans, Nina Hofer, Sakada Sakhoeun, and Ratha Chhean. “Mahendraparvata: an Early Angkor-Period Capital Defined through Airborne Laser Scanning at Phnom Kulen.” Antiquity 93, no. 371 (2019): 1303–21. 


Inscriptional evidence suggests that the Phnom Kulen plateau to the north-east of Angkor in Cambodia was the location of Mahendraparvata—an early Angkorian capital city and one of the first capitals of the Khmer Empire (ninth to fifteenth centuries AD). To date, however, archaeological evidence has been limited to a scatter of small and apparently isolated shrines. Here, the authors combine airborne laser scanning with ground-based survey to define an extended urban network dating from the ninth century AD, which they identify as Mahendraparvata. This research yields new and important insights into the emergence of Angkorian urban areas.