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      Urban Labels and Settlement Trajectories

      Journal of Urban Archaeology

      Brepols Publishers

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          Archaeology has conventionally managed information about settlements into a set of types: campsite-encampment, hamlet-village, and town-city. These were tightly defined but have now become rather less specific. They are broadly understood as categories of different magnitude and still tend to be framed within a stage-theory premise of linear transformation from smaller settlements with more mobile communities to larger ones with less mobile communities. However, what has become apparent is that the agrarian-based urbanism contains compact, high-density settlements with sedentary populations and dispersed, low-density settlements of considerable size and also contains urban settlements which were seasonal and entirely mobile. In addition, it is now clear that definitions of urbanism are regionally specific and that global definitions have become tenuous and increasingly decoupled from material actuality. Therefore, to communicate cross-regionally we need to respect regional uniqueness and analyse the dynamic trajectories of urban settlements as the basis for consistent global cross-comparison of patterns of difference.

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          The Urban Revolution

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            Uncovering archaeological landscapes at Angkor using lidar.

            Previous archaeological mapping work on the successive medieval capitals of the Khmer Empire located at Angkor, in northwest Cambodia (∼9th to 15th centuries in the Common Era, C.E.), has identified it as the largest settlement complex of the preindustrial world, and yet crucial areas have remained unmapped, in particular the ceremonial centers and their surroundings, where dense forest obscures the traces of the civilization that typically remain in evidence in surface topography. Here we describe the use of airborne laser scanning (lidar) technology to create high-precision digital elevation models of the ground surface beneath the vegetation cover. We identify an entire, previously undocumented, formally planned urban landscape into which the major temples such as Angkor Wat were integrated. Beyond these newly identified urban landscapes, the lidar data reveal anthropogenic changes to the landscape on a vast scale and lend further weight to an emerging consensus that infrastructural complexity, unsustainable modes of subsistence, and climate variation were crucial factors in the decline of the classical Khmer civilization.
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              A comprehensive archaeological map of the world's largest preindustrial settlement complex at Angkor, Cambodia.

              The great medieval settlement of Angkor in Cambodia [9th-16th centuries Common Era (CE)] has for many years been understood as a "hydraulic city," an urban complex defined, sustained, and ultimately overwhelmed by a complex water management network. Since the 1980s that view has been disputed, but the debate has remained unresolved because of insufficient data on the landscape beyond the great temples: the broader context of the monumental remains was only partially understood and had not been adequately mapped. Since the 1990s, French, Australian, and Cambodian teams have sought to address this empirical deficit through archaeological mapping projects by using traditional methods such as ground survey in conjunction with advanced radar remote-sensing applications in partnership with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA)/Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL). Here we present a major outcome of that research: a comprehensive archaeological map of greater Angkor, covering nearly 3,000 km2, prepared by the Greater Angkor Project (GAP). The map reveals a vast, low-density settlement landscape integrated by an elaborate water management network covering>1,000 km2, the most extensive urban complex of the preindustrial world. It is now clear that anthropogenic changes to the landscape were both extensive and substantial enough to have created grave challenges to the long-term viability of the settlement.

                Author and article information

                Journal of Urban Archaeology
                Brepols Publishers (Turnhout, Belgium )
                January 2020
                : 1
                : 31-48


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                Urban studies, Archaeology, History


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