Artifacts

Eight Buried Towers

In December, 2009, a team of researchers at Angkor Wat led by Till Sonnemann were going around the outer sections of Angkor Wat with GPR (ground penetrating radar) devices when they discovered something quite interesting. They were getting strong signals back at the western entrance to the sight which meant there was a good chance they were about to find some archaeological treasure.

Actual excavations of that area were performed in 2010 and 2012 which confirmed the existence of eight buried towers. The remains of the foundations of the towers were roughly 21 meters below the surface. The towers were made from sandstone and the foundations were held in place by walls made of a reddish rock called laterite.

Eight Buried Towers at Angkor Wat

The remains of eight towers (marked in yellow) were discovered near the western gateway of Angkor Wat.
Credit: Image by Till Sonnemann and image base courtesy of ETH Zurich via LiveScience

Example of laterite which was the material found at the foundations of the buried towers

Example of laterite which was the material found at the foundations of the buried towers.

After examining the foundations of these towers, Sonnemann concluded that these towers were intentionally destroyed. There was evidence of burned wood around the foundations of the towers which the researchers performed radiocarbon dating on. The results dated these towers to the time Angkor Wat was constructed which was during the 12th century.

The question then became, what were these towers actually used for? A possible answer to this question comes from a comparison of these towers to others that have been discovered in the Khmer empire. A comparison shows similarities in the structure of these towers to others that were used for religious shrines. It is believed that these towers once held a temporary religious shrine to the Hindu God Vishnu while the temple was being constructed. This would have given people a temporary place to worship until construction of the full temple was completed.

Hidden Paintings

Another mystery of Angkor Wat was also discovered in recent years. In 2010, a researcher names Noel Hidalgo Tan saw what appeared to be faint traces of pigment on the walls of the temple. Photographs were taken of the walls where pigment was slightly visible. What they found was remarkable. After photographs were taken using flash photography, a method called decorrelation stretch analysis was done to enhance the images further. After this was done, what was once practically invisible to the naked eye was enhanced and a series interesting paintings was discovered.

Locations of the hidden paintings in the Angkor Wat Temple.

Locations of the hidden paintings in the Angkor Wat Temple.

In total, over 200 hidden paintings have been found on the interior and some exterior walls of Angkor Wat. Most of them have been found in some of the darkest chambers of the temple which is one of the reasons why they have not been discovered until recently. In order to find more of the paintings on the walls, researchers would look for any traces of red pigment and take pictures of it to be enhanced later. The red pigments that were used to paint the artwork was derived from a local plant and any traces of black pigments were from charcoal. The paintings they found were of things like buildings, boats, animals, deities, and musical instruments. There is still much speculation about when these were actually painted. It is believed they were painted during the transition period when Angkor Wat became a Buddhist pilgrimage site during the rule of Ang Chang between 1528 and 1566. There is speculation about whether he is the one that comissioned these paintings during his rule. During this time, Angkor Wat underwent a transformation from a monument worshipping the Hindu god, Vishnu, to a Theravadan Buddhist shrine.

Painting of a stepped pyramid structure in the south entrance chamber of the third enclosure, possibly a depiction of Angkor Wat itself. Note the mirror image of the building in the lower register, as if depicting a reflection on water. Credit: Antiquity Publications

Painting of a stepped pyramid structure in the south entrance chamber of the third enclosure, possibly a depiction of Angkor Wat itself. Note the mirror image of the building in the lower register, as if depicting a reflection on water.
Credit: Antiquity Publications

Here, a look at the possible step pyramid before researchers digitally enhanced the image with decorrelation stretch analysis, which exaggerates subtle color differences.

Here is a look at the possible step pyramid before researchers digitally enhanced the image with decorrelation stretch analysis, which exaggerates subtle color differences. Credit: Antiquity Publications

Credit: Antiquity Publications

A technique called decorrelation stretch analysis, which exaggerates subtle color differences, revealed images like this one showing two elephants facing each other.
Credit: Antiquity Productions