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Paleoenvironmental history of the West Baray, Angkor (Cambodia)

  1. Larry C. Petersonf
  1. aDepartment of Earth Sciences, Downing Street, University of Cambridge, Cambridge, UK, CB2 3EQ;
  2. bDepartment of Earth Sciences and Godwin Laboratory for Palaeoclimate Research, Downing Street, University of Cambridge, Cambridge, UK, CB2 3EQ;
  3. cDepartment of Geological Sciences and Land Use and Environmental Change Institute, P.O. Box 112120, University of Florida, Gainesville, FL, 32611;
  4. dDepartment of Geological Sciences, P.O. Box 112120, University of Florida, Gainesville, FL, 32611;
  5. eDepartment of Anthropology, 1126 East 59th Street, University of Chicago, Chicago, IL, 60637; and
  6. fRosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science, 4600 Rickenbacker Causeway, University of Miami, Miami, FL, 33149
  1. Edited by Mark H Thiemens, University of California San Diego, La Jolla, CA, and approved November 22, 2011 (received for review July 15, 2011)


Angkor (Cambodia) was the seat of the Khmer Empire from the 9th to 15th century AD. The site is noted for its monumental architecture and complex hydro-engineering systems, comprised of canals, moats, embankments, and large reservoirs, known as barays. We infer a 1,000-y, 14C-dated paleoenvironmental record from study of an approximately 2-m sediment core taken in the largest Khmer reservoir, the West Baray. The baray was utilized and managed from the time of construction in the early 11th century, through the 13th century. During that time, the West Baray received relatively high rates of detrital input. In the 14th century, linear sedimentation rates diminished by an order of magnitude, yielding a condensed section that correlates temporally with episodes of regional monsoon failure during the late 14th and early 15th century, recorded in tree ring records from Vietnam. Our results demonstrate that changes in the water management system were associated with the decline of the Angkorian kingdom during that period. By the 17th century, the West Baray again functioned as a limnetic system. Ecologic and sedimentologic changes over the last millennium, detected in the baray deposits, are attributed to shifts in regional-scale Khmer water management, evolving land use practices in the catchment, and regional climate change.


  • ?1To whom correspondence should be addressed. E-mail: mbd33{at}cam.ac.uk.
  • Author contributions: M.B.D., D.A.H., M.B., J.H.C., and A.L.K. designed research; M.B.D., D.A.H., M.B., H.J.C., J.H.C., W.F.K., and A.L.K. performed research; H.J.C., W.F.K., and L.C.P. contributed new reagents/analytic tools; M.B.D., D.A.H., M.B., H.J.C., and W.F.K. analyzed data; M.B.D., D.A.H., and M.B. wrote the paper.

  • The authors declare no conflict of interest.

  • This article is a PNAS Direct Submission.

  • This article contains supporting information online at www.danielhellerman.com/lookup/suppl/doi:10.1073/pnas.1111282109/-/DCSupplemental.

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