The Apsara National Authority (ANA), in collaboration with the University of Hawaii, has opened 20 research excavation pits in the western part of Angkor Wat, discovering laterite-made terraces of Theravada Buddhist temples in order to explore changes over time to the structures in the Angkor area.

According to the ANA, the research on the evolution of Theravada Buddhism started on November 21, 2022 and will end on January 20 this year.

This research focuses on the evolution of the community in the area from pre-Angkorian times to the Middle Ages period to see how things changed when pagodas replaced Angkorian-style temples, becoming the core of most communities.

Tin Tina, deputy director of the ANA’s Department of Research, Training and Communication, said they partnered with the university to conduct an excavation to find out the reasons for the changes in the city’s structure and demographics in the Angkor area from the 13th century.

He said that in order to meet the objectives, the research team opened 20 excavation pits with sizes of 1x2m in the hills and ponds around the Angkor Wat temple complex.

“The data obtained from this excavation give us an insight into the communities living in Angkor, which may correspond to a number of major historical factors, such as the transition to Theravada Buddhism, the decline of the central power of Angkor, change of location of the capital to the south (around Phnom Penh) and a short-lived return of the central power in the 16th century under the Longvek king,” said Tina.

He added that in 2019-2020, the research team of the two institutions also conducted excavations in Kouk Daun Pok, Kouk Bak and Kouk Kong, in the areas of Wat Athvea, Kouk Roka and East Kouk Prey Ampil and in the area of Wat Chedei, West Kouk Prey Ampil and Wat Prey Pdao, to collect data from communities living in rural areas of Angkor.

In addition, the excavations were carried out with the aim of exploring the changing structure of the city, according to Heng Pipal, an archeologist from the University of Hawaii and head of the research project.

He explained that the changes were related to the landscape – whether the land where people used to live has changed in relation to historical events such as the conversion of religion from Brahmanism to Mahayana Buddhism and Theravada Buddhism in the 13th century and how it affected the villages of people who once lived in the center of Angkor and the countryside around Angkor.

On the other hand, he said the historical event that people are most familiar with is the change of capital from Angkor and the research team wants to clarify whether it was really the abandonment of Angkor or not.

According to the ANA, at the excavations pits the research team found the terraces of the Theravada Buddhist temples with sandstone boundaries in eight directions as well as pottery and charcoal fragments which ancient people used and those samples will now need to be dated and studied.