Angkor Wat - Ancient Hydraulic City Using Advanced Technology
The Angkor Wat temple complex in Cambodia might be the most astonishing ancient site on Earth. Covering an area of more than 400 acres, it is made up of something like 10 million stone blocks intricately carved and stacked into temples, terraces, and galleries. For comparison, Angkor Wat covers three times the area of Vatican City, and is made up of more than four times as many blocks as the Great Pyramid of Giza. No wonder Angkor Wat's famous lotus bud towers adorn the Cambodian flag. Yet, for most of the second half of the 20th century, research at the site by those hoping to unravel its many mysteries was limited or prevented altogether by ongoing conflict and civil war in the country.
In fact, it was not until the 21st century that large-scale research resumed at the site. But when it did, what began to emerge was a mystery far greater than anyone had imagined... In 1860, a French explorer by the name of Henri Mouhot was traveling through the uncharted interior regions of Cambodia, collecting samples and recording observations about a place which, to that point, was almost totally unknown in the West. One day, Mouhot noticed a rare butterfly fluttering in the air. He began to chase after it, not noticing in his excitement that his pursuit was taking him deeper and deeper into the jungle, away from his traveling party. In short order, Mouhot was lost.
Panicking, he began to hack through vines and overgrown foliage with a machete, desperate to find his way back to his party. Suddenly, the jungle opened in front of him to reveal a clearing, and standing before Mouhot was the most amazing thing he'd ever seen in his life, an enormous stone structure stretching in all directions and reaching up to the sky, a massive complex overgrown with jungle, abandoned for who knows how long. Standing before him was the long-lost Angkor Wat. Today, this is the story which is told, of a lone explorer accidentally stumbling across the great ruins of Angkor Wat, a sort of Indiana Jones-like figure uncovering a secret long lost deep in the jungle.
Of course, this story is not, strictly speaking, true. While Mouhot did visit Angkor Wat in 1860, the site was not long-lost. Though it had been abandoned for centuries, it was known about by locals and still occasionally used by fishermen, farmers, and monks. In fact, Mouhot was not even the first European to have laid eyes on the site. In 1589, nearly three centuries before Mouhot made his visit, a Portuguese friar named Antonio da Madalena was taken to Angkor Wat during his travels in Cambodia, famously writing an account which read, "Angkor Wat is of such extraordinary construction that it is not possible to describe it with a pen, particularly since it is like no other building in the world.
It has towers and decoration and all the refinements which the human genius can conceive of." While this account did not gain widespread popularity in Europe at the time, Mouhot came across it centuries later, at exactly the moment he was becoming inspired by emerging European accounts of exploration in Southeast Asia, a mysterious region which to that point was known to Europeans as simply "Beyond India." In fact, so inspired was Mouhot that he decided to leave his comfortable life and hop on a ship to the other side of the world.
On April 27, 1858, the 31-year-old Mouhot set sail from London to Bangkok, where he would begin an expedition into the remote interior regions of mainland Southeast Asia. For three years he explored territories uncharted by Europeans, traveling with local guides by fishing boat, on horses or oxen carts or even elephants, and many times walking through the jungle on foot, sleeping each night in a hammock strung between two trees. All the while, he meticulously recorded notes and observations on everything he came across, the places, people, animals, and plants.
It was in 1860 that Mouhot was finally taken by his guides to Angkor Wat. No, it was not an accident that he arrived there, he was not chasing a butterfly through the jungle, and the site was not long-lost. Yet, this did not make the site any less astonishing to Mouhot. In his notes, he wrote of the first moment he laid eyes on the complex, "[Angkor Wat] presents itself to the eye of the traveller, making him forget all the fatigues of the journey, filling him with admiration and delight, such as would be experienced on finding a verdant oasis in the sandy desert.
Suddenly, and as if by enchantment, he seems to be transported from barbarism to civilization, from profound darkness to light." Of the central temple, with its lotus bud towers, he wrote, "One of these temples— a rival to that of Solomon, and erected by some ancient Michael Angelo— might take an honorable place beside our most beautiful buildings. It is grander than anything left to us by Greece or Rome." As he began to explore the site, he marveled at the craftsmanship, writing, "What strikes the observer with not less admiration than the grandeur, regularity, and beauty of these majestic buildings, is the immense size and prodigious number of the blocks of stone of which they are constructed. What means of transport, what a multitude of workmen, must this have required! The stones are everywhere fitted together in so perfect a manner that you can scarcely see where are the joinings; there is neither sign of mortar nor mark of the chisel, the surface being as polished as marble." But who, Mouhot wondered, had built this incredible complex? His curiosity poured out in his notes, "Was this incomparable edifice the work of a single genius, who conceived the idea, and watched over the execution of it? One is tempted to think so; for no part of it is deficient, faulty, or inconsistent.
To what epoch does it owe its origin? As before remarked, neither tradition nor written inscriptions furnish any certain information upon this point." Over the course of months, Mouhot constructed detailed notes on the site, which no European, not even Madalena, had previously done, recording in both writings and drawings its layout and architectural features, from the terraces and causeways to the porticos and galleries, to the incredible carvings which covered the whole site. Though he would die in 1861 of a fever while still on his travels, Mouhot's incredible and intricate recordings on Angkor Wat would inspire archaeologists from across Europe and all around the world to travel to Cambodia and explore the mysterious site for themselves. While he did not rediscover it, as the popular story goes, Mouhot's work at Angkor Wat would stimulate mainstream study of the site. And from the very start, what this research uncovered was astonishing... As archaeologists flooded to Angkor Wat in the late-19th and early-20th centuries, they quickly realized that what they were dealing with was no less than the largest religious complex in the world.
Far more than just its seminal lotus bud towers, which rose 200 feet above the surrounding landscape, Angkor Wat was an entire complex, covering an area of more than 400 acres – the size of 300 American football fields – and surrounded by a moat stretching nearly a mile by three-quarters of a mile. Within this complex were numerous smaller temples, alongside cross-shaped terraces and connected galleries, massive pillars and statues, all covered with unbelievable stone carvings depicting scenes from Hindu mythology, the conquests of an empire, and the natural world. Together, the complex had been constructed from something like 10 million individual stone blocks weighing up to 1.5 tons each,
brought to the site from a quarry some 25 miles to the northeast. The more researchers looked, the more incredible details they found, including a surprising level of advanced architectural understanding which had allowed Angkor Wat to remain standing for centuries. The massive moat, for one, was not just a barrier protecting the complex, but an architectural feature specifically designed to reduce the pressure pushing outwards from the enormous accumulation of stone.
Without this moat, Angkor Wat would have collapsed many years ago. Moreover, in the jungle region where Angkor Wat was built, the ground swells and shrinks yearly during flood and drought seasons. To combat this, Angkor Wat's builders diverted water to alter the underground water table and the composition of the earth beneath the complex to prevent it from sinking under its own weight, so it would effectively "float" on a changing foundation and stay standing for centuries.
At the same time as researchers were uncovering the incredible features of what Angkor Wat was, they were working to construct its history. Using carbon dating, archaeological analysis, and a review of the area's rare surviving historical documents, they pointed to the Khmer empire, which had arisen in the 9th century CE in Cambodia and grown over the course of centuries into the most powerful empire in the region. According to researchers, Angkor Wat was built by the Khmer King Suryavarman II between 1113-1150 CE as a Hindu temple dedicated to Vishnu. From that point forward, Angkor Wat served as the physical and spiritual capital for the Khmers, the heart of a mighty empire, until, gradually, the empire declined for a variety of reasons and the site was abandoned, leaving Angkor Wat to be slowly swallowed by the jungle, until Henri Mouhot's visit brought the archaeologists of the world to its doorstep. As this official explanation was put together, there were many who expressed skepticism. How, some wondered, could the Khmers have built Angkor Wat in only 37 years, as researchers were suggesting, without the aid of modern technology, when, at the same time, Europe's great powers were taking centuries to build their famous cathedrals? One estimate concluded that if the Khmers had worked from sunrise to sunset every day for 37 years, they would have had to have quarried, transported, cut, and placed one ton of stone every minute, uninterrupted, for 37 years, in order to complete the task.
To many, this clearly seemed impossible. Elsewhere, others asked, if Angkor Wat was built by a great empire which spanned for thousands of miles and maintained power for centuries after building it, then why was it so unique in the region in both design and size? If the Khmer empire had built Angkor Wat, would they not have copied its design elsewhere in their massive empire? Yet across Cambodia and neighboring countries, no other structure looks anything like Angkor Wat. Further, nothing else across the region compares to Angkor Wat in size.
Would future Khmer rulers after Suryavarman II not have built bigger, greater complexes to establish their own power? By the mid-20th century, mainstream science had declared the case closed – Angkor Wat was a magnificent temple complex built by the Khmer empire over the course of 37 years, some 900 years in the past. But for others, the mystery was just beginning. It was not until the 21st century, more than 150 years after Henri Mouhot first stimulated widespread interest in Angkor Wat, that the true depths of this mystery would finally be revealed...
Since the emergence of the official explanation about the Khmer empire and Angkor Wat, researchers have tried to learn more about the empire and the civilization it supported. Yet, for decades, they made almost no progress. The problem was that the area around Angkor Wat is remote and covered in dense jungle, making on-the-ground archaeological work almost impossible. Moreover, the area's historical records are virtually non-existent, due to centuries of conflict which have destroyed archives, and a hot, humid, tropical climate which has long since deteriorated the palm leaves on which records were written on. But that all changed in 2012, thanks to archaeologists Damien Evans and Roland Fletcher. That year, the two men led a project which would use a type of advanced airborne scanning known as "light detection and ranging," or LiDAR scanning to "see through the jungle" around Angkor Wat.
For weeks, teams took daily helicopter flights over hundreds of miles around the complex, using LiDAR to fire millions of laser pulses at the jungle below. Sensors in the helicopter would then pick up the reflection of the lasers from the jungle floor, allowing researchers to map the unique features of the terrain. What they found shocked them, and sent the archaeological world into a frenzy. Angkor Wat was not originally located in the middle of a jungle, as it is today, but rather, sat in the center of a huge, low-density urban area.
There, hidden beneath the jungle, were the remains of a massive network of roads, residential areas and shrines, canals and dried out ponds, alongside thousands of rice fields surrounded by low, narrow banks. In fact, the network stretched for more than 600 square miles, making the urban area, in the words of National Geographic, "the size of modern-day Los Angeles," no less than "the largest settlement ever built in human history before the industrial revolution." Within this area, researchers concluded, a population of nearly one million people would have lived. This was an astonishing find, a mind-blowing metropolis far beyond anything anyone had imagined had existed in the area. Damien Evans asserted that the research had provided "a lifetime" of data in only a few weeks. And yet, as LiDAR research continued, the details about this lost metropolis got even more staggering...
In the 1950s and 60s, a French archaeologist named Bernard Philippe Groslier used aerial archaeology to attempt to reconstruct the ancient water system of canals which surrounded Angkor Wat and fed its enormous moat. His work revealed a system of such complexity, that Groslier dubbed Angkor Wat the "Hydraulic City." But it was not until Evans and Fletcher came along in 2012 that the full mind-blowing scope of this water system became clear.
Using LiDAR, they mapped the water system across the entire Angkor Wat urban area. Incredibly, researchers mapped "extensive hydro-logical systems" which managed, stored, and dispersed water from three separate rivers and a nearby lake across the entire urban area. It was a system of unfathomable magnitude and ability. Rivers and creeks had been dredged and straightened into canals and channels more than ten miles in length and 130-200 feet wide, while a vast system of dikes spanning hundreds of miles diverted water where it was needed.
Huge reservoirs called barays, the largest of which was five miles long, were created to store water, and a vast network of walled fields was constructed for flooded rice agriculture. With this water system, a landscape of sloping rice terraces was created with an independent water supply, which would have insulated the urban area from droughts. But it was more than that. The water system had clearly been built to provide a transport system across the urban area, as well as a domestic water supply for sanitation.
Additionally, the water system included numerous ponds and channels filled with fish, a further source of food for the population within the city. Truly, Angkor Wat was an advanced ancient Hydraulic City, one which went far beyond anything Groslier had originally imagined, a water system totally unique anywhere on Earth. And yet, even this was not the most mind-boggling thing researchers discovered about Angkor Wat... While researchers like Evans and Fletcher were looking closer at the region around Angkor Wat, revealing the secrets of a massive urban area, at the same time, others were looking for secrets within the Angkor Wat complex itself.
As this took place, findings began to emerge which showed that Angkor Wat had been constructed with shockingly detailed astronomical and cosmological considerations. To begin, the entire temple complex had been constructed to represent the universe in Hindu cosmology. At the center of this universe is the cosmic mountain of Meru, represented by Angkor Wat's central and tallest lotus bud tower. The enclosure wall around the main temple represented the mountains at the edge of the world, while the moat represented the cosmic sea from which life began.
In this way, anyone entering Angkor Wat would go through a terrestrial version of the sacred progression to enlightenment in Hindu mythology – from crossing the cosmic sea, the starting point of one's journey to enlightenment, through obstacles one must overcome in the sacred mountains, finally, to Mount Meru, and the achievement of enlightenment. It is an amazing thing to create the heavens on Earth using millions of tons of stone. But it was not just Hindu cosmology which made its way into the construction of Angkor Wat. There were a number of advanced astronomical details as well. Visitors realized that if they were standing at the entrance to the complex, the sun would rise perfectly over the central lotus bud tower on the equinox. But indeed, it went much further than that.
Perhaps the most famous piece of art in the entire Angkor Wat complex is an enormous 160-foot-long carving which depicts the Hindu story of "the churning of the ocean of milk" from the Mahabharata. In the carving, there are 88 gods and 91 demons, all life-sized, pulling at a rope attached to a central churning pivot, with Vishnu sitting in the center. On its own, it is an amazing piece of art.
But archaeologists like Eleanor Mannikka have pointed out that the carving and its placement within the complex were not an accident. Rather, the carving was situated to act as a sort of giant calendar, counting the days between winter and summer solstices. The churning pivot in the middle of the carving, where Vishnu sits, represents the spring equinox, while 91 demons to one side represent the 91 days from equinox to winter solstice, and the 88 gods on the other represent the 88 days from equinox to summer solstice.
As the sun moved across it, the carving would effectively count the days of the year. Similar to what they did with Hindu cosmology, the builders of Angkor Wat also inserted references to the movements of the sun and moon directly into the measurements of the complex. Consider, the central tower's topmost elevation has external axial dimensions of 189.00 cubits east-west and 176.37 cubits north-south. Add these two numbers together and you get 365.37,
almost the exact length of a solar year. Moreover, the central tower of Angkor Wat has nine inner chambers, each with a total dimension of 27 cubits in the north-south direction, and 28 cubits east-west. Why is this important? Because the moon's orbit takes 27 days, during which time it will appear to move through 27 successive regions of the sky.
In Hindu cosmology, these regions are called "lunar mansions" and, depending on context, there can be either 27 or 28. In other words, while the top of the central tower reflects the orbit of the sun, the chambers beneath reflect the orbit of the moon. Put simply, between cosmological and astronomical implications, the entire Angkor Wat complex was built to be an expression of the greater celestial order. While many ancient sites have similar characteristics, rarely are so many seen in one place with such detail. Was the Khmer empire really this far ahead of what historians imagined was possible? There is another thing, one final detail about Angkor Wat's alignment which must be mentioned. It has been shown that all the buildings in the Angkor Wat complex are perfectly aligned to the four cardinal points on the compass with a "GPS level of precision."
If Angkor Wat was built by the Khmer empire some 900 years ago, how could this have been possible? No compass in existence at that time would have allowed for such a level of precision. Take a step back and look at everything together about Angkor Wat we've discussed so far – the astonishing level of building using millions of stones, the advanced water system spanning the largest pre-industrial urban area on Earth, the detailed astronomical and cosmological precision in design and layout. It is clear that Angkor Wat is one of the most astonishing sites on Earth.
But in fact, it is not only when you step back that things are astonishing, but indeed, when you step closer... Since it first entered public consciousness in the 1860s, one of the things which has always amazed people most about Angkor Wat is its carvings. Simply, they're everywhere, on the walls and pillars, doors and ceilings, even on the outside of the buildings. Although Angkor Wat is the largest temple in the world, every inch of it is covered with carvings, even on places no one will even be looking at.
Some of these carvings are huge, like "the churning of the ocean of milk," while others are often so small that they can barely be seen unless one looks closely at their intricate detail. Throughout the complex, there are more carvings than one person could possibly hope to examine in a lifetime. But as different people have slowly started to look through these carvings more closely, they have begun to notice some which are extremely bizarre. One such person is independent researcher and noted YouTube personality Praveen Mohan, who discovered more than one inexplicable carving during his research at Angkor Wat in 2021, in which he examined in person every inch of the temple. As expected he found that carvings were everywhere, even outside of the temple, in places where people won't even see the carvings.
But there was something even more astonishing. First, there was this carving to the sun god Surya, the personification of the sun in Hinduism. Below Surya in the carving are nine figures, representing the nine planets of our solar system, including Pluto, and their orbit around the sun.
It is a beautiful work of art. There is only one problem. Pluto wasn't officially discovered until 1930, and cannot be seen without a high-powered telescope. In fact, Neptune, the eighth planet in our solar system, was not discovered until the 1840s, while the seventh planet, Uranus, was only first noted in 1781, each many centuries after Angkor Wat was said to have been built. How could Angkor Wat's builders have known that there were nine planets in orbit around the sun? Mohan suggested that an answer may be provided in a different carving, one which depicts an incredible scene centered around the god Indra and a three-headed elephant called Airavata.
At the bottom of this carving is a man who appears to be watching the scene unfold through a telescope. He stands with a cylindrical device held to one eye, pressing his nose out of shape, while the other eye is closed. Did the builders of Angkor Wat know there were nine planets because they saw them through a telescope? Note that according to the history books, the telescope was not invented until 1608, almost 500 years after we're told Angkor Wat was built.
So how could this be possible? This was not all though. Elsewhere, Mohan noted a carving which showed a figure riding an elephant with four tusks. While some wrote this off as a depiction of a mythical scene, Mohan and others have pointed out that four-tusked elephants did actually exist two million years ago, and in fact, fossils of these four-tusked elephants have been found in Southeast Asia close to Cambodia. Could the builders of Angkor Wat have been aware of these animals, long before fossils were officially discovered? And if so, how? Something even more bizarre was noticed by other researchers in the temple of Angkor Thom, a smaller temple less than two miles from Angkor Wat which was a part of the greater Angkor urban area.
There, a carving appears to depict a stegosaurus dinosaur. To put four tusks on an elephant, an animal people in the region were well aware of, is one thing, a dinosaur is quite another. How could the builders of Angkor Wat have known about such an ancient creature? As inexplicable carvings like these have increasingly been found, many have begun to ask questions. Is Angkor Wat really 900 years old, built by the Khmer Empire? And if so, where did they get all this advanced knowledge, of building and hydraulics, of astronomy, of animals long extinct? Is it possible that the Khmer empire did not build Angkor Wat at all? And if they didn't, then who did? Could a civilization predating the Khmer empire have actually been the true builders? And if they were, where did they go, and what else did they know? In 1934, a team of archaeologists led by Jean Commaille were conducting research in the main chamber of the central tower of Angkor Wat when they came across a well set into the foundation beneath a large statue of the Buddha.
The statue was not an original build, but had been added by generations of Khmers after their empire converted to Buddhism, and it appeared to have been built to intentionally obscure the well. But why? Commaille and his team slowly began to remove the centuries of debris which had filled the well, discovering as they did that it sunk far deeper into the ground than they'd imagined. At a depth of 50 feet, they ran into an underground water table which flooded the shaft, but they brought in water pumps and continued to excavate. They were glad they did, when finally, at a depth of just over 70 feet, they discovered a broken stone box blocking their path, with a strange circular cutout in the top.
Within this cutout, they found 65 grams of gold leaf. What could this be, researchers wondered? Curious as it was, Commaille and his team did not pursue the question any further. Instead, they completed their work and returned to Europe without recording any further details, while the box itself was mysteriously lost. As questions about the secrets of Angkor Wat began to emerge in modern times, some returned to look at the work of Commaille more closely, asking questions, and putting pieces together. At the top of the central tower of Angkor Wat, there is a hole which lets the sun shine through. Some have suggested that the process of the sun shining through the hole, down the shaft, and onto the box could have been part of some sort of solar energy device, the sun's rays interacting with the mysterious box to create and store energy.
While at first, the theory seemed far-fetched, its advocates pointed to an ancient account of Angkor Wat written long before Henri Mouhot, which appeared to provide evidence of how such a solar energy system could have worked... In 1296 CE, a Chinese diplomat named Zhou Daguan traveled to Angkor Wat during the peak of the Khmer empire's power, where he stayed as a guest of the Khmer king for almost a year. While he was not the first person from China to visit the place, he was the first to provide a detailed account of the city and its people. Indeed, his seminal work, The Customs of Cambodia, is the only known written account from that time anywhere in the world. Within this account, something incredible is mentioned. As Zhou wrote, "In the center of the capital is a gold tower, flanked by twenty or so stone towers and a hundred or so stone chambers."
According to Zhou, the central lotus bud tower of Angkor Wat was made of, or covered in, gold. This jumped out to those speculating about a solar energy device at ancient Angkor. If there was some sort of solar energy device buried within the central tower of Angkor Wat, then there must have been a way to access this energy. Gold is one of the most electrically conductive materials on Earth. If, as Zhou suggests, the central tower was originally covered in gold, could this have to do with the projection of energy? Here, many connected Angkor Wat with the work of famed inventor Nikola Tesla, who, in the early-1900s developed a device known as the Tesla Tower, which was topped by a large ball of conductive metal and designed to pump the energy of the earth skyward where it could be accessed by individual receptors around the world. Is it possible that Angkor Wat could have been doing something similar? Theories of an ancient electrical Angkor were only taken further in 2015, once again thanks to the LiDAR research of Damien Evans and Roland Fletcher.
That year, it was revealed that beneath the grounds of the Angkor Wat complex were "sprawling structures forming the shape of a giant spiral," some 5,000 feet long. As findings were compiled, Evans and Fletcher were dumbfounded. The giant spiral was unlike anything they'd ever seen before, and they had no idea what it could be.
Fletcher called it "the most striking discovery associated with Angkor Wat to date," while in their report, the two men wrote, "The huge, unique, and problematic structure of the 'rectilinear spirals' has never previously been recognized or even predicted, or supposed, and still defies explanation." Look closely at these spirals. Do they not look strangely...electrical?
Some are already asserting that these spirals must have been part of an ancient energy system, acting as some sort of power grid storing and distributing energy. As more becomes known about the spirals in coming years, might they provide the proof of an ancient electrical Angkor? These are the types of questions which lead many to believe that the mystery of Angkor Wat might go much further than mainstream science is currently willing to accept, much further even, than anyone imagined. Was Angkor Wat really built by the Khmer empire 900 years ago? Or is it possible that the Khmers only discovered and used it, that in fact it was built long before them, by some other advanced ancient builders? Note that when Zhou Daguan visited Angkor Wat in 1296, he was told by locals that the temple complex had been constructed by a divine architect in a single night.
His visit took place less than 150 years after Angkor Wat was said to have been built, by the same empire Zhou was visiting. If the Khmers had built it, would they not remember that they had? Would they not want to brag about their accomplishment to a foreign dignitary? Saying it was built by a divine builder sounds more like the explanation of a people who discovered a fantastic structure and needed a story for how it got there. Why say someone else built it... unless someone else built it? More importantly, if someone other than the Khmers built it, who were they? Did they really know the secrets of not just astronomy and hydraulics, but perhaps, of energy generation? Regardless of the answer to these questions, what is clear is this: even within the official explanation, Angkor Wat is one of the most amazing sites anywhere on Earth, the remnants of a mighty empire and the heart of an advanced urban area constructed by a people with astonishing building skills and precise astronomical knowledge. But maybe it goes further than that.
Maybe Angkor Wat was not only the home to the Khmer empire, but an advanced ancient civilization long forgotten. To this day, research at Angkor Wat is ongoing. You're going to want to stay tuned to find out what might be found.
But for now, if you want to further explore the idea of an advanced ancient civilization that predates those recorded by mainstream science and left behind incredible structures which are only now beginning to be understood, watch our video on Nan Madol, the ancient floating city built by giants. Once again, thank you for watching. Make sure to subscribe to our channel if you want to see more videos like this one. You can also click the notification button so you get updated when we post a new video.