Paleoenvironmental history of the West Baray, Angkor (Cambodia)

Mary Beth Day, David A. Hodell, Mark Brenner, Hazel J. Chapman, Jason H. Curtis, William F. Kenney, Alan L. Kolata, Larry C. Peterson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

28 Scopus citations


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.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1046-1051
Number of pages6
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Issue number4
StatePublished - Jan 24 2012


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  • Isotope geochemistry
  • Paleolimnology

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General


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