Current Projects

Greater Angkor Project III

Tumnup Touic

University of Sydney Staff: Prof Roland Fletcher, Prof Jeffery Riegel, Prof Miriam Stark, Dr Christophe Pottier, Dr Dr Martin King

Funding Bodies: Australian Research Council (Discovery Project)

Funding: AUD 907,493

Partners: École Française d'Extrême Orient, University of Hawai’i-Manoa, National University of Singapore, Royal University of Fine Arts, Cambodia, Authority for the Protection and Management of Angkor and the Region of Siem Reap

Status: Funded 2010-2014

Summary: Angkor, the vast low-density Khmer capital founded in the 9th century CE, was abandoned some time in the past 500 years. The processes, rate and period of its demise are still unknown. The project will identify (i) the ancestry of Angkor’s social and spatial organisation in the first millennium BCE, (ii) the way the urban complex operated to diagnose (iii) why, when and how it was abandoned and to reveal the transformations from the 16th to 19th centuries that created the modern landscape out of 3000 years of cultural continuity.

Australia promotes the value of partnerships with developing Asia-Pacific nations for the continued stability of our region. In Cambodia, Australia plays a significant role in assisting stability and sustainable growth. Our research has contributed greatly to the development of individual and institutional capabilities, providing engagement with world-class research expertise and facilities. This large, international, multidisciplinary team will provide a significant new approach to Angkor, the iconic Asia-Pacific flagship World Heritage site and will actively work with Cambodian agencies responsible for the site in the context of the Australian–Cambodian government collaboration on the "Angkor Heritage Management Framework Project" for Angkor.

LiDAR survey of Angkor, Phnom Kulen & Koh Ker


University of Sydney Staff: Prof Roland Fletcher, Dr Damian Evans, Dr Martin King

Funding Bodies: National Geographic, Japan-APSARA Safeguarding Angkor; École Française d'Extrême Orient, University of Sydney, World Monuments Fund, ADF Kulen; HUNINCOR, SCA/INRAP Airport team

Funding: USD209,150

Partners: Authority for the Protection and Management of Angkor and the Region of Siem Reap, Japan-APSARA Safeguarding Angkor, École Française d'Extrême Orient, University of Sydney, World Monuments Fund, ADF Kulen, HUNINCOR, SCA/INRAP Airport team

Status: Funded 2010-11

Summary: In 2011 group of researchers from eight teams proposed that a mission be undertaken over important archaeological sites in northwest Cambodia in 2012, and jointly committed more than USD$200,000 to fully fund the cost of the mission and the delivery of the data to Authority for the Protection and Management of Angkor and the Region of Siem Reap (APSARA). The project was first publicly proposed at the 18th Plenary Session of the International Coordinating Committee for the Safeguarding and Development of the Historic Site of Angkor (ICC-Angkor), on December 12-13, 2011. The project received the in-principle agreement of the Committee, with the qualification that the data not be re-sold or commercialized, and a formal permission request to establish the LiDAR program was lodged with the APSARA by the École Française d'Extrême Orient on December 19 2011; the in-principle agreement of the APSARA was granted on January 5 2012, contingent on the fulfilment of various administrative conditions. The eight parties agreed to jointly develop, plan, facilitate, fund and undertake a program of LiDAR data acquisition in 2012; nominated APSARA as the responsible Party for the overall management and authorization of KALC, nominated the EFEO as the responsible Party for the administration of KALC, and nominated USYD as the responsible Party for the technical and financial affairs of KALC. Permissions to proceed with the mission were granted by the APSARA National Authority and the State Secretariat of Civil Aviation. The mission was completed successfully in April 2012 and final data delivery took place to the office of HE Bun Narith on 11 June 2012, with some additional, modified data delivered to the APSARA on 24 July 2012.


Chinese trade and diplomacy in South-East Asia from the 9th to 19th century common era


University of Sydney Staff: Dr Li Baoping

Funding Bodies: Australian Research Council (Future Fellowship)

Funding: AUD700,445

Partners: Peking University, Beijing, Institute of Southeast Asian Studies, Singapore, The Smithsonian's Museum of Asia Art - Freer and Sackler Galleries, Art Gallery of New South Wales, Australia

Status: 2012-2016

Summary: China exported ceramics in large quantities to South-east Asia over the past millennium through tributary trade, private commerce and smuggling. The ceramics, especially porcelain, provide the longest single, most consistent, international physical index of trade and diplomacy and the contrasts between them. Comparing historical texts and the archaeology of Chinese ceramics from kilns and ports in China, shipwrecks and key land sites in SE Asia from the 9th to 19th century CE, such as Angkor in Cambodia, Trowelan in Indonesia, Ayutthaya in Thailand and Singapore will reveal both the degree to which the distributors operated independent of the purposes of the Chinese state and the actual long-term pattern of Chinese-SE Asian interaction.

From Paddy to Pura: the origins of Angkor

University of Sydney Staff: Dr Louise Shewan

Funding Bodies: Australian Research Council (Discovery Project)

Funding: AUD340,000

Partners: Ministry of Culture and Fine Arts, Cambodia, Universität Ulm, University of Oxford, University of Otago, James Cook University

Status: Funded 2011-2013

Summary: This project explores the origin and rise of the state in ancient Southeast Asia. Through the investigation of sites in Cambodia and Thailand and using an array of innovative technologies, the research will contribute to the global investigation of humankind's trajectory toward ever increasing complexity.


The Ateliers of Angkor: Sculpture workshops of an Empire (Cambodia, 9th to 13th centuries CE)

The Ateliers of Angkor

University of Sydney Staff: Dr Martin Polkinghorne

Funding Bodies: Australian Research Council (Discovery Project)

Funding: AUD285,000

Partners: École Française d'Extrême Orient, Freer/Sackler Galleries Smithsonian Institution, The National Museum of Cambodia, Los Angeles County Museum of Art, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Centre de Recherche et de Restauration des Musées de France, Institut national de recherches archeologiques preventives

Status: Funded 2011-2013

Summary: The sculptures of Angkor are universally recognised as among the greatest creations of human genius. Angkorian sculptures are represented in every major public collection of art. Harmony of composition, attention to detail, and mastery of technical execution distinguish Khmer images in sandstone and bronze attesting to their world heritage significance. In a tradition that spans over eight centuries the kings of the Khmer Empire invested great resources in making representations of the gods consistent with its ability to confer political legitimacy and fulfil spiritual necessity. The production methods used were often amongst the most innovative technological accomplishments of the civilisation. Funded by the Australian Research Council, for the first time in Southeast Asia, an international and multi-disciplinary project led by The University of Sydney and the APSARA National Authority is conducting excavations at sculpture ateliers. Discovery of unfinished sculpture, a suite of stone and iron tools, workshop infrastructure, and production waste demonstrate the sites were hubs of intense multi-period activity.

In 2013 the team excavated a bronze and sandstone sculpture workshop in the heart the great walled city of Angkor Thom. The workshop is located between four monuments; Preah Palilay, Tep Prenam, the Royal Terraces and the Royal Palace. The primary surface archaeological features are unfinished sandstone sculptures of Vishnu and roughly hewn sandstone blocks. Underneath the ground there is evidence for the casting of large bronze sculptures and the team has uncovered investment moulds, crucibles, furnace walls and fragments of copper and lead. The discovery of a bronze workshop just outside the walls of the Royal Palace of the Angkorian kings is the first of its kind in Cambodia and Southeast Asia.

Paleoclimate shocks: environmental variability, human vulnerability, and societal adaptation during the last millennium in the Greater Mekong Basin

University of Sydney Staff: Dr Daniel Penny, Prof Roland Fletcher,

Funding Bodies: National Science Foundation

Funding: USD 1,401,351 to Lamont Doherty Laboratory

Partners: Columbia University, Chiangmai Rajabhat University, Thailand, National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA)

Status: Funded 2009-2013

Summary: The project will develop quantitative models of the interaction between societies and hydroclimate variability over the last millennium for mainland Southeast Asia and the Greater Mekong Basin. This long-term focus will be made possible by two unique data sources: long, annually resolved and drought-sensitive paleoclimate information on drought and river flow from the Greater Mekong Basin (GMB), and the long archaeological and documentary record from urban societies across Southeast Asia. Bringing together these sources of proxy data enables the identification of significant hydroclimatic and sociopolitical events during the last thousand years and will allow the project team to explore societal response to paleoclimate variability and change within the theoretical framework of modelling vulnerability, risk, and adaption in human systems. Two related questions will be investigated:

  • What types and scales of drought events in Indochina are of sufficient magnitude to need a social adjustment from the affected human societies?
  • What factors influence the success of specific responses or strategies to mitigate the consequences of climate variability?

The data collected in this study will provide a unique record spanning several centuries. This has the potential to greatly improve decision making about future management and allocation of water resources in the six countries through which the Mekong River flows, by revealing the range of natural variability and how it is associated with climate variability. Recent significant changes in the flow of the Mekong further emphasize the need to better understand its long-term history and the processes underlying its variability. The water level of the Mekong exceeded its highest recorded level during the most recent flooding in August 2008. Whether such extremes are consequences of global warming or the inevitable natural swings of dry-wet periods is a question of both public and scientific importance.

Risk and Resilience in the 'Hydraulic Cities' of Monsoon Asia: A Comparative Study of Early Settlement Landscapes in Sri Lanka and Cambodia

Koh Ker

University of Sydney Staff: Dr Damian Evans

Funding Bodies: University of Sydney

Funding: 3-Year Postdoctoral Fellowship

Partners: University of Kelaniya, Postgraduate Institute of Archaeology (Sri Lanka)

Status: 2013-2016

Summary: This project involves a comparative study of the landscape archaeology and settlement patterns surrounding the Hindu-Buddhist temple complexes of Cambodia and Sri Lanka. Recently published research from teams working in both regions will be reviewed and analysed, a range of new data will be acquired through fieldwork in Sri Lanka, and all datasets will be collated into a single framework to facilitate comparison. These data will be used as a foundation for identifying similarities and
differences in material culture, palaeoenvironment, and spatial organisation of settlements in both areas over space and time.

Toponymic Atlas of Khmer Inscriptions

University of Sydney Staff: Prof Roland Fletcher, Dr Michael Vickery

Funding Bodies: Lee Foundation

Funding: USD 250,000

Partners: École Française d'Extrême Orient, The Friends of Khmer Culture Inc.

Status: Funded 2008-2013

Summary: Developing a digital archive of all the place names and locations in the corpus of inscriptions from the 7th to 13th C CE and all the people and relationships associated with those places and locations. Dr Vickery’s assistant in Cambodia is funded by the Friends of Khmer Culture Inc (FOKCI). The projects utilises the HEURIST database system developed by Arts eResearch and is working in collaboration with the Inscriptions Program of the École Française d'Extrême Orient.

Visualising Angkor


University of Sydney Staff: Prof Roland Fletcher, Dr Martin Polkinghorne

Funding Bodies: Monash University

Funding: Staff salary for Tom Chandler

Partners: Monash University

Status: Funding ongoing

Summary: Summary: The Visualising Angkor project explores the 3D generation and animation of historical landscapes, people, soundscapes and architecture at Angkor. The resulting scenes draw upon a wide range of archaeological and historical data, from bas-reliefs to Chinese eyewitness accounts and extensive mapping undertaken by the Greater Angkor Project and the EFEO. The recent inclusion of Angkor as a subject of study in the Australian national High School history curriculum is timely, but it also presents key challenges in how the virtual image of Angkor is communicated and interpreted.

Website: and Google Cultural Institute: 3D images and animations selected from Monash University’s Visualising Angkor Project

"Angkor: the Living City"

University of Sydney Staff: Prof Roland Fletcher

Funding Bodies: Lee Foundation

Funding: AUD65,000

Partners: École Française d'Extrême Orient

Status: current

Summary: Invited book for Cambridge University Press. In progress - Roland Fletcher and Christophe Pottier are co-authors of the book. Christophe Pottier is resident in Sydney in 2010-2011 as the Lee Visiting International Fellow of the University, to work on the book.