The Rise and Fall of Angkor: Climate Change and the Khmer Empire with Charles Higham

The Rise and Fall of Angkor: Climate Change and the Khmer Empire with Charles Higham


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How did the mighty civilization of Angkor in Cambodia come to be, and why did it collapse? This seminar will explore the impact of climate change on the rise and fall of the Khmer Empire.

There are two fundamentals to life in Southeast Asia: the arrival of monsoon rains and the importance of securing a predictable rice harvest. New research has shown that a period of weakened monsoon led to an agricultural crisis in the late prehistoric period (about 200AD). Motivated by decreased rice yields, this ingenious ancient society developed systems of reservoirs and irrigation to counter the lower rainfall. However, the unintended consequence of these technological advancements was a steep rise in social inequality and the rise to power of the God-Kings of the Kingdom of Angkor. During their peak, they built the epic complex known as Angkor Wat, unrivaled in its scale and grandeur. But, after six centuries of prosperity, a second climatic change brought catastrophe and the system collapsed.

Led by an expert on ancient Angkor, Charles Higham, this interactive seminar will discuss the intersection of climate with the rise of civilization. Designed to inform curiosity as well as future travels, participants will come away with an increased understanding of the relationship between human genius and climatic unpredictability.

Charles Higham is Emeritus Professor of Anthropology at the University of Otago, New Zealand. He is an archaeologist with a particular interest in the origins of Southeast Asian civilizations. His excavations in Thailand and Cambodia have greatly increased our understanding of how the great Kingdom of Angkor began, how God-Kings were revered, and with a climatic deterioration, how it came to an end.

This conversation is suitable for all ages

90 minutes, including a 30 minute Q&A.

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