Five-Hundred-Year-Old Paintings Rediscovered In Angkor Wat Temple
June 4, 2014

Five-Hundred-Year-Old Paintings Rediscovered In Angkor Wat Temple

Gerard LeBlond for - Your Universe Online

Ancient paintings dating back 500 years have been discovered on the walls of Cambodia’s Angkor Wat temple. An Australian National University researcher discovered the images of animals, boats, deities and the temple itself painted on the walls of the ancient complex.

“I was walking through the temple on a lunch break and I saw some pigments on the wall. I took some pictures, but didn't think they would be anything special,” Noel Hidalgo Tan, a rock art researcher from the ANU Department of Archaeology and Natural History, said in a statement, recalling his work as a volunteer on an archaeological dig in 2010.

After loading the images on his computer, he realized what he had found was something spectacular.

“It was an amazing moment. I didn't expect the images would be so elaborate and detailed," Tan explained.

The Angkor Wat temple is a national symbol of Cambodia that was built sometime between 1113 and 1150 AD. It is a 500-acre complex and considered to be one of the most famous monuments in the world, attracting around two million tourists a year.

Although the temple sees a large number of visitors, the paintings have gone unnoticed, mainly because they were located in dark areas and faded, escaping detection by the naked eye.

“Some of the most detailed paintings, the ones located at the top of the temple, are passed by literally thousands of visitors every day, but the most elaborate scenes are effectively invisible to the naked eye,” Tan said in an email to LiveScience.

In 2012, Tan returned to the temple along with Cambodian researchers Im Sokrithy, Heng Than and Khieu Chan to carry out an extensive investigation of the images. Originally the images were thought to be graffiti left by earlier visitors to the temple, but upon further study, it was determined the images depicted daily life of the people of Angkor.

“A lot of the visible paintings on the walls have been previously discounted as graffiti, and I certainly agree with this interpretation, but there are another set of paintings discovered from this study that are so schematic and elaborate that they are likely not random graffiti, but an attempt to decorate the walls of the temple,” Tan said.

In one of the chambers in the highest tier known as the Bakan, a scene of a musical ensemble called the pinpet was found. Painted on the walls were gongs, xylophones, wind instruments and other percussion-based instruments. Another scene in the same location was of people riding horses between what appear to be two temples.

It was also determined the paintings were drawn sometime during the reign of King Ang Chan of the 16th century who ordered the restoration of the temple to a Theravada Buddhist from a Vishnavaite Hindu temple.

The images were enhanced by décor-relation stretch analysis. Once this was accomplished the images revealed elephants, lions, the Hindu monkey god Hanuman, boats and buildings.

Christophe Potter, an archaeologist who was not involved in the study agreed that the images are not graffiti. “I am very pleased, because the traces identified are quite diverse, lively and original,” he said.

Tan’s research into the paintings is published in the UK journal Antiquity.