First Direct Dating for the Construction and Modification of the Baphuon Temple Mountain in Angkor, Cambodia
PublisherPublic Library of Science
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Architecture represents key evidence of dynastic practice and change in the archaeological world. Chronologies for many important buildings and sequences, including the iconic temples of medieval Angkor in Cambodia, are based solely on indirect associations from inscriptions and architectural styles. The Baphuon temple, one of the last major buildings in Angkor without textual or scientifically-derived chronological evidence, is crucial both for the context and date of its construction and the period when its western façade was modified into a unique, gigantic Reclining Buddha. Its construction was part of a major dynastic change and florescence of the Hindu-Mahayana Buddhist state and the modification is the key evidence of Theravada Buddhist power after Angkor's decline in the 15th century. Using a newly-developed approach based on AMS radiocarbon dating to directly date four iron crampons integrated into the structure we present the first direct evidence for the history of the Baphuon. Comprehensive study of ferrous elements shows that both construction and modification were critically earlier than expected. The Baphuon can now be considered as the major temple associated with the imperial reformations and territorial consolidation of Suryavarman I (1010–1050 AD) for whom no previous building to legitimize his reign could be identified. The Theravada Buddhist modification is a hundred years prior to the conventional 16th century estimation and is not associated with renewed use of Angkor. Instead it relates to the enigmatic Ayutthayan occupation of Angkor in the 1430s and 40s during a major period of climatic instability. Accurately dating iron with relatively low carbon content is a decisive step to test long-standing assumptions about architectural histories and political processes for states that incorporated iron into buildings (e.g., Ancient Greece, medieval India). Furthermore, this new approach has the potential to revise chronologies related to iron consumption practices since the origins of ferrous metallurgy three millennia ago.