arly civilisations across monsoon Asia typically built cities of wood, which disappeared centuries ago, leaving behind only enigmatic temples such as Angkor Wat. To understand how societies flourished in this challenging environment, we need to read the faint traces of everyday life that remain etched into the landscape beyond the monuments. Airborne laser scanning or lidar technology is currently revolutionising this process, thanks to its unique ability to see through vegetation and create high-resolution three-dimensional models of the terrain underneath, revealing cityscapes previously obscured by dense jungle. The new data encourages us to think differently about human settlement in the tropics, and challenge the very definition of urban.
Damian Evans is an archaeologist who uses geospatial technologies to document and analyse archaeological landscapes, with a view to understanding long-term relationships between humans and their environment. His work focuses on understanding the spatial structure and layout of early cities in Southeast Asia, in particular Angkor. He pioneered the use of lidar for archaeological research in Asia, and now heads a research lab using the technology to investigate tropical urbanism, water management and sustainability from the past until the present. He has published widely on these issues, and his work has been the subject of numerous print and television features.