Angkor Wat Yields Astounding Buried Towers

The temple has a 213-foot-tall central tower that is surrounded by four smaller towers and a series of enclosure walls.

Eight buried towers and the remains of a massive spiral structure created from sand have been discovered at Angkor Wat in Cambodia.

The massive structure - almost a mile long - contains a spiral design, with several rectangular spirals that form a giant structure, archaeologists say. "This structure, which has dimensions of more than 1,500 m × 600 m (about 1 mile by 1,970 feet) is the most striking discovery associated with Angkor Wat to date. Its function remains unknown and, as yet, it has no known equivalent in the Angkorian world," Roland Fletcher, a University of Sydney professor, said in a statement put out by the university.

Today, the spiral structure is hard to make out on the ground, having been obscured by modern features and vegetation.

Photos: Accidental Archaeological Discoveries

By examining the mile-long spiral structure and the stone towers, researchers date them back to when Angkor Wat was first built in the 12th century A.D. [See Photos of the Spiral Structure and Buried Towers at Angkor Wat]

King Suryavarman II had Angkor Wat built as a Hindu temple to the god Vishnu. The temple has a 213-foot-tall (65 meters) central tower that is surrounded by four smaller towers and a series of enclosure walls. The layout "is considered to correspond with the cosmology of Mount Meru and the surrounding Sea of Milk from which ambrosia was churned by the gods and demons," wrote a research team in an article published this month in the journal Antiquity.

Antiquity recently published a special section dedicated to the latest archaeological research at Angkor Wat.

Mystical Paintings Suddenly Appear at Angkor Wat

Spiral mystery The spiral structure is difficult to make out from the ground, and archaeologists found it using LiDAR - a laser-scanning technology that allows scientists to detect structures obscured by vegetation or modern development.

When surveyed on the ground the structure turned out to be made of "archaeologically sterile banks of sand," meaning it contained no artifacts from the past, wrote archaeologists Damian Evans, a researcher with École française d'Extrême-Orient, and Roland Fletcher in an Antiquity article.

"Quite how the spirals functioned is not at all clear," Evans and Fletcher wrote. One possibility is that it is a garden that provided the temple with produce for rituals and eating, the spiral patterns possibly having a spiritual significance.

Ancient City of Angkor Bigger Than Thought

Evans and Fletcher found that the spiral structure was not in use for long. A canal that cut through the spiral design was built later in the 12th century.

"The spiral features would only have been functional for a brief period during the mid-to-late twelfth century A.D.," Evans and Fletcher wrote. They say that it's possible the spiral structure was never completed.

Buried towers Another discovery, made using ground-penetrating radar and archaeological excavation, are the remains of what appear to be eight demolished towers constructed out of sandstone and laterite (a type of rock). They were found on the western side of Angkor Wat beside a gateway across the moat.

The dating is not entirely clear but it appears that many of the towers were created during the early-to-mid 12th century when Angkor Wat was being constructed.

Ancient Mayan City Discovered in Mexican Jungle

Archaeologists found that some of the towers form a series of squares that may have supported one or more structures. They also found that many of the towers were constructed before the gateway wall.

They theorize that the towers could have supported a shrine that was in use while construction of Angkor Wat was underway.

"The configuration of the buried ‘towers' contains the unique possibility that a shrine was built on the western side of the Angkor Wat platform during the period when the main temple was being constructed," a research team wrote in an article published in Antiquity.

Once the main temple was constructed and work on the gateway across the western moat began, the shrine could have been torn down, researchers say.

'Lost' City Found Beneath Cambodian Jungle

More discoveries Archaeologists uncovered several other secrets of Angkor Wat. For instance, the LiDAR survey revealed the remains of homes and ponds that would have been used by workers who serviced the temple.

Additionally, researchers found that later in Angkor Wat's history - after it had been converted to a Buddhist temple - the site was turned into a military fortification with wooden structures being built to defend the moated site.

"Angkor Wat is the first and only known example of an Angkorian temple being systematically modified for use in a defensive capacity," Fletcher said. The fortification of it was "one of the last major constructions at Angkor and is perhaps indicative of its end."

Original article on Live Science.

Images: Lost Medieval City Discovered Near Angkor Wat Photos: The Riddle of Ancient Angkor Photos: Secret Paintings of Angkor Wat Copyright 2015 LiveScience, a Purch company. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Sept. 12, 2011 --

 In the search for buried history, archaeologists pour their resources into uncovering the remnants of the distant past. With know-how, persistence and a little luck, archaeologists can push aside dirt and rock and find an artifact of historical significance. Although chance plays a big role in unearthing history, archaeological treasures have been stumbled upon purely by accident, often by those outside the scientific community. In these photos, explore several particularly serendipitous finds of unique artifacts, some of which reach as far back as prehistory.

On Sept. 12, 1940, four teenagers followed their wayward dog into a cave complex near the village of Montignac in southwestern France. To their surprise, the caves hosted something remarkable: nearly 2,000 paintings and etchings of animals, humans and abstract shapes on the walls dating back between 15,000 and 25,000 years.  Known as the Lascaux caves, the complex features figures depicted in surprising detail given the age of the illustrations. Animals portrayed on the cave walls included horses, stags, bison and felines.  Archaeologists believed the caves were used for ritualistic purposes. Some parts of the illustrations even appear to construct a narrative, but what they mean exactly has yet to be deciphered. The caves were open to the public in 1948, but closed in 1963 in order to preserve the site from damage.

The Dead Sea Scrolls are a collection of over 800 biblical texts made of animal skin and papyrus. Dating to around 2,000 years ago, between the years 200 B.C. and 70 A.D., the scrolls could well be the oldest such documents in existence and have deepened historians' understanding of religious history. These documents may have been lost to history had a Bedouin shepherd named Muhammed edh-Dhib and his cousin not stumbled upon the first manuscripts along the northern shore of the Dead Sea at a remote site known as Qumran in 1947. The last fragments of the Dead Sea Scrolls collection was uncovered in the mid-1950s. Although the scrolls have been extensively studied and translated, one big mystery remains: Who exactly wrote them?

As Napoleon Bonaparte's army marched through north Africa during his campaign in Egypt, they stumbled upon what would become known as the Rosetta Stone, after the town where it was discovered. Within Bonaparte's army was a squadron of scholars called Institute of Egypt, also known as the Scientific and Artistic Commission. As the military settled around the Nile Delta, the Institute explored local ruins and artifacts. After the discovery of the stone in 1799, several copies of the inscriptions on its face were made, since no one could read them at the time. By 1802, the Greek and Demotic portions of the stone had been deciphered by scholars. The hieroglyphics posed a different challenge all together, however, and it would take 20 years before French scholar Jean-François Champollion announced that he had cracked the code. By deciphering the hieroglyphs, Champollion opened a whole new door to understanding the civilization of ancient Egypt. The Rosetta Stone is currently kept in the British Museum. 

In case you don't know what a geoglyph is, ancient Peruvians went through the trouble of leaving a picture-perfect definition. Known as the Nazca Lines, these giant carvings into the Earth were only discovered by airplane in the 1930s. Located in the Nazva desert in southern Peru around 250 miles (400 kilometers) south of Lima, the geoglyphs resemble a number of animals including a spider (as seen here), a condor, a monkey, a tree, as well as human figures and geometric patterns. Why exactly indigenous tribes living in the area between 100 B.C. and 650 A.D. felt compelled to produce these works remains a mystery, though archaeologists agree that it is likely tied to religious customs. 

In 1991, German tourists stumbled upon a frozen body in a glacier on the Ötztal Alps between Italy and Austria. Although they originally thought the corpse to be the result of a recent death, the iceman mummy, named Ötzi, in fact dated back 5,300 years. Since Ötzi's discovery, the mummy has been extensively studied. Scientists have learned everything from his last meal to his cause of death to his possible occupation and they have even made reconstructions of his face. Ötzi died in the spring as a result of an arrowhead striking his left clavicle artery. He likely received a ceremonial burial and was found beside tools and other personal items.

Over the years, metal detector enthusiasts, particularly those in the United Kingdom, have uncovered archaeological treasures buried beneath the Earth. In 2009, 30-year-old Nick Davies hauled in 10,000 ancient Roman coins that he had found inside a clay pot buried in Shropshire, U.K. That same year, a trove of 1,500 gold and silver pieces dating back to the Dark Ages were found on a farmer's field in the western region of Staffordshire, England. Last year, 63-year-old David Crisp uncovered 52,000 ancient Roman coins, later given a value of around $1 million, in a clay pot in southwestern England.

In 1986, divers stumbled upon a nearly 2,000-year-old Roman shipwreck some six miles off the coast of the town of Grado, Italy. Measuring 55 feet long and 16 feet wide, the small trade vessel was stocked with 600 amphorae, or vases, packed with sardines and other fish. Further study of the shipwreck revealed that the ancient Roman engineers also had built in a hydraulic system that allowed the ship to carry an aquarium with live fish.