Modelling a medieval metropolis

Exploring the historical recreation of an ancient metropolis through virtual simulations

Angkor is one of the most important archaeological sites in South-East Asia. Stretching over some 400 km2, the Angkor Archaeological Park in Cambodia contains the magnificent remains of successive capitals of the Khmer Empire, from the 9th to the 15th century. For almost a decade, the Visualising Angkor Project has used 3D modelling, 3D animation and, lately, virtual reality, to explore evidence based reconstructions of the living city of Angkor. These reconstructions draw upon data from a wide array of sources, from archaeological surveys through to historical accounts, photographic archives, textile studies and botanical references. The library of 3D models generated in the course of this research can be used to visualise hypothetical reconstructions of the past that augment and illuminate information from historical texts and archaeological surveys.

Since 2014, the research team has been researching and crafting a dynamic simulation that draws upon recent archaeological discoveries to visualise how the Angkor Wat complex might have operated almost a millennium ago. As well as creating a comprehensive virtual reconstruction the research allows an immersive analytic study of the complex, where the paths of thousands of animated ‘agents’ are tracked as they enter, exit and circulate within the temple enclosure.

Simulating 24 hours at Angkor Wat in the 12th Century
Visualising hypothetical reconstructions of the past
One aim of the project is an immersive analytic study of the complex interactions between different social groups

Recently, we have been drafting a virtual map of Greater Angkor based upon GIS datasets and archaeological airborne LIDAR surveys. This reconstructed cultural landscape has been augmented with a range of interactive graphical insets, an annotated archaeological site registry, and location specific excerpts translated from the corpus of Khmer epigraphy. This broader goal is to reappraise Angkor not as a modern-day ruin but as an preindustrial metropolis of the late 14th century, replete with glittering temples, massive reservoirs and dense wooden settlements clustered among a mosaic of rice fields.

A view over the northeast of Angkor in the new virtual map
Archaeological survey mapping layers

Such visualisations establish an iterative dialogue between 3D animators, archaeologists, and historians to test how assumptions about Angkor can be made more precise. As new information is gathered, the project is refined to become increasingly more accurate.


Virtual Angkor website that offers teaching modules and VR materials that augment traditional teaching methods.

Winner of the American Historical Associations’ 2018 Roy Rosenzweig Prize for Innovation in Digital History

A two part curated exhibition on Google Arts & Culture; part one explores the city of Angkor, part two gives an overview of the work on the temple of Angkor Wat

Images from the research were displayed at the Asian Civilisations Museum Singapore in Angkor: Exploring Cambodia’s Sacred City, 8 April – 29 July 2018. The museum catalogue is available online.

A New Model of Angkor Wat: Simulated Reconstruction as a Methodology for Analysis and Public Engagement. T. Chandler, B. McKee, E. Wilson, M. Yeates & M. Polkinghorne. Australian and New Zealand Journal of Art, Volume 17, 2017 – Issue 2

A proposed touring exhibition developed in conjunction with Helios Projects and MuseumsPartner.


Project members

Tom Chandler
Brent McKee
Chandara Ung
Elliott Wilson
Mike Yeates

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