Each year, millions of visitors flock to Angkor Wat, an ancient temple in modern-day Cambodia. There, they marvel at the 900-year-old towers, a giant moat and the shallow relief sculptures of Hindu gods. But what they can’t see are 200 hidden paintings on the temple walls.
New, digitally enhanced images reveal detailed murals at Angkor WatÂ showing elephants, deities, boats, orchestral ensembles and people riding horses â€” all invisible to the naked eye.
Many of the faded markings could be graffiti left behind by pilgrims after Angkor Wat was abandoned in the 15th century. But the more elaborate paintings may be relics of the earliest attempts to restore the temple, researchers said.
Subtle traces of paint caught the eye of Noel Hidalgo Tan, a rock-art researcher at Australian National University in Canberra, while he was working on an excavation at Angkor Wat in 2010.
Built between A.D. 1113 and 1150, Angkor Wat stood at the center of Angkor, the capital of the Khmer Empire. The 500-acre (200 hectares) complex, one of the largest religious monuments ever erected, originally served as a Hindu temple dedicated to the god Vishnu, but was transformed into a Buddhist temple in the 14th century.