Radiocarbon dating technology is being used to unravel the mysteries of a lost culture that once inhabited the mountains of Cambodia, New Zealand scientists announced Wednesday.
Two researchers from the University of Otago's department of anatomy have provided the first radiocarbon dates for unusual jar and log coffin burials on exposed ledges high in southern Cambodia 's rugged Cardamom Mountains, said a statement from the university.
The researchers dated samples of coffin wood, tooth enamel and bone that had been collected during a survey of 10 burial sites that began in 2003.
The results of dating of four sites, published in the U.S.- based journal Radiocarbon, revealed the funerary rituals, which were unlike any other recorded in Cambodia, were practised from at least 1395 AD to 1650 AD.
Dr Nancy Beavan said this period coincided with the decline and fall of the powerful Kingdom of Angkor, which was seated in Cambodia's lowlands.
"Funeral practices in the Angkor Kingdom and its successors involved cremation rather than anything remotely like those found at sites we are studying. This stark difference suggests that, in cultural terms, these unidentified mountain dwellers were a world apart from their lowland contemporaries," said Beavan in the statement.
Most of the research that made up what was previously known about cultural history of the Khmer regions had focused on the lowlands, she said.
"Through our work we hope to broaden the understanding of this history beyond the legacies of the great Khmer Kingdom alone to those who lived within its margins," she said.
Dr Sian Halcrow said in the statement that the archaeological findings from another of the 10 sites would offer important new clues about whom the mysterious people were, their culture, trade connections and biological adaptation to the environment.
However, those findings were still being prepared for publication.
The two New Zealand researchers were working with colleagues from Cambodia, Australia, the United States and Scotland, said the statement.
Radiocarbon dating measures the proportion of radioactive radiocarbon to carbon in materials that were once part of living organisms.