If you thought the ancient inhabitants of Egypt or South America were the first to build pyramids, then think again, because new research suggests that the earliest conical man-made monument may have been built in Indonesia even before that 25,000 years, writes IFL Science.
Known as Gunung Padang, the site was previously mistaken for a natural hill, but extensive field research has revealed that the entire structure was actually built by human hands over several millennia.
Located in Siangjur District, West Java Province (Indonesia), Gunung Padang is a megalithic complex that sits atop an eye-catching hill. It wasn’t until 2018 that archaeologists first suggested that this hill may actually be man-made, and that Gunung Padang – which means “Mountain of Enlightenment” – encompasses much more than the visible stone structures located on its surface.
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This startling claim comes from a multidisciplinary team of researchers who spent three years studying the site between 2011 and 2014. And while many experts were initially unconvinced, the researchers have now published a detailed account of their investigations, providing concrete evidence to support the idea of Gunung Padang as the oldest pyramid in the world.
“Radiocarbon dating of organic soils reveals multiple construction stages dating back thousands of years BC, with the initial phase dating back to the Paleolithic era,” the authors write. “This study strongly suggests that Gunung Padang is not a natural hill, but a pyramid-like structure,” they continue.
Using a variety of techniques, including electrical resistivity tomography (ERT), ground-penetrating radar (GPR), and seismic tomography (ST), the researchers were able to build a picture of the hill’s internal features, as well as the chronology of its construction. Drilling at seven different points revealed that the pyramid was built in four different stages over thousands of years.
MORE: The world’s largest pyramids
Extending to a height of 20 to 30 meters, the structure begins with the creation of what the authors call Block 4. Buried deep into the hill, this initial phase “probably originated as a natural lava hill” that was “carefully sculpted” into the current took shape between 25,000 and 14,000 years ago.
Block 3 – which consists of columnar rocks “arranged like bricks in a building” was built next – between 7900 and 6100 BC. “About a millennium later, between 6000 and 5500 BC, another builder came to Gunung Padang and built Block 2,” write the authors, who add that “the last builder arrived between 2000 and 1100 BC.” AD, constructing Block 1′.
Interestingly, the team also found evidence of “hidden cavities or chambers within the object”, although these will need to be investigated in more detail in the future. Even more astonishing is the fact that the site appears to have been deliberately buried multiple times, “probably to conceal its true nature for preservation purposes”.
Noting the “remarkable masonry abilities” of Paleolithic craftsmen from Gunung Padang, the researchers say their findings challenge the assumption that complex building techniques were only developed with the advent of agriculture around 11,000 years ago.
Rewriting a long-standing anthropological narrative, the authors conclude that the evidence at Gunung Padang “suggests that advanced building practices were already in place when agriculture was perhaps not yet invented.”
The research was published in the journal Archaeological Prospection.
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