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A new study claims that the Gunung Padang site in Indonesia is a “prehistoric pyramid” from up to 27,000 years ago.
The study authors site ground-penetrating technologies as the main source for the conclusion.
The archaeological community, however, is questioning the findings and the paper is now under investigation.
The Djoser pyramid in Egypt is known as the oldest in the world at 4,700 years old. A new paper published in Archaeological Prospection calls that record into question with the strong claims of a “prehistoric pyramid” in Indonesia that is up to 27,000 years old. Not everyone is buying the research, however, and now the journal has launched an investigation into the study.
“I’m surprised [the paper] was published as is,” Flint Dibble, archaeologist at Cardiff University, told Nature, which first reported the investigation into the paper. Dibble’s questions pertain not so much the data from the Gunung Padang site, but rather to the conclusions drawn by the authors.
The paper’s authors write that they have “compelling evidence of a complex and sophisticated megalithic site.” Using seismic tomography, the researchers have come to believe that hidden cavities or chambers exist, showing the “presence of multi-layer constructions.”
There could be other explanations.
The Gunung Padang site in West Java, Indonesia, includes a raised earth site. If underneath the soil lies human-built caverns and rooms, it would offer up not only the oldest known pyramid by thousands of years, but also the oldest known use of stone masonry. This would completely undo previous beliefs surrounding civilization advancement in the Paleolithic era.
“These findings offer valuable insights into the construction history of Gunung Padang,” the authors wrote in the paper, “shedding light on the engineering capabilities of ancient civilizations during the Paleolithic era.”
To arrive at their conclusions, the authors used ground-penetrating technologies to uncover what they believe are four layers of construction that include rooms throughout differing phases of build. The first layer is dated to 27,000 to 16,000 years ago, and was done by carbon dating the soil drilled from the site. They also believe that the technology shows sculpted stonework—“meticulously sculpted,” to be exact—and the arranging of rocks in a planned way.
But there’s two giant question marks. Does all this technology—and no visual evidence—really show the work of human (or hominin) hands, or could the ground have shifted over thousands of years, forming layers that left voids in the soil? And what does it mean that no researchers have found evidence of human activity in that area dating that far back, let alone any record of known organized settlements or societies?
Dibble, according to Nature, claims that the natural movement and weathering of rocks can sculpt stone and roll down hills to make it appear planned. But Danny Hilman Natawidjaja, geologist at the National Research and Innovation Agency in Indonesia and study co-author, told Nature that the stones were neatly arranged, shaped, and too large for easy natural transportation. Dibble counters that there’s no evidence to believe that the rocks were shaped by humans.
Then comes the dating. Bill Farley, archaeologist at southern Connecticut State University, told Nature there’s been no evidence that an advanced civilization existed at that site during the last ice age. And while soil samples may well be from 27,000 years ago, without the telltale signs of human activity (such as charcoal or bone fragments), there’s no reason to believe that there was any sort of large settlement in existence during that time—especially in Indonesia. The oldest known complex societies with settlements, which would be required to build pyramid-type structures, is 9,000 years old and located in modern-day Turkey.
The looming question marks on the paper have been enough to warrant another look by the publisher. A deeper investigation into the paper may also spark a more intense scrutiny of Gunung Padang.
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