If you thought the ancient inhabitants of Egypt or South America were the first to build pyramids then think again, because new research indicates that the earliest man-made conical monument was constructed in Indonesia as far back as 25,000 years ago.
Known as Gunung Padang, the site had previously been mistaken for a natural hill, yet extensive fieldwork has revealed that the entire structure was in fact built by human hands over the course of several millennia, says IFLscience.
A team of archaeologists, geophysicists, geologists, and paleontologists affiliated with multiple institutions in Indonesia has found evidence showing that Gunung Padang is the oldest known pyramid in the world. In their paper published in the journal Archaeological Prospection, the group describes their multi-year study of the cultural heritage site.
Gunung Padang has for many years been considered a megalithic structure, a period which lasted from 2500 BC to AD 200. The ancient site sits on top of an extinct volcano in West Java, Indonesia, and is considered by locals to be a sacred site. For many years there has been disagreement regarding the nature of the hill, says phys.org. Some have suggested it was made naturally with humans adding some adornments on top, while others have argued that evidence has suggested the hill was all or mostly man-made.
The research team found evidence showing that the structure was built in stages, thousands of years apart. And, they found that the older parts of the structure were made sometime between 25,000 and 14,000 years ago, making it the oldest known pyramid in the world today.
To put that into context, Egypt's Giza pyramids were built some 4,500 years ago. The oldest and largest known monument built by the Mayan civilisation is in Mexico. Called Aguada Fénix, it is a huge raised platform and was built around 3,000 years ago, centuries before the Maya began constructing their famous stepped pyramids.
At Gunung Padang, the researchers found evidence of several efforts that together over time, added up to a completed structure. The first consisted of sculpted lava - where builders had carved shapes onto the top of a small, dead volcano. Then, several thousand years later, sometime between 9,900 and 8,100 years ago, another group added a layer of bricks and rock columns. Some unknown time later, another group added a dirt layer to part of the hill, covering some of the earlier work. Then sometime between 4,000 and 3,100 years ago, yet another group added more top soil, stone terracing, and other elements.
Researchers believe there may be hidden chambers deep within the structure. That's what they will be investigating next.