Gunung Padang, located in the Cianjur district, West Java province, Indonesia, has been the subject of comprehensive archaeological, geological, and geophysical studies in recent years. This site, whose name means “mountain of enlightenment” in the local language, has historically been used for religious rituals.

The initial archaeological studies were conducted in the 1980s by the National Institute of Archaeology of Indonesia, leading to the site’s restoration in 1985. In 1998, Gunung Padang was designated as a Cultural Heritage at the provincial level.

Previous research considered it a large megalithic site composed of stone terraces, locally known as punden berundak. It was assumed that Gunung Padang was a prehistoric site built between several hundred and a couple of thousand years before Christ.

However, new studies conducted between 2011 and 2014 using a comprehensive approach that combines archaeological, geological, and geophysical methods have revealed a much more complex reality beneath the surface. These investigations indicate that Gunung Padang is not simply a set of prehistoric terraces but a sophisticated underground construction with large chambers and cavities.

The core of the pyramid is formed by enormous blocks meticulously carved from andesitic lava. This core is surrounded by multiple layers of successive stone constructions. Carbon dating analyses support the hypothesis that it is a structure built and modified over an extensive period.

The oldest construction is believed to date back to the last glacial period, between 25,000 and 14,000 years ago. It is likely that it was originally a natural lava hill that was later sculpted and architecturally modified.

After thousands of years of abandonment and weathering, around 7900 to 6100 B.C., the structure was intentionally buried under large amounts of soil.

About a thousand years later, between 6000 and 5500 B.C., a new culture built an upper layer. Finally, the current visible layer of simple stone terraces was erected between 2000 and 1100 B.C. It is intriguing that when building this last layer, the previous one was deliberately buried, possibly to preserve it.

These findings challenge the conventional belief that human civilizations with advanced technical capabilities only emerged during the Holocene, with the advent of agriculture about 11,000 years ago. On the contrary, Gunung Padang shows advanced construction and engineering skills in earlier periods, possibly before the invention of agriculture.

The original builders of Gunung Padang must have possessed remarkable stone masonry skills, beyond what is expected for traditional hunter-gatherer cultures.

The deliberate preservation of these buried millennia-old structures indicates the significant importance that this site had, attracting different cultures throughout history.

If future research confirms these hypotheses through precise dating and systematic excavations, Gunung Padang could become the oldest pyramid in the world, transforming our understanding of the origin of human civilizations.

Update

The above article, published online on 20 October 2023 in Wiley Online Library (wileyonlinelibrary.com), has been retracted by agreement between the journal Editors-in-Chief, Eileen Ernenwein and Gregory Tsokas, and John Wiley & Sons, Ltd. Following publication of this article, concerns were raised by third parties with expertise in geophysics, archaeology, and radiocarbon dating, about the conclusions drawn by the authors based on the evidence reported. The publisher and the Co-Editors-in-Chief have investigated these concerns and have concluded that the article contains a major error. This error, which was not identified during peer review, is that the radiocarbon dating was applied to soil samples that were not associated with any artifacts or features that could be reliably interpreted as anthropogenic or “man-made.” Therefore, the interpretation that the site is an ancient pyramid built 9000 or more years ago is incorrect, and the article must be retracted. Danny Hilman Natawidjaja responded on behalf of the authors, all of whom disagree with the retraction.


Sources

Danny Holman Natawidjaja, Andang Bachtiar, et al., Geo-archaeological prospecting of Gunung Padang buried prehistoric pyramid in West Java, Indonesia. Archaeological Prospection, doi.org/10.1002/arp.1912


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