The scientific journal that published a study saying that a giant ruin structure in Indonesia could be “the oldest pyramid in the world” has now launched an investigation into that extraordinary claim.
The magazine Archaeological Prospection published the research on October 20, but a large number of archaeologists have since disputed the results.
The study brought a “discovery” that the prehistoric pyramid on the island of Java is 27 thousand years old.
What did the ‘discovery’ say?
Recent analysis has led scientists to believe that the structure known as Gunung Padang, which means “mountain of enlightenment,” was built atop an extinct volcano on Java, Indonesia’s most populous island.
Scientists from Indonesia’s National Agency for Research and Innovation (BRIN) believe the structure could be much older than Stonehenge in England or the great pyramids of Giza in Egypt, both around 5,000 years old.
They said the pyramid is the oldest monolithic structure (a building or statue made from a single piece of material, usually rock) in the world.
According to what they claim, the conclusion was the result of research at the site between 2011 and 2015, using techniques such as drilling and ground-penetrating radar.
They believe the construction schedule was approximately as follows:
- construction would have begun at some point in the last glacial period (a period in which the Earth becomes colder), at least 16 thousand years ago and possibly 27 thousand years ago;
- the central part of the structure was probably built between 25,000 and 14,000 BC, but was abandoned for several thousand years;
- construction would have begun again around 7,900 to 6,100 BC. At this time the builders appear to have buried parts of the site on purpose;
- the pyramid would have been completed around 2000 to 1100 BC, with the addition of the stone terraces that can be seen on the surface of the volcano today.
Geologist Danny Hilman Natawidjaja, a BRIN researcher, says that Gunung Padang is not a natural hill, but a layered pyramid-shaped construction.
He and his team collected soil samples deep inside the hill and are confident in the validity of the result, mainly due to the high content of organic matter found.
The discovery of what researchers say is a large, multi-level room in the center of the building has led them to conclude that Gunung Padang is actually a pyramid.
The team believes that construction and cave paintings at this site have existed since the last ice age.
“This discovery challenges the conventional belief that human civilization and the development of advanced construction techniques emerged during the early Holocene or early Neolithic period,” the geologist told the BBC.
“The builders of the second and third strata at Gunung Padang must have had extraordinary building skills — something that is inconsistent with a traditional hunter-gatherer culture,” Natawidjaja said.
However, several archaeologists disagree with the conclusions of Natawidjaja’s research — one of them is Indonesian Lutfi Yondri.
Yondri considers the conclusion that Gunung Padang is a buried pyramid to be erroneous.
It’s a “conjectural conclusion” with data that can’t be trusted, he says.
Indonesia has no cultural tradition of building pyramids.
“The question is: has anyone ever buried a pyramid in a mountain in the archipelago?” says Yondri. “When did people bury pyramids in mountains? How much material would it take to create a mountain?”
Yondri states that Gunung Padang is an example of a more typical Indonesian structure.
“Did Indonesia ever have a pyramid culture? No. The inhabitants of the archipelago have punden berundak (stone terraces),” he told the BBC.
Stone terraces are table-shaped rock structures used for ancestor worship ceremonies.
It is believed that Gunung Padang was used for this type of ritual. Yondri states that this makes it likely that Gunung Padang is in fact a set of stone terraces rather than a pyramid.
Yondri also questioned the samples used in the research and said that it is not possible to make guesses about their origin without considering the cultural context.
The BBC made several attempts to contact Archaeological Prospection magazine, but received no response.
However, Archeological Prospection co-editor Eileen Ernenwein, an archaeological geophysicist at Tennessee State University in the US, said in an email to the academic journal Nature that an investigation into the published paper was ongoing. And that it would follow the guidelines of the agreement with the Publications Ethics Committee.
Natawidjaja told the BBC there was no need for an investigation as his research team adhered to all ethical standards and their findings were subjected to a rigorous nine-month review process by the scientific journal.