Gunung Padang, The World’s Oldest Pyramid

Last updated on March 8th, 2023 at 05:42 am

Gunung Padang, located in Indonesia, is believed to be the world’s oldest pyramid. Dutch colonizers discovered it in the early 20th century, which allowed organizations to study it extensively.

Gunung Padang covers approximately 150,000 square meters of land, and experts believe it was built more than 20,000 years ago.

However, there are still many questions about Gunung Padang; keep reading to learn more about this mysterious structure. 

A view of Gunung Padang by RaiyaniM. CC BY-SA 4.0

Where is Gunung Padang Located?

Gunung Padang, located in Indonesia, is considered the world’s oldest pyramid.

However, this ancient structure has been shrouded in mystery for centuries, and archaeologists are still trying to figure out its true purpose. 

Mount Padang is located in the West Java province of Indonesia. To be exact, Gunung Padang is situated in the Karyamukti village, Cianjur regency, about 100 kilometers south of the capital city of Jakarta.

What is Gunung Padang?

Gunung Padang is a massive complex of stone structures built using sophisticated engineering techniques that predate the agricultural revolution.

Many researchers believe ancient people used it as a spiritual center or burial ground. But, unfortunately, we may never know the whole story behind this mysterious pyramid!

Archaeologists consider the structure a pyramid, but it doesn’t fit the general definition.

Gunung Padang is a megalithic site consisting of stone terraces leading up to a central peak.

The pyramid has several levels, and each has its unique purpose, but archaeologists have yet to determine what purpose because excavations were stopped.

Although based on information uncovered from excavations and research from Danny Hilman Natawidjaja, a senior geologist at Indonesia’s Centre for Geotechnical Research, it looks like ancient people built each layer at different times throughout history.

Danny and his team concluded after using techniques like penetrating radar surveys, X-ray tomography, 2D and 3D imaging, and core drilling.

What brought researchers to this site in the first place were the basalt stones that makeup Gunung Padang.

These basalt stones framed the terraces around the steps and formed walls, paths, and different spaces; the basalt stones were more like carved pillars.

Gunung Padang is an extraordinary site, and it needs more research before we can determine its purpose and how they built such a massive structure without modern technology.

However, it does hint at the possibility that ancient civilizations had more capability than previous research has given them credit for; the terraced pyramid appears to be massive based on, approximately three times larger than Java’s Borobudur Temple

From what researchers have gleaned so far from Gunung Padang’s excavation, multiple ancient civilizations built off of the work of the people that came before them.

There are four layers to the Gunung Padang site, with the oldest layer dating back to 25,000 BCE.

Many professionals refer to this structure as a pyramid, and while it may represent one, Gunung Padang is still an enigma.

It’s not a conventional pyramid in the traditional sense, mainly since it differs from other civilizations previously uncovered in the past, like the Mayans.

For instance, Mayan pyramids were symmetrical, and sometimes their cities were planned, which indicates urban planning; however, the civilization that built the Gunung Padang pyramid made an elongated structure with a half-circle in the front. 

Researchers noticed the pyramid because the shape of its structure is unlike the surrounding topography, which is eroded and more natural-looking.

What About The Layers?

As mentioned, the pyramid built by this unnamed civilization was built in layers, so it was likely constructed or built upon by separate people or perhaps different generations of the same tribe or society.

Many have tried to speculate about the age of these layers, but through preliminary carbon dating, researchers have determined the approximate age of each layer.

The three artificial layers of Gunung Padang are as follows:

  • The first layer could be approximately 3,500 years old
  • The second layer could be nearly 8,000 years old
  • The third layer could be somewhere between 9,500 years and 28,000 years old.

The fourth layer seems to be a carved “lava tongue” of basalt rock modified by the civilizations who constructed the pyramid.

It’s unclear how they could groove or shape basalt, as many hard stones in the same category, like granite, are challenging to work with, let alone carve.

Even hardened iron tools, much like the Assyrians that invaded Egypt had, would have difficulty making such cuts into the stone. 

If this civilization had access to bronze tools as the Egyptians did, they would be faced with a softer metal with a Mohs hardness of 3.5, making it impossible to carve Basalt.

We need to do more research, but for now, it could mean that this ancient civilization predates any before it and had access to what researchers would call “high technology.”

What is The Status of The Site Today?

Gunung Padang is currently open to the public, and there seem to be tours available upon request.

The site was closed in 2014 for further excavation, but discussions surrounding its origins and the data collected so far haven’t ceased.

Many experts in the field remain baffled by Gunung Padang and can’t seem to conclude its function or how it was constructed.

In a 2013 interview Michael Bachelard, a journalist for the Sydney Morning Herald, asked Danny Hilman Natawidjaja questions about Gunung Padang.

Natawidjaja doubled down on Gunung Padang’s potential to be the world’s oldest pyramid or megalithic structure. Hilman said that Gunung Padang “could predate the next oldest [pyramid] up to 20,000 years ago.”

He later added, “It’s crazy, but it’s data.” Skeptics of Hilman’s findings question the motives behind his research.

Some say that he’s looking for validation of Gunung Padang as a political tool to boost Indonesian nationalism.

However, President Yudhoyono was impressed by Hilman’s data and appointed a government task force to investigate the site further.

He urged great haste in determining the origins of Gunung Padang and its potential as a national icon.

President Yudhoyono described the work as a “national mission” or a “task of history” that was important for the value of human history.

What’s in Store for Gunung Padang?

Others in the archaeological community are more cautious about Gunung Padang’s potential as the world’s oldest pyramid.

They argue that insufficient data has been collected to make such a claim.

However, renowned volcanologist Sutiko Bronto stated that Gunung Padang is the neck of a volcano near the site; images and surveys of the land point to Java being a land of volcanos.

Bronto isn’t alone in his assessment of Gunung Padang. Furthermore, other excavations haven’t produced the same results; approximately 30 miles away, excavators found bone tools in a cave.

Because of this, it’s difficult for scientists to believe that the civilizations that built Gunung Padang were advanced enough to make the pyramid when they had neighbors who were still using bone tools.

In sum, even though Hilman and his researchers have presented a strong argument against those who think 20,000-year-old hunter-gatherers are primitive, many are unconvinced.

The search for proof continues apace while the debate rages on. Gunung Padang, it seems, will keep its secrets for a bit longer.

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