Gunung Padang: Is It Really The World's Oldest Pyramid?


Jun. 21 2023, Published 10:21 a.m. ET

The Gunung Padang in Indonesia.
Source: RaiyaniM/Wikimedia Commons

Gunung Padang megalithic site

Gunung Padang on the Indonesian island of Java is known as the largest megalithic site in Southeast Asia. Some scientists also believe the site holds the world’s oldest pyramid.

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Gunung Padang means “mountain field” in Sundanese, the native language of the area. The site appears as a hill covered in volcanic stone columns that are lying all over the ground. Some of the stone columns are jutting out of the Earth like tombstones.

Gunung Padang
Source: Mohammad Fadli/Wikimedia Commons

An image taken from Gunung Padang megalithic site, Cianjur, West Java, Indonesia.

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Dutch settlers discovered Gunung Padang in 1914. At first, the megalithic site was thought to be about 2,500 years old. But research presented by Indonesian geologist Danny Hilman Natawidjaja at the 2018 annual American Geophysical Union (AGU) meeting suggests that Gunung Padang could be much older than previously thought.

Gunung Padang has layers of ancient structures.

Natawidjaja and a team of researchers have been studying Gunung Padang since 2010. They suggest that the site isn’t just a hill but ancient structures that have been layered on top of each other, dating back over 10,000 years ago.

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"Our studies proves that the structure does not cover just the top but also wrap around the slopes covering about 15 hectares area at least," the authors wrote in an abstract on their research, as per Science Alert.

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The research team uses ground penetration radar (GPR), seismic tomography, and archaeological excavations to uncover layers of the ancient structure. The top layer of the site, which is visible, is estimated to be about 3,000 to 3,500 years old. The second layer, about 10 feet down, is another arrangement of rock columns that are about 8,000 years old, Science Alert reports.

The third layer dates back over 9,000 years and could be as old as 28,000 years. The fourth and lowest layer is a “lava tongue” basalt rock structure Natawidjaja and his team believe was made by human hands.

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The buried structure at Gunung Padang doesn’t resemble the symmetrical appearance we’re familiar with in existing pyramids. The Gunung Padang pyramid is elongated with a half-circle at the front, reports Live Science.

Is Gunung Padang really the oldest pyramid in the world?

If the bottom structure found underneath Gunung Padang is really 20,000 to 28,000 years old, that will make it the oldest pyramid in the world. However, some critics believe Natawidjaja is off on his dating of the site. The geological techniques used to discover the pyramid-like structure aren’t effective in determining its age, critics say.

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The Pyramid of Djoser.
Source: Getty Images

The Pyramid of Djoser.

The structure also doesn’t quite fit the description of a pyramid because it is terraced and built into a hill rather than being freestanding with a pointed apex, reports The Archaeologist.

According to the website, the oldest pyramid in the world is the Pyramid of Djoser in Egypt. It is estimated to be about 4,692 years old. It was built between 2648 and 2667 BCE as a tomb for Pharaoh Djoser.

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