Although advancements over the last 100 years have catapulted mankind forward in terms of scientific and technological discoveries, it is imperative that we recognise and value the incredible achievements of past civilisations. Whilst conspiracy theorists believe that the amazing and seemingly impossible structures and artefacts of the past must have an extra-terrestrial explanation, others believe that many civilisations that came before evolved rapidly until they were eventually wiped out. Personal beliefs are somewhat irrelevant when we look at the structures in all their glory, they are mysterious, amazing, unbelievable but most of all they are to be regarded as incredible insights into the history and evolution of mankind. We all have images of ancient civilisation standing in loin cloths holding clubs but the architecture which has survived paints a picture of sophisticated, intelligent engineers.
When we look at modern architectural feats of engineering such as the Empire State Building, Eiffel Tower and Sydney Opera House that were created with the benefit of modern technology and machinery, it seems impossible that ancient structures were constructed with nothing except human ingenuity and determination. Even more amazing is the fact that many of these structures still exist today as amazing examples of the resilience of the human spirit. Although the earth is approximately 4.5 billion years old, the human race has only existed for roughly 200,000 years of which the last few millennia have been the most exciting, productive and remarkable. The majority of the structures outlined below have only existed for 2000 years or less which is a minute timeframe in the history of the world.
14. Derinkuyu’s Massive, Underground City
Derinkuyu’s Massive is an 18 storey underground city dating back to around the 8th Century BC. It was discovered in 1968 and it is still unknown who built it. What is amazing about this structure is that it consists of a huge network of underground chambers that was dug by hand with the capability to hold 20,000 people. It is believed that it may have been built to protect against natural disaster or war, it has access to fresh flowing water that comes from wells not connected to the land above and unbelievably it contains individual quarters, communal rooms, shops, a school, tombs and an escape route! The civilisation who built were basically ensuring their survival in any situation, unfortunately, we do not know who they were or what happened to them.
Pumapunku is a city built in ancient Bolivia by the Tiwanaku people and it understood to be between 12- and 14000 years old making it one of the oldest stone structures on planet earth. It is made up of interlocking stones which fit together like Lego blocks. Some of the stones are so large (up to 130 tons and 25 feet long) and cut so precisely, it is impossible to figure out how they moved the stones to their location and how, with no technology (not even the wheel existed), the cut patterns and interlocking shapes so precise, they would put modern lasers to shame. They may also have used metal clamp-type devices to secure the blocks together to prevent damage during earthquakes etc. Although the Tiwanaku people eventually vanished, the civilisation to follow (Incans), regarded Pumapunku as the centre of the world and the people who created it as gods.
12. Gobekli Tepe
Dating back to 9000BC, Gobekli Tepe in Turkey is one of the oldest stone structures in the world. Built during the Stone Age, it is approx. 6000 years older than Stonehenge! It is made up of huge (up to 30 feet tall), hand-carved limestone pillars and predates agriculture which contradicts traditional historical thinking that man only learned to build after he learned to farm because he could then settle in one place. There were a large number of remains discovered at the site which may indicate that it was a religious site where sacrifices were made to please the gods. The pillars also have hieroglyphics on them depicting animals.
11. Pyramids at Giza
The pyramids at Giza, dating back to around 2550 BC, are the oldest of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. Although the outer surface has a rough appearance, it was once covered in a smooth limestone outer layer which was later plundered during the building of Cairo. The largest of the three pyramids, known as The Great Pyramid was built to facilitate the burial of the Pharaoh Khufu. This took twenty years and an astonishing 100,000 people to build. Although, it is a common misconception that the pyramids were built by slaves, this is in fact untrue, it was built by normal citizens to pay tribute to their Pharaoh who in turn provided them with food and clothing during the flood season when they were unable to farm the land. The limestone blocks used to build the pyramids weigh an average of 2.5 tons but some can weigh up to 16 tons making us wonder how a civilisation which existed so long ago were capable of moving such large blocks, particularly towards the top of the pyramid when the incline would have been immense. It is thought that they may have used a sophisticated pulley system but no evidence has been found to support this to date.
Officially known as the Flavian Amphitheatre, the Coloseum was commissioned around 70AD by the Emperor Vespasian as a gift for the people of Rome. There are roughly two-thirds of the Coloseum that have fallen into ruin due to use for building materials following centuries of neglect. It is the largest of the amphitheatres in the Roman world and took an entire decade to build. In its prime, it had the ability to hold over 50,000 spectators and it contained a large number of drinking fountains and latrines. It is one of the only amphitheatres that is freestanding as opposed to many others that were built into hillsides that were dug to allow for more stability. Although a certain amount of technology existed at the time, it is difficult to imagine how the ancient romans achieved such accuracy and craftsmanship when creating the arches and pillar that make the Coloseum so iconic.
9. Roman Aqueducts
Dating back to 300BC, the aqueducts are by far the most ingenious and advanced construction of ancient roman society. Serving a population of over 1 million, there were 11 aqueducts in total (which took almost 500 years to complete) which supplied fountains, public baths and even private residents with fresh flowing water while also removing waste water ensuring a clean, effluent free city which was revolutionary in its day. A truly astounding aspect of the Aqueducts in Rome is that they tower 30 miles above ground via bridges and archways and also burrow through 260 miles of rock underground. This complex system took a large amount of maintenance after its construction and eventually many of them were neglected and fell into disrepair but there are a few that are still in use to this day. Although the Romans did not invent the Aqueduct system, they certainly perfected it, inspiring civilisations for centuries to come, not to mention amazing endless amounts of tourists with its forward thinking design and function.
8. Terracotta Warriors
The terracotta army is a collection of approximately 8000 terracotta warrior sculptures that were commissioned around 210 BCE by the First Emperor of China, Qin Shi Huang as a form of funerary art that was intended to protect him in the afterlife. Discovered in 1974, the soldiers vary in size according to their rank/role within the army, the largest ones holding higher ranks. Also buried with the soldiers were 130 chariots with 520 horses and 150 cavalry horses. Also discovered in the Emperors burial place were figures of entertainers such as acrobats and musicians and an entire necropolis was also discovered. It is believed that the construction of the Terracotta Army involved over 700,000 people and spanned over 40 years which is an incredible feat for a civilisation that existed over 2200 years ago.
7. Ancient Stone City of Petra
The ancient stone city of Petra was built sometime around 300 BC by the Nabataeans in the desert of Jordan. The huge dwellings were cut directly into the sandstone cliff faces and include temples, tombs, houses and even aqueducts. At the time of its construction, Petra was home to roughly 20,000 people. Although the ruins are impressive as they stand, archaeologists have as yet only uncovered about 15% of the city, the remainder is still buried underground. The city was also home to several scenes from “Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade”. Although the Nabataeans were a culture in their own right, they also have connections with ancient Greece and Rome, with several Greco-Roman artefacts and scrolls having been found at Petra. The city is vast in both history and stature with the eastern entrance doorway standing at almost 250ft in height. This leads to the Treasury which was once used as a royal tomb, nothing like what was depicted in the movie.
Stonehenge is over 5000 years old and stands in the English Countryside. It is thought that the structure was erected in three phases that took over 30 million man hours to complete. The first stage involved excavating huge holes which were about 1 metre in width and depth which were probably used for religious ceremonies as archaeologists have found cremated human remains in the chalk of these craters. Stage 2 which began almost a thousand years later involved transporting and erecting bluestones weighing up to 4 tonnes from South-East Wales which was a distance of about 240 miles by both land and water. The Sarsen stones, weighed up to 50 tonnes, arrived at the site around 2000BC and modern experts have estimated that each of these stones would have taken approximately 500 men to move them pulling them with leather ropes. Finally around 1500BC, the stones were rearranged in a crescent and circle as we see them today. The sheer size and weight of the stones would make modern machinery struggle and it is amazing to imagine ancient man building such a site which little except their own strength.
5. Antikythera Mechanism
The Antikythera mechanism is a 2000 year old astronomical calculator, similar to a clock in its workings, with 30 hand crafted gears. It was discovered in 1900 on a ship wreckage in Greece and is thought to be the only device of this sophistication from its time to exist. It has shown incredible accuracy in astronomical detail and was used to record the passing of weeks, months and years using the alignment and positioning of planets.
Antikythera which was once a busy trade route and a base for Pirates (who captured and held Julius Caesar for ransom) now has less than 50 inhabitants.
Newgrange is an Irish passage tomb dating back to 3200BC. It is a large mound surrounded by 97 kerb stones, the largest of which is at its entrance. The inside of the mound consists of a single tomb and which is made up of a long passage and cross shaped chamber. The roof of the mound has remained completely waterproof for the last 5000 years due to the fact that the builders who constructed it built up overlapping stones until it could be completely covered at the top. There are five basin stones within Newgrange which held remains of the dead. Both the entrance stone and the one directly opposite at the back of the mound are highly decorated with swirls and other Neolithic designs. Other kerbstones and inner stones have elaborate designs including the famous tri-spiral. It is known that Newgrange was a religious site but the most fascinating aspect of the entire mount is the space above the entrance or “roof box”. At dawn on December 21st each year (Winter Solstice), the sun enters the mound through this roof box, illuminating the entire passage with an accuracy that has baffled scientists and historians for many years.
3. Goseck Circle
Thought to be the world’s first observatory, the Goseck Circle is a henge in Eastern Germany with three gates, two of which appear to map the summer and Winter Solstices. Discovered in 2002, it is thought to be over 7000 years old which indicates the farmers of this era were much more sophisticated and intelligent that previously thought. It is thought the site was used to worship the constellations. This indicated the existence of ritual observatories 2000 years earlier than previously thought. Although there are more than 250 ring ditches of its type across Germany, scientists have not excavated or studied many of them and they believe this may be the most significant of them.
2. The Treasures of Sibudu Cave
The Sibudu Cave in South Africa is home to many of the world’s oldest artefacts dating back as far as 77000 years ago. It contains evidence of bedding, cooking, animal traps and even glue making! Although scientists have as yet only examined 10% of the cave, they have discovered that humans have been performing complex tasks for far longer than was previously believed. There is evidence of complicated processes and advanced toll and weapon making skills which were thought to have developed a good deal later. Although there are known spears that predate Sibudu, the cave is still a significant discovery in dating the development of cognitive thought in humans. Astonishingly, the cave even contains the oldest sewing needle known to man which indicates that the people who resided here were resourceful and intelligent.
1. The Ancient City of Nan Madol
Nan Madol is an ancient city that lies in ruins off the coast of Micronesia. Dubbed the “Venice of the Pacific”, Nan Madol is made up of a series of man-made islands connected by various canals and passageways. Local legends say that the builders of the ancient city must have used magic because it would have been physically and technologically impossible to move stone that weighed up to 50 tonnes and erect it in the way they did. Nan Madol has baffled scientists for years due to the fact that it is built on coral and protrudes only 5 feet above the water’s surface. There was no access to food or drinking water so the inhabitants had to go inland for supplies. Another aspect of the culture that baffles scientists to this day is the fact that remains were found on the island of figures that were 2-3 metres in height.