The oldest buildings in the world are mostly tributes to the brief lives of humans, who exist for periods of time far less than the monuments they’ve created. The majority of neolithic buildings that have survived the elements are cairns protected by giant slabs of stone coated with a clay and mud mixture, many of which are located in uninhabited areas close to the sea, but distant enough to avoid the forces of coastal erosion. Other ancient constructions include homes, temples and plazas, some of which challenge conventional opinions about early civilizations.
Although scientists and researchers do their best to ensure accuracy in their findings, radiocarbon dating offers a ballpark figure in terms of determining the age of archaeological sites. Periodic calibration of carbon-dating techniques through testing ancient trees, ice and sediment that allow testers to compare results with the global climate conditions of the past 52,000 years, leading to a gradual increase in accuracy over time.
While further exploration and discovery may uncover even older human structures, these twelve buildings currently stand as the most ancient in the world, linking us to the past and providing a window into what life was like thousands of years ago.
12. The Gavrinis Tomb – 3500 BC
Located on an uninhabited, Southern French island in the Gulf of Morbihan, the tomb at Gavrinis is an ancient stone burial structure with a layer of stone and earth on top. An entrance that’s 46 feet long features patterns such as swirls and decorations of horned animals and axe heads etched into the passageway.
The diameter of the construction is 164 feet with a 17-tonne slab of stone that acts as the ceiling, covered in drawings of bulls and other designs that appear unfinished. Interestingly, the entrance is arranged in such a way that on the Winter Solstice, the sun floods the main passage with light all the way to the rear wall of the tomb.
11. Midhowe Chambered Cairn – 3500 BC
Excavated during 1932 and 1933, the Midhowe Chambered Cairn had plenty of human remains within when discovered. The bodies were all facing the entrance with their backs curled towards the wall. This structure is classified as a cairn – a building made of a layer of stones, in this case to protect the dead from the elements. Located on the northern Scottish island of Rousay, this building is located close to shore and was designed to make it easy to visit relatives who have passed away, rather than seal them off from the world.
10. La Hougue Bie – 3500 BC
La Hougue Bie is another burial site, in Jersey, that dates back to the neolithic age, comprised of large stones that were dragged into spot using wooden rollers and ramps formed with dirt. In addition to death, this burial chamber and passageway was likely also used for other types of ritual gatherings and ceremonies. During the 12th century, this was converted from a pagan site into a Christian area of worship. Currently, a chapel, museum and other tourist structures populate the site after an extensive rebuild undertaken in 1931.
9. Sechin Bajo – 3500 BC
Located in Caral, Peru, Sechin Bajo is a plaza that was discovered in February of 2008 by archaeologist Peter Fuchs. Likely the oldest known structure in the the Americas, Sechin Bajo features layers of buildings stack atop one another, potentially representing a wholesale rebuild of the site one every few centuries.
8. Listoghil – 3550 BC
Also known as Carrowmore 51, Listoghil is a burial cairn located on the southern portion of Ireland. This site is the largest of four passage burial sites in Ireland, covering an area of approximately 1.5 miles squared. The cairn itself measures 110 feet in diameter and is the only covered tomb in the complex. Initially, this site was damaged by quarry activity before workers realized that the area consisted of an ancient tomb. Similar to other neolithic structures, Listoghil becomes flooded with light on specific days of the calendar that represent important cultural dates.
7. West Kennet Long Barrow – 3650 BC
Located only 15 miles away from the legendary stonehenge, West Kennet Long Barrow is one of the biggest chambered tombs on British soil, measuring 328 long and 10.5 feet high with a maximum width of 82 feet. In Britain, the only neolithic structure with larger dimensions is the East Kennet Barrow. Buried inside West Kennet are at least 46 of the deceased, along with tokens such as beads, pottery and even a dagger. According to researchers, the tomb was likely closed off around 2,000 BC, with three sarsen blocking-stones restricting access.
6. Ggantija – 3700 BC
A UNESCO protected world heritage site, the Ggantija temples are located on the Maltese island of Gozo. These temples are considered the oldest standing stone structures in the world, constructed at least hundreds of years earlier than stonehenge and the Egyptian pyramids. Researchers believe the smooth curves that shape the temples are inspired by the feminine – specifically, the Great Earth Mother who spurred pilgrimage for those who lived in the area when the these temples were built.
5. Knap of Howar – 3700 BC
Considered to be the oldest stone houses in northwestern Europe, the Knap of Howar is on the island of Papa Westray in a northern Scottish archipelago. This ancient site comprises of two houses in an oblong, rectangular area, complete with stone cupboards, stalls, a workshop and a passage that links the two abodes. The Knap of Howar was discovered accidentally due to erosion, which revealed parts of the well-preserved structure that were carefully excavated during the 1930s.
4. Monte d’Accoddi – 4000 BC
A unique construction in the Mediterranean, the Monte d’Accoddi is believed to be an ancient ziggurat, pyramid or shrine located on the Italian island of Sardinia. After initial attempts were halted in 1958, this site was fully excavated in 1990 after nearly two decades of work. Part of the uncertainty that prevents confirmation of the exact nature of the structure is due to construction methods derived from Mesopotamia rather than Egypt, which is much closer to Italy. Other strange features include sphere stones, egg-shaped stones and other omphalos stones typically found in Delphi, where the oracles used to hang out and see the future.
3. Tumulus Saint-Michel – 4500 BC
Excavated between 1862-1864 and 1900-1907, the Saint-Michel Tumulus completed initial restoration in 1927, after being closed to tourists for safety and exploratory reasons. With a volume covering over a million feet cubed, this burial chamber measures about 410 feet long, 196 feet in width and 33 feet tall. The largest grave mound in Europe, excavators have found numerous artefacts at Tumulus Saint-Michel, including 25 fibrolite axes, 11 large axe heads of polished stone, 97 disc beads, 10 variscite pendants, 40 disc beads of bone and a pyroxenite axe head.
2. Necropolis of Bougon – 4700 BC
The oldest burial mounds in Europe are located in France. The Tumulus de Bougon, also known as the Necropolis of Bougon, contained hundreds of bone fragments, skeletons and burial artefacts that have been carefully excavated over the years. Made of six separate mounds linked together, Bougon’s largest tumulus measures 236 feet long and one of them contains a sepulchral chamber of considerable size. Presently, the area is populated by the Tumulus of Bougon Museum and the ruins of a Cistercian monastery that hasn’t fared as well as the necropolis against the ravages of time.
1. Barnenez – 4850 BC
The largest mausoleum in Europe is the Cairn de Barnenez, which is also one of the oldest burial sites in the world. Measuring 246 feet long and 82 feet wide, 11 passage tombs form the interior of this structure, with some of the chambers exposed to the outdoors due to quarry activity in the area. The patterns etched onto the stones are similar to those found elsewhere, such as the Gavrinis tomb. Excavations of Barnenez have revealed pottery, axe heads and arrowheads. This site is located on the eastern shores of France, close to the Celtic Sea and English Channel bodies of water.