Is our understanding of the development of mankind completely wrong? Are there lost civilizations which would require us to throw out all of our history books? Did cities like Atlantis really exist?
Orthodox historical thought would state that the first permanent establishments were developed in Mesopotamia (Modern Iraq) around 8,000-6,000 years ago. The Kurdish city of Erbil often claims to be the oldest (at around 6000 BC), although the Syrian capital of Damascus also claims to be the oldest continually inhabited city in the world. Generally, however, it is accepted humans only began to cultivate land and create permanent settlements following the end of the Ice Age around 9,600 BC, with most cities developing around 3500 BC.
In Europe, the oldest megalithic sites date to around 3000 BC, with the famous Stonehenge dating to around 2400-1800 BC. Athens - the city often claimed to be the basis of Western civilization - was founded around the same time, with Rome being founded later in 753 BC.
Ancient civilizations such as Atlantis have long been declared as nothing but myths and legend, but since 2011, Danny Natawidjaja - an Indonesian geologist with the Research Center for Geotechnology at the Indonesian Institute of Sciences - hopes to change that.
What Has Been Discovered?
Natawidjaja claims he has uncovered evidence that humans may have settled and built major civilizations in the Upper Paleolithic era, especially in Indonesia. Up to this point, most of the evidence of modern humans from this period comes from Europe and consists of cave art and basic figurines, not major settlements. Natawidjaja claims:
Everything we’ve been taught about the origins of civilization may be wrong. Old stories about Atlantis and other great lost civilizations of prehistory, long dismissed as myths by archaeologists, look set to be proved true.
So what has he actually found? Natawidjaja's research primarily concerns a megalithic site at Gunung Padang in West Java Province of Indonesia. The site was first discovered in 1914, and it was believed to simply be a series of terraces cut into a hilltop 300-ft high hill. On the top, blocks of columnar basalt were found, it was assumed the area had some early religious significance and it was dubbed the 'Mountain of Light' by the locals.
However, what Natawidjaja discovered is that Gunung Padang isn't a hill at all, but actually a 300-ft tall step pyramid. Carbon dating of the external terraces put their dates to around 500 to 1,500 BC, however the deeper structure of the pyramid is reportedly much, much older. Natawidjaja explained:
Gunung Padang is not a natural hill but a man-made pyramid and the origins of construction here go back long before the end of the last Ice Age. Since the work is massive even at the deepest levels, and bears witness to the kinds of sophisticated construction skills that were deployed to build the pyramids of Egypt or the largest megalithic sites of Europe, I can only conclude that we’re looking at the work of a lost civilization and a fairly advanced one.
Natawidjaja's team have bored holes deep into the structure and claim to have discovered some of the oldest structures in the world. At the depth of 5-15 meters or more, the team claims to have dated the building materials to around 13,000 to 23,000 years ago. This is much older than even the oldest settlements elsewhere.
This has led Natawidjaja to even make the bold claim that Gunung Padang could even be the lost city of Atlantis.
The City of Atlantis?
Let's be clear for a second. There is ZERO historical, archeological, or geological evidence for Atlantis. None whatsoever, and that includes your hippie Aunt's 'crystal skull' that she bought from what weird smelling shop on the boardwalk.
All historians of any worth unanimously agree it is fictional. All references to Atlantis comes from two sources by the same author - Plato. In his works, Timaeus and Critias, Atlantis is an aggressive naval power that besieges Ancient Athens, which Plato used as a pseudo-historic embodiment of his ideal state. Athens defeats Atlantis (and is the first civilization to ever do so), and after falling out of favor with the gods, Atlantis sinks beneath the sea. The whole story was merely used to show the superiority of Plato's concept of a state. It wasn't a historical document, but a fiction.
Despite this, some have claimed Plato's inspiration for Atlantis could have been based on a real civilization. Furthermore, Plato states Atlantis disappeared around 9,000 BC, which does coincide with major geographical and ecological changes which could have wiped out an ancient civilization.
What Could Have Destroyed The Ancient Civilizations?
Between 10,800 and 9500 BC the Earth was frozen in a period known as the Younger Dryas and this cool period led to glaciers spreading around much of the Northern Hemisphere. When the Earth started warming again in 9600 BC there were major environmental changes, including large increases in ocean levels. Theoretically this could have flooded an ancient civilization akin to Atlantis.
James Kennett of the Department of Earth Science at the University of California Santa Barbara has also claimed this period coincided with a cosmic-impact event. His team has uncovered a large distribution of nanodiamonds of extraterrestrial origin at 32 sites in 11 countries over the Northern Hemisphere, suggested a meteor could have exploded in the atmosphere. Kennett also believes this could have wiped out ancient civilizations:
It’s not surprising that many large animal species, such as the mammoths, went extinct during this precise time and of course it had huge effects on our ancestors, not just those ‘primitive’ hunter gatherers the archaeologists speak of but also, I believe, a high civilization that was wiped from the historical record by the upheavals of the Younger Dryas.
Unfortunately, although this kind of belief is supported by people working with historical and geologic institutions, it is not widely held within the general academic community.
Is It Really a Hidden Civilization?
Gunung Padang is particularly controversial, with the research methods at the site being criticized. Furthermore, many of the people supporting the claims of Natawidjaja are pseudo-historians of dubious credibility, such as Graham Hancock, or importantly, politicians.
It seems his ideas are allowed to persist because they are supported by the former Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono. Indeed, the site has become incredibly political and some have accused the research as coming secondary to flag-waving.
A group of Indonesian archaeologists and experts recently signed a petition criticizing the site. One vulcanologist, Sutikno Bronto, merely thinks Gunung Padang is simply a neck of a volcano, while another expert, who wished not to be named due to the President's interest in the site, explained:
In archaeology we usually find the 'culture' first … Then, after we find out the artefact's age we'll seek out historical references to any civilisation which existed around that period. Only then will we be able to explain the artefact historically. In this case, they 'found' something, carbon-dated it, then it looks like they created a civilisation around the period to explain their finding.
With this in mind, there may still be many more mysteries about Gunung Padang.
What do you think? Do you believe Gunung Padang is a long lost civilization?