Is Gunung Padang the Oldest Pyramid in the World?

Is Gunung Padang the oldest pyramid in the world? Learn about its initial discovery and why researchers still heavily debate its age.

By Discover Staff
Feb 28, 2024 7:00 PMMar 1, 2024 9:02 PM
gunung padang pyramid
(Credit: ghanimurtafa/Shutterstock)


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Controversial findings at Gunung Padang — a massive Indonesian pyramid sitting on top of an ancient volcano — could flip everything we thought we knew about prehistory on its head. If the findings are true, Gunung Padang shows that Ice Age humans possessed advanced technology, unlike anything we could have imagined.

Nevertheless, mainstream archeologists are skeptical of these conclusions, and many have tried to discredit the geologist at the center of them. That geologist is Caltech researcher Danny Hilman Natawidjaja, who has devoted much of his life to an in-depth geo-archeological survey of this incredible site.

In this article, we explore the archeological wonder of Gunung Padang and why Natawidjaja believes it’s proof of a sophisticated civilization that flourished up to 27,000 years ago.  

When was Gunung Padang Discovered?

Gunung Padang, located in Cianjur, West Java, Indonesia(Credit: Ade Lukmanul Hakimmm/Shutterstock)

The modern story of Gunung Padang begins in the late 19th century when Dutch settlers first became aware of the mighty pyramid just four hours south of Jakarta close to the village of Karyamukti.

According to the writing of Dutch historian Rogier Verbeek in 1891, “on the mountain top Goenoeng Padang, near Goenoeng Melati, a succession of 4 terraces, connected by steps of rough stone, paved with rough flat stones and decorated with numerous sharp and columnar upright andesite stones. On each terrace, a small mound, probably a grave, surrounded and covered with stones and topped with 2 pointed stones. In 1890, visited by Mr. De Corte.” 

Of course, long before the Dutch East India Company brought slavery and colonialism to West Java, local inhabitants knew about Gunung Padang and its man-made stone terraces. Revering it as ‘The Mountain of Enlightenment,’ locals still perform mystical ceremonies at the site, which features a freshwater spring at its base.

For nearly a century, mainstream archeologists ignored Gunung Padang. But in 1979, a group of nearby farmers brought more attention to the mountain. Soon, the site became the focus of Indonesian researchers and archeologists.

Is Gunung Padang the Oldest Pyramid in the World?

Elongated rock formations piled together at the megalithic site of Gunung Padang (Credit: Upen supendi/Shutterstock)

Since the 1980s, a number of in-depth surveys have been conducted at Gunung Padang, but researchers continue to disagree about its age. Some claim that the stone constructions date back to the first millennium A.D., and pottery fragments from the site were dated to 45 B.C.E to 22 C.E.

Another camp believes that Gunung Padang’s age is older. In 1982, B.M. Kim dated the site to 300 to 2000 B.C.E. But even these estimates are mild compared to the most shocking evaluation of them all — that the deepest layers of Gunung Padang are 16,000 years to 27,000 years old. That would make Gunung Padang the oldest pyramid in the world.

This theory — that Gunung Padang dates back to the Ice Age — is based on the work of geologist Danny Hilman Natawidjaja and his multidisciplinary team of scientists, archeologists, and volunteers. From 2011 to 2014, Natawidjaja and his associates conducted numerous field studies at Gunung Padang including ground penetrating radar, core drilling, and radiocarbon analysis.

With specific regard to the topmost layer of Gunung Padang, Natawidjaja says he agrees with the conclusions of B.M. Kim.

“The estimated age of 300 to 2,000 B.C.E. by B.M. Kim in 1982 aligns with our findings as it likely corresponds to the stone terraces,” says Natawidjaja. However, he notes that there’s another story to Gunung Padang when you examine the deeper layers of construction.

Read More: The Oldest Ancient Wonder Still Exists Today, 4,500 Years Later

How the Indonesian Pyramid of Gunung Padang was Built

Ancient stone from Gunung Padang site (Credit: Inpics/Shutterstock)

According to Natawidjaja, the data that supports their findings shows that the Gunung Padang pyramid is a bit like a three-layer cake, and each layer was built thousands of years apart. He says the most recent layer, known as Unit-1, was constructed about 3,000 years to 4,000 years ago. The next oldest, Unit-2, was built around 7,500 years to 8,000 years ago. The oldest part of the structure, Unit-3, could be as ancient as 16,000 years to 27,000 years. This supports the research done by B.M Kim, which suggested the pyramid dates back to between 300 and 2,000 B.C.E.

Interestingly, Natawidjaja says, “Unit-2 may potentially be a stepped pyramid."

In his 2023 study of the site, he explains that Gunung Padang is more than just an old stone terrace; it's a complex structure buried underground featuring large chambers and hollow spaces. The carbon dating suggests that the initial construction could have taken place during the last Ice Age, in the Paleolithic era, and was later modified in the Holocene or Neolithic era.

Natawidjaja’s team came to these conclusions by comparing the ages of samples from the volcanic base layer (which is millions of years old) and the three layers of construction.

“In contrast [to the volcano], soil samples taken from between fragmented rocks have been dated to only a few thousand to a few tens of thousands of years old, which presents an enigma in natural geological processes," says Natawidjaja. "Geological principles dictate that soils cannot migrate from the near-surface layers to deeper depths over time. Hence, the juxtaposition of relatively young soils between ancient rock layers poses a significant geological challenge.”

The conclusion: Only a technologically advanced culture during the Ice Age could have positioned those stones. Recognizing the impact of the findings, Natawidjaja once told The Sydney Morning Herald, “It’s crazy, but it’s data.”

The Gunung Padang Controversy: A Clash of History and Science

If true, the findings at Gunung Padang change everything we thought we knew about the technological capabilities of humans in prehistoric times. Allegedly, this is when humans were only capable of building small, temporary shelters out of wood, bone, and animal hides — not megalithic stone structures or stepped pyramids on the scale of Giza in Egypt.

But this is what we find at Gunung Padang, where thousands of large stone slabs were transported from another region and expertly arranged in a grand work of masonry that appears to be six times older than the Pyramid of Giza, and that’s why the site is controversial.

Read More: Everything Worth Knowing About the Giza Pyramids

The Gunung Padang Hoax

Some conventional academics are chomping at the bit to refute Natawidjaja’s conclusions as ‘fantastical’ or ‘sensational’— some even calling it the “Gunung Padang hoax.”

University of Tarragona Researcher Víctor Pérez, wrote a detailed paper challenging Natawidjaja’s findings. The paper criticizes Natawidjaja’s approach, pointing out what some scientists and academics see as flaws and mistakes in both the execution and theoretical analysis of their research. Pérez argues that these issues undermine the credibility of the ancient dates suggested by Natawidjaja's team, which he claims lack corroborating archaeological evidence.

Another opposing view comes from professor Sutikno Bronto of the Center of Geological Survey in Indonesia. He believes that Gunung Padang is the neck of a nearby volcano and not an ancient pyramid.

Sutikno argues that the findings of younger soil layers among older stones and the carbon-dated material at the site do not substantiate Natawidjaja's claims. He suggests these are results of natural erosion, not indicators of human architectural activity.

What Is the Truth About Gunung Padang?

Natawidjaja stressed that his team’s research and surveys were multidisciplinary (not simply volcanological), and while volcanic intrusion was indeed present, there’s more to the story.

“Our comprehensive study, which includes geological, archaeological, and geophysical surveys, indeed confirmed the existence of the underground 'volcanic intrusion' […] aligning with Sutikno’s observations," Natawidjaja says. "However, our findings also present compelling evidence that challenges the perception of Gunung Padang as simply the neck of a nearby volcano.”

As for the carbon-dated cement mentioned by Sutikno, Natawidjaja also had other thoughts.

“Our research conclusively demonstrates that it is indeed a mortar, not a byproduct of natural weathering. Our team of experienced geologists has meticulously examined and analyzed the samples, leaving no room for doubt regarding their origin,” says Natawidjaja.

Digging Deeper Into Gunung Padang’s Chambers

Despite the pushback, Natawidjaja seems to welcome those who challenge his findings. He points out that the core samples his team surveyed from Gunung Padang in Indonesia show that the site is worthy of deeper investigation.

The idea of digging deeper is even more interesting because Ground Penetrating Radar (GPR), geo-electric (Electric Resistivity Tomography), seismic tomography, and core drillings have already revealed what appear to be buried chambers and tunnels. Are these simply caves created by volcanic processes? Or, are these deeply hidden Gunung Padang chambers like the ones buried inside the Pyramid of Giza? Only a carefully orchestrated excavation can tell us for sure.

In the meantime, one thing is certain, the mysteries that veil this exciting Javanese site will continue to perplex and capture the imaginations of future generations to come. For this reason, you might want to hike to the top of this archeological wonder with an ice-cold thermos of Java Robusta the next time you’re passing through Indonesia.

Read More: Secret 30-Foot Long Chamber In The Great Pyramid Discovered

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