From the dense jungles of Indonesia to the desolated valley of Mongolia, Asia is home to an incredibly vast amount of still-standing megalithic stone structures that hint to primitive yet sophisticated construction styles. Stone structures that still baffle both scientists and archeologists on their true origins, and seemingly older than the Bronze and Neolithic ages. Here are 10 notable megalithic sites in Asia scattered across 10 different countries you should be aware of when planning your next trip.
At 885m above sea level, located near the village of Karyamukti (Cianjur regency, West Java), some 140km south of Jakarta, lies the largest megalithic site in all of South-east Asia. Gunung Padang, "the mountain of light" is believed to be a man-made still-standing pyramidal structure that today simply resembles a green hill semi-hidden in the Indonesian jungle. Following a vertical 400-steps stairway climb, one reaches a nude plateau where a vast number of massive rectangular volcanic stones positioned in a mysteriously precise manner can be admired. Recent excavations and ongoing analysis using ground penetration radar (GPR), seismic tomography and thermoluminescence dating (TD) have revealed multiple layers of differently-shaped stone structures beneath the grass surface, as well as the presence of deep large underground chambers.
Opinions on its true age vary greatly, with different archeological teams and local experts proposing dates from 600 CE and 26,000 BCE. However, while we naturally tend to think that local prehistoric cultures in this region of the world were highly-primitive, this megalithic monument could prove us wrong. Similar to the 12,000 years-old megalithic Site of Gobekli Tepe in southeast Anatolia discovered in the early 90s and only recently elevated to UNESCO World's Heritage Site, Gunung Padang's ongoing efforts on effective dating could rewrite our understanding of ancient human history.
I had a chance to visit this incredible site back in September 2018, and an in-depth article will soon be released.
Other notable megalithic sites in Indonesia:
In the southwest of the Okinawa prefecture, some 100km off the coast of Taiwan lies a tiny jewel island called Yonaguni. The sea off the coast is a popular diving location in Japan during the winter seasons, where experienced divers jump in the turbulent waters to swim with large shoals of hammerhead sharks. One renowned diver who has been repeatedly visiting the site in the early 1990s was french pioneer free-diver Jacques Mayol.
Back in 1987, a local scuba instructor named Kihachiro Aratake discovered a remarkable underwater stone structure (120m by 40m) at 25m depth, while looking for a good observation point to spot sharks. Today this corner of the island is called Iseki Point, or Ruins Point. Multiple archeologists and teams have attempted to study the site to conclude on its origins. Most notably, world-renowned geologist Robert Schoch from Boston University (known for his research on the layered erosion patterns of the Great Sphynx and other sites in Egypt) was able to dive himself onsite and noted that:
These rocks contain numerous well-defined, parallel bedding planes along which the layers easily separate. The rocks of this group are also criss-crossed by numerous sets of parallel and vertical ... joints and fractures. Yonaguni lies in an earthquake-prone region; such earthquakes tend to fracture the rocks in a regular manner... The more I compared the natural, but highly regular, weathering and erosional features observed on the modern coast of the island with the structural characteristics of the Yonaguni Monument, the more I became convinced that the Yonaguni Monument is primarily the result of natural geological and geomorphological processes at work.
While it's highly unlikely to think of Yonaguni as the result of archaic human ingenuity, but rather a coincidental design of natural geology, the question remains if an ancient human culture has been "terraforming" these stone structures at a time when global sea levels were much, much lower.
Other notable megalithic sites in Japan:
Located south of the Uushig mountain of Burentogtokh soum in the Khuvsgul province, "Deer Stones" fill the desolated landscape. These megalithic granite stones covered with hand-carved decorative petroglyphs, depict past images of reindeers and other animals such as tigers, pigs, and cows as well as weapons, tools and even human faces. The name "Deer Stone" itself comes from their carved depictions of flying deers. 1,500 Deer stones have been found across Eurasia (1,300 of which in Mongolia alone), and are associated with Bronze Age nomads dating back to 1000 BCE.
In an area covering nearly 12,000 square kilometers (between Russia and Abkhazia), one can find one of the largest concentration of megaliths and dolmens (and even stone labyrinths) in the world. Nearly 3,000 of these megaliths have today been found in the Western Caucasus, while the Dolmens of the North Caucasus make up a lost city by the shore of the Black Sea. These rare rectangular stone structures are usually made of stone slabs or cut in rocks with large holes in their front facade. While similar to the megaliths found all over Europe in terms of age and quality, these structures are still of unknown (human cultural) origin but are believed to have been erected sometime between 4000 BCE and 2000 BCE.
Situated on the Yangshan Mountain, northwest of Tangshan Town (near Nanjing), lies the ancient stone quarry named Yangshan. Used during many centuries as a source of stone for buildings and monuments of Nanjing, it is presently preserved as a historic site. The quarry is famous for the unfinished stele of gargantuan dimensions that is said to have been abandoned there during the reign of the Yongle Emperor in the early 15th century. While these blocks of limestone have been "officially" recognized to have served the "Six Dynasties", it is still unclear how such large blocks of stone were cut-out and what kind of (rudimentary or advanced) machinery was used to complete such extraordinary cuts.
Other notable megalithic sites in China:
Located on a plateau in central Laos, "The Plain of Jars" is a unique collection of some 2,100 tubular-shaped megalithic stone jars interspersed. These mysterious giant stone jars of unknown ancient origin are scattered over hundreds of hilly square kilometers across the Lao Highlands. While a local Laotian legend tells us how the jars were created by Khun Cheung, an ancient king of giants who created these to brew huge amounts of celebratory wine after fighting a long and victorious battle, archeologists believe these were instead originally used about 2,000 years ago (Iron Age) as funeral urns or food storage. Today, the caretakers of the Plain of Jars are applying for "UNESCO World Heritage Site" status, and are seeking support to clear the area from thousands of unexploded bombs remaining from the Secret War of the 1960s.
Other notable megalithic sites in Laos:
Zorats Karer, also called "Carahunge" or "Armenian Stonehenge" is a prehistoric megalithic site near the town of Sisian, located in the Syunik province of Armenia. The site hosts over 200 standing stones, some 80 of which have circular holes in them. Interestingly, the word Carahunge originates from Carunge (the name of the village on top of which Sisian was built) and is derived from two Armenian words: kar, meaning stone and hunge meaning sound. Speaking stones, yes! Similar to recent discoveries at Stonehenge, the builders erected large stones that were picked for their lithophonic properties ("ringing rocks"). The true origins and exact dating are still heavily debated to this day, with one group of local archeologists proposing dates as far back as 6,000 BCE (using "problematic" archeo-astronomical references), and a team of German archeologist proposing much more recent dates, stating the stones are the remains of a city wall from the Hellenstic period. This said, could the carved holes hint at more correct interpretation?
Other notable megalithic sites in Armenia:
The Nilurallu alignment is located on private land southeast of Murardoddi village in Southern India. This megalithic monument made of standing granite stones of 3 to 4.7 meters, is characterized with verified astronomical connotations. The site is situated in a slightly elevated plain where the horizon rests clear in all directions, allowing anyone to admire beautiful sunrises and sunsets but also to discern incredible stone alignments with solstices and equinoxes, both in the winter and summer seasons. This remarkable megalithic structure primary's purpose could have well been to serve as a calendrical device by marking recurring celestial events that could have indicated key fertility periods for agricultural activities. Local experts have temporarily dated this site to a period that precedes the emergence of the Bronze Age in India, somewhere between 1000 BCE and 1400 BCE.
Other notable megalithic sites in India:
Some 40km north of Taraz, among the sacred sites of the Zhambyl region, along the Tien Shan corridor of the Silk Road, lies the grandiose palace ruins of Akyr Tas. Described as an "incomprehensible ruin" as early as 1222 by Chinese Taoist monk Ch'an-Chun, Akyr Tas remains to this day a unique megalithic site with unique features. The width of the walls of the Akyrtas building, which were constructed of the extremely heavy building blocks. Each block had a trough-shaped deepening on the upper part and an oval projection on the bottom side. This design has contributed to the durability of the whole building.
Other notable megalithic sites in Kazakhstan:
With over 40% of the world's dolmen sites, the Korean peninsula is filled with megalithic artifacts. The prehistoric cemeteries at Gochang, Hwasun, and Ganghwa contain the highest density and greatest variety of dolmens of any country in the world and have been designated UNESCO World Heritage Sites in 2000.
Located on the island of Gangwha in the estuary of the Han River, the site contains hundreds of stone dolmens used as grave markers and for ritual ceremonies going as far back as 1000 BCE. The top table-type stone excavated in the 1960s at Ganghwa is estimated to weigh 75 tonnes, while the capstones of the Gochang's dolmen (Jungnim-ri) have been documented to average around 1 to 6 meters in length and weights up to 300 tonnes!
Other notable megalithic sites in South Korea:
Which of the sites capture your imagination? Why? Have you come across other megalithic sites in this region of the world, worth visiting that we've not mentioned here? Let us know by leaving a comment in the section here-below.