Beyond the Pyramids: World’s 8 Most Mysterious Places
Sick of Stonehenge? Tired of the Taj Mahal? Here are 8 lesser-known wonders.
North America’s answer to Stonehenge was first uncovered by a crew of excavators in the 19th century who had been tasked with dredging gravel and sand from the bottom of Lake Michigan. Thinking it to be only a natural formation at the time the strange sighting was quickly forgotten about.
Over a century later in 2007 while scanning Lake Michigan for shipwrecks, a team of archaeologists led by Dr Mark Holley were greatly surprised to find the murky ruin residing on the lake floor. The structure, which was made up of granite blocks arranged in rough circles, drew immediate comparisons to Stonehenge by the media and is believed to have been intentionally built by prehistoric humans. Furthermore carvings and engravings of mastodons, an elephant-like creature that became extinct roughly 11,700 years ago, were also found on some of the stones.
Even now scholars are still debating its origins and purpose. While some hypothesize that it could have been a ceremonial site used by early hunter-gatherers, others like Mark Holley himself have criticized comparisons to Stonehenge, arguing that it cannot be a megalithic site since the stones are in fact arranged in a V formation rather than a circle. The mystery continues.
Situated in southeastern Turkey the ruins of Göbekli Tepe were first established in 10,000 BC and hold the distinction of being the oldest surviving manmade place of worship. Its very existence has had a history-bending impact on the timeline of humanity, disproving the prevailing theory that temples and religious practices were developed much later on.
The monoliths were first discovered in 1994 by German archaeologist Klaus Schmidt under a hill. It consists of twenty stone enclosures that contain stone circles and intricately carved pillars that depict images of animals such as gazelles, snakes, foxes, and lions, in addition to a panoply of abstruse characters and icons that have yet to be fully decoded.
The remnants of bones and Neolithic flint tools such as knives, choppers, and projectile points suggest that the space was primarily used for the ritual sacrifice of animals. Göbekli Tepe faded into obscurity by the 8th millennium BC, yet thanks to the efforts of modern archaeologists it has become more relevant than ever before.
For over 30 years the Longyou Caves in Zhejiang Province, China, composed of 5 large and 19 small manmade caves, have bamboozled and confounded archeologists. These curious caverns, which are between 18 meters to 34 meters long and up to 20 meters high in some places, feature supportive pillars carved into unusual shapes and inclined sidewalls to prevent structural collapse.
Remarkably, each cave has a rudimentary water collection system involving a carved stairwell that allows rainfall and surface run-off to be directed into a series of drainage troughs, channels, and drinking wells. The site is also purposely aligned along a south to southwest axis so that it can be illuminated with the most sunlight.
Using recovered glazed clay pots this extraordinary underground wonder has been dated back to 200 BC or earlier, and has been speculated to have been either an ancient quarry, mausoleum, underground storage facility, military encampment, ceremonial site, or even a subterranean palace.
Puma Punku, which translates to ‘Doorway of the Puma’ is an ancient portal located in the Bolivian Andes that is part of a larger Incan complex known as Tiwanaku.
This eerie door-like edifice, embellished with Incan inscriptions and gods, is most famous for the extraordinary precision of its stone pieces, which fit together so well that even a knife blade can’t be inserted between them. The existence of this perfect geometric structure has even been cited by conspiracy theorists as evidence for a race of aliens with advanced construction technologies that visited early Man.
The exactness of Puma Punku’s dimensions has even stumped more credible geologists. Since very little is known about the tools used by the prehistoric inhabitants of Tiwanaku, the best explanation so far offered is that the stones were a type of sandstone geo-polymer concrete cast on the spot. What is clear though, is that more work will have to be done if this baffling stone enigma is to ever be fully understood.
Mada’in Saleh is one of Saudi Arabia’s most fascinating relics of the past, featuring extremely well preserved tombs with beautiful carved facades. These decorated rock faces, which constitute Saudi Arabia’s first ever UNESCO World Heritage Site, were constructed some time between the 1st century BC to the 1st century AD by the Nabataeans, a civilization that became extraordinarily wealthy acting as middlemen of the ancient spice and incense trade between the West and the East.
Drawing from almost unlimited coffers this resourceful race of Middle-Eastern merchants were able to build 111 exquisite tombs. Crafted from the top down, they had various functions aside from being resting places. To the right of the entrance of the Jebel Itlib monument for instance, is a square chamber with 3 stone benches that was once a sacred feasting hall.
Mada’in Saleh also has an impressive water collection system that uses natural water pipes to direct mountain rainwater down into cisterns, illustrating that the Nabataeans, in addition to being master artisans, also had hydraulic expertise.
After Göbekli Tepe the Ggantija complex of Malta is the second-oldest religious site in existence, deriving its name from the Maltese word ‘ġgant’, which means giant.
From as early as 3600 BC it was the spiritual and mythological center of the Mediterranean island of Gozo and its inhabitants, the Gozitans of the Xagħra plateau, who adorned their sacred place of worship with artfully etched bas-reliefs of trees, plants, animals, and spirals.
This megalithic marvel, which faces southeast so it aligns with the celestial cycles of the equinox, is made up of two complete stone temples and an unfinished third temple where eons previously indigenous Gozitans performed animal sacrifice to a recondite deity of fertility.
Curiously though, by the 3rd millennium BC activity in and around the site came to an abrupt end, as Maltese Temple Culture disappeared because of climate change and island-wide drought. The Ggantija complex was then abandoned, only to be rediscovered and restored millennia later in the 19th century by European and Maltese archaeologists.
Scattered across the coast of Brittany, France, the largest megalithic site in the world is known as the Carnac Alignments, an awe-inspiring assemblage of 2800 standing stones and menhirs that spans four kilometers.
For centuries the Carnac stones, and the methods by which they were carried and put in place by primeval peoples, has mystified archaeologists since some rocks were transported as far as 50 kilometers.
Academics also disagree on the site’s overall function. Some have deduced it may have been a Druidic shrine, a farming calendar, or that it served a funerary function, while others are convinced that it had an astronomical purpose because it was intentionally aligned with the stars.
Elsewhere, a more esoteric explanation posits that the Carnac Alignments is simply a Roman army transformed into stone by the arcane magic of Merlin, the wizard of Arthurian legend.
In 2001 Canadian archaeologists from the underwater exploration firm Advanced Digital Communications stumbled upon a mysterious site on the western coast of Cuba. Lying beneath the depths the team found an area of 20 square kilometers filled with stone structures that resembled pyramids, roads, and buildings, leading many to speculate that it was a lost sunken city in the style of Atlantis.
The discoverers initially believed that it was a large urban center dating back 6000 years, and that it may have been the remnants of a lost culture that once occupied a fabled 100 mile land bridge that supposedly once connected Cuba with Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula.
However, in all likelihood this unusual oceanic anomaly is probably just a natural geological formation that only appears to be manmade, although some of the more captivating theories are yet to be comprehensively ruled out.
So, while it’s undeniable that Stonehenge, Petra, the Pyramid of Giza and the Leaning Tower of Pisa have a certain allure, it’s good to remember that so do those places less known and obscure.