History is vital to society for a better understanding of who we are and where we come from. We can use the lessons of yesterday to plan for the future and avoid making the same mistakes over and over again. We see history all around us in the structures we build and preserve but some things we just aren’t sure about. Across the globe, there are many places that were obviously constructed for a purpose but either were built pre-recorded history or the information has been lost or destroyed over time and so historians and archaeologists can only speculate, albeit with educated guesses, as to the mysterious origins of these structures. Here are just a few.
1. Stonehenge – Wiltshire, UK
A pre-historic monument of standing stones, Stonehenge was built by a culture that left no written records or hints about how or why this circle of monlithic pillars was put there. Despite this, it is still inherently linked to the iconography of Great Britain and theories point to it being a ritualistic place of worship or supernatural power. Dating around sometime between 3000BC and 2000BC, perhaps what is most impressive is the discovery that the stones used in the construction of this English landmark originate from Wales in a pit 160 miles away from where they now stand. No one is quite sure how they were transported there as the technology to do so, seemingly, did not exist at this time.
2. Longyou Caves – Zehjiang Province, China
Discovered in 1922, these caves are clearly of human made design as they are carved out of the siltstone in Phoenix Hill. Believed to be created sometime before the Quing dynasty, which started around 212 BC, they are extremely large considering the era in which they were carved as the average floor area of each of the 24 caves found to date is over a thousand square metres, with heights of up to 30 metres, and the total area covered is in excess of 30,000 square metres. No historic records exist to suggest any resoning behind their existence so whether they were intended as a place of residence or storage remains a mystery today.
3. Gate of The Sun – Tiahuanaco, Bolivia
Sculpted by the Tiwanaku culture some 1500 years ago, the Gate of The Sun was re-discovered by European exlporers during the 19th century. A carved stone gateway that apparently opens up to something that is no longer there, it has been left where it was found although there is some debate as to whether this was its original location. Upon the archway are carvings of winged effigies, condors and humans that appear beneath rays of the sun. These are thought to be linked to astrological beliefs of the time and are extremely similar to Incan symbols found across South America although their exact significance is yet to be discovered.
4. L’anse aux Meadows – Newfoundland, Canada
Thought to be around 1000 years old, these mounds found in a small fishing village in Canada confirm that Viking Settlers made it to North America some 500 years before Christopher Columbus did. Only discovered to be of Nordic origin in 1960, they were originally thought to belong to an Indigenous peoples but excavation found them to be workshops and dwellings of the Norse. Because of their fairly recent discovery, little is still known about what happened to the settlers here and how or why they came to the region.
5. Gobekli Tepe – Orencik, Turkey
Dating to around 8BC, the sight consists of buildings thought to be sancutaries and places of worship and stone pillars. Not linked to any of the major religions, the use and relevance of the stone pillars remain unknown and research into the archaeological site remians ongoing. With only 5% of the site uncovered, the complex remains a mystery to all those looking to reveal its secrets.
6. Yonaguni Monument – Yonaguni, Japan
Submerged off the coast of the Southernmost Ryukyu Island in Japan are a series of steeped flat steps in a structure so angular and flat, it would suggest man made intervention although debate within scientific communities continue as to whether it is completely natural, is a natural site that has been modified, or is a man-made artifact. Only discovered in 1987 by divers looking for hammerhead sharks, Supposed to be around 10,000 years old, neither the regional or national governments of Japan consider it to be of cultural or historical importance and so significant research has not been put into dating the structure or why it is under the sea.
7. Stone Age Tunnels – Europe
Underground tunnels dating to a time period pre-Christianity in Europe have been found in various places across the continent and one expert has speculated that their construction may be linked in some way. With hundreds of these tunnels found under neolithic structures, Dr Heinrich Kusch sees this as evidence of a larger network possibly used to travel in times of war and unrest although each individual area does not link to the next, construction may have been around the same time and no one is quite sure as to why our ancestors across a whole continent all would have had the same idea around a similar time.
8. Las Bolas – Costa Rica
Around 300 stone spheres appear around the nation of Costa Rica located on the Diquís Delta and on Isla del Caño. Thought to be from the now-extinct Diquis culture, the spheres date from around 600AD. The best known theory for their existence is that they lined the way to houses of chiefs but this is not a certainty by any means. Ranging in size and weight, there are many local myths about these rocks but none are particularly forthcoming with evidence.
9. Unfinished Obelisk – Aswan, Egypt
Obelisks dot ancient sites across Egypt, and the globe, as sort of monuments or adornments to temples but why this one was ordered has never been discovered. What is the largest known ancient obelisk, it sits partially carved directly from the bedrock of Aswan and was ordered by the Pharoh Hatshepust and is nearly one third larger than any ancient Egyptian obelisk ever erected. Abandoned due to cracks appearing in the structure, the reasoning behind its orginal conception have never been discovered.
10. Mohenjo-daro – Sindh, Pakistan
The ancient city of Mohen-daro lies in the desert and is one of the world’s earliest major urban settlements. Built around 2500 BC, it was only re-discovered in the 1920s. With signs of city planning, social organisation, and a drainage system it was an incredibly advanced city for its time and no one is quite sure why it was abandoned although many point to the decline of the Indus Valley Civilization.
11. Saksaywaman – Cusco, Peru
A citadel just beyond the limits of the capital of the Incan empire, this walled settlement was most likely built to hold up any approching forces heading for Cusco. What is unique about its construction is that the walls are made of perfectly carved rocks that slot together without the use of mortar. How such an ancient civilization managed to achieve such a high-level of construction remains up for debate, especially since it was so good that the walls still stand today, over 1000 years after they were put up.