“Men fear time,” the old saying used to go, “but time fears the Sphinx.” That famous statue and Egypt’s Great Pyramid before which it has reclined for thousands of years have been long regarded as the most ancient monumental structures on Earth. Indeed, their late 20th century reappraisals indicated that they were even older than suspected.
Beginning in 1974, a medical physicist and colleague of Albert Einstein, Kurt Mendelssohn, showed that the Great Pyramid was not the 2560 BCE tomb of some vainglorious king described by mainstream scholars.1 Instead, the “Mountain of Ra” was raised nearly six centuries earlier, at the very outset of Pharaonic Civilisation, as a massive public works project to unify the numerous, divisive tribes of the Nile Delta in the common cause of its construction.
So too, the Great Sphinx – roughly contemporaneous, according to Egyptologists, with the Great Pyramid – has been back-dated to at least 5000 BCE – two millennia before the first Egyptian dynasty – by an American geologist at Boston University. During the early 1990s, Robert M. Schoch found that erosion on the Sphinx was not caused by the effects of wind-driven sand, as consensus opinion held, but by moving water, when conditions at the Nile Valley were far more rainy, long prior to the 26th century BCE.2
As recently as 2009, these extreme chronological disclosures were radically eclipsed by radiocarbon testing of a monumental ceremonial centre in southern Turkey. Its T-shaped pillars, arranged in concentric, stone circles emblazoned with anthropomorphic, zoomorphic and geometric bas-relief images, pushed the start of civilisation back to eleven thousand years ago. But now, even Gobekli Tepe’s primacy has been overtaken by the announcement last autumn of a much larger megalithic complex, half a world away from Anatolia, two thousand or more years older.
The paradigm-shattering ruins were found in western Java, fifty kilometres southwest of Cianjur, a city with more than two million residents; Jakarta lies one hundred twenty kilometres to the northwest. A half-hour drive over asphalt and unpaved roads to the village of Karyamukti passes through mountainous landscape dotted with rice paddies and farms flourishing in the volcanic soil with chillies, peanuts, pineapple and corn, then skirts an immense tea plantation. At Mount Padang, hardy visitors need about twenty minutes to climb some 370 stone steps, rising at almost a forty-degree angle, ninety-five metres to the summit, which is crowned with the largest megalithic site in southeastern Asia. It encompasses more than twenty-five hectares, including nine hundred square metres of five, rectangular, stone courtyards ascending northwest to southeast, precisely laid out on a series of landscaped terraces, and neatly organised into low walls, inner partitions, and outward gateways, all of them connected by flights of stairs.
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