Explore the forgotten sites of the ancient world
The Egyptian pyramids, Stonehenge, Machu Picchu… well, you won’t find those here. Instead, we’ve prepared for you a list of lesser-known, yet equally as thought-provoking ancient stone structures of the world.
Skara Brae, Scotland (3100–2480 BCE)
The Scottish Orkney Islands are home to a settlement dubbed the Neolithic Pompeii due to the sudden disappearance of its inhabitants and a high level of preservation.
The small settlement consists of only six windowless houses, positioned tightly next to each other and separated by covered passageways acting as streets. The houses were equipped in quite a modern way, considering they are several thousand years old. They were plastered with clay and included a stone dresser for kitchen utensils and a stone box bed.
Carnac Stones, France (4500–3300 BCE)
There are over 3,000 standing stones at the site in France, hewn from local granite and erected by the pre-Celtic people of the area.
The stones’ real purpose remains a mystery but some speculate they were used for tracking the movements of the sun and the stars. According to a Christian myth, they are pagan soldiers who were turned to stone by Pope Cornelius. Another myth says that they are in fact Roman legions turned to stone by Merlin which is why they stand in perfectly straight lines.
Derinkuyu, Turkey (780–1180 CE)
Perhaps not as ancient as the others on the list, the city of Derinkuyu is among the largest excavated underground cities in Turkey. Built on multiple levels, it was designed to house at least 20,000 people.
The levels extend 85 meters below the ground — each of them dug out by hand, without the use of machinery. In a scenario of people coming in to stay there for some time, they would find a well supplying water and a 55-meter ventilation shaft for air. The caves could accommodate both humans and animals and were equipped with a school, church, and workshops to make olive oil and wine.
Perperikon, Bulgaria (5000 BCE)
The ancient Thracian city of Perperikon is located on a 470-meter high rocky hill in Bulgaria. It is the largest megalith in the Balkans, and the site is believed to be a sacred place and once home to the Temple Of Dionysus.
The name Perperikon comes from the Middle Ages when the original name Hyperperakion was shortened by scribes. There are more theories about the origin of the name but all of them point to gold-mining.
Theopetra Cave, Greece (around 130,000 BCE)
One of the most significant archeological sites in Greece, the cave has been continuously used by humans for over 130,000 years. It contains plenty of traces of human activity, such as animal remains, stone tools, or the oldest man-made structure — a stone wall from 23,000 years ago built opposite the cave entrance to protect its inhabitants from the cold winds of the last ice age.
Besides preserving these remnants, it has been witness to two major transitions in human history: the replacement of Neanderthals by modern humans, and the shift from hunter-gathering to farming.
Stone spheres, Costa Rica (200 BCE–1550 CE)
An aura of mystery surrounds the creation of the Costa Rican spheres. Dating back to pre-Columbian times, some 300 orbs have been discovered ranging in size from just a few centimeters to over two meters large and weighing up to 16 tons.
A majority are made out of igneous rock gabbro, and the rest is from sedimentary limestone and sandstone. The rock comes from the nearby hills and some unfinished spheres still remain there today. Their purpose is not entirely clear but some think it had to do with decoration, an individuals’ rank (perhaps introduced on special occasions), or to represent social and political status.
Gobekli Tepe, Turkey (11,000–9,000 BCE)
Gobekli Tepe in Turkey is considered to be one of the first temples in the world, predating Stonehenge by about 6,000 years — its history dates back to the 10th millennium BCE. The site was abandoned after the pre-pottery neolithic era, or about the 8th millennium BCE.
The site comprises some 200 pillars in 20 circular installations. Each of the pillars measures up to six meters and weighs some 10 tons. In the middle of the site are two large T-shaped pillars of about 60 tons. Reliefs of various animals such as foxes, ducks, and wild boars twist and turn their way up the surfaces of the pillars.
Its discoverer, Klaus Schmidt, believed it was a place of worship, attracting hunter-gatherers from Africa and the Levant, an area in the Eastern Mediterranean region.