Within and without the enclosures are dozens of standing monoliths, but many more lie scattered about. The entire complex comprises an estimated 3,703,700 black, andesite blocks ranging from one to two metres in length, and formed by geological processes into polygonal structures of five-, six- or eight-sided columns. (Andesite is an extrusive, igneous rock, a type of basalt formed by volcanic action.) Average dimensions for the columns are 0.3-by-0.3-by-1.5 metres. These smooth-sided blocks weigh from ninety to six hundred kilograms, with an average, individual weight of about three hundred kilograms. In other words, the site’s prehistoric workers transported approximately 1,111,110,000 kilograms (1,224,790 short tons) of building materials 885 metres above sea level, up the precipitous slopes of Mount Padang. Added to their burden was a non-local source for their andesite, which had to be brought in from some distant quarry unknown to academic scholars.
Archaeologists were further surprised to find traces of a kind of adhesive, glue or perhaps cement that bound some of the top courses of the walls. Beneath, investigators were perplexed by the presence of several layers of sand that had been deliberately incorporated into the original stonework by the prehistoric engineers, perhaps allowing the blocks to move and slide against each other with the motion of seismic disturbances, instead of rigidly resisting such geologic upheavals and breaking under tension. Here was possible evidence for ancient earthquake-proof construction. Java is notorious for its tectonic violence, which claimed the lives of about eighty victims as recently as 2 September 2009. But it seemed utterly inconceivable that some pre-industrial people living in a remote, Indonesian backwater could have actually applied a form of technology our modern world has only recently begun to grasp.
Contributing to the stones’ high strangeness, most of them possess an unusual quality that may have additionally warranted their distant importation by the ancient builders to the top of Mount Padang. Most of its andesite blocks and columns resonate with a bell-like tone when struck with another hard object. They belong to a rare, geological occurrence known as lithophony, the property of some rocks to emit musical sounds under percussive stress. Although only slightly more than one dozen lithophonic boulder fields have been identified in the world, most are found on private property, or have been obliterated by urban development.
Oldest Rock Art in North America Revealed
By Megan Gannon, News Editor | August 14, 2013 08:04am ET
Researchers found that petroglyphs discovered in western Nevada are at least 10,500 years old, making them the oldest rock art ever dated in North America.
Credit: University of Colorado
On the west side of Nevada's dried-up Winnemucca Lake, there are several limestone boulders with deep, ancient carvings; some resemble trees and leaves, whereas others are more abstract designs that look like ovals or diamonds in a chain.
The true age of this rock art had not been known, but a new analysis suggests these petroglyphs are the oldest North America, dating back to between 10,500 and 14,800 years ago.
Though Winnemucca Lake is now barren, at other times in the past it was so full of water the lake would have submerged the rocks where the petroglyphs were found and spilled its excess contents over Emerson Pass to the north. [See Photos of Amazing Cave Art]
To determine the age of the rock art, researchers had to figure out when the boulders were above the water line.
The overflowing lake left telltale crusts of carbonate on these rocks, according to study researcher Larry Benson of the University of Colorado Boulder. Radiocarbon tests revealed that the carbonate film underlying the petroglyphs dated back roughly 14,800 years ago, while a later layer of carbonate coating the rock art dated to about 11,000 years ago.
Those findings, along with an analysis of sediment core sampled nearby, suggest the petroglyph-decorated rocks were exposed first between 14,800 and 13,200 years ago and again between about 11,300 and 10,500 years ago.
"Prior to our study, archaeologists had suggested these petroglyphs were extremely old," Benson said in a statement. "Whether they turn out to be as old as 14,800 years ago or as recent as 10,500 years ago, they are still the oldest petroglyphs that have been dated in North America."
Researchers previously believed the oldest rock art in North America could be found at Long Lake, Ore., in carvings that were created at least 6,700 years ago, before being covered in ash from the Mount Mazama volcanic eruption.
The deeply carved lines and grooves in geometric motifs in the petroglyphs at Winnemucca Lake share similarities with their cousins in Oregon. As for what the petroglyphs represented to their Native American creators, researchers are still scratching their heads.
"We have no idea what they mean," Benson said. "But I think they are absolutely beautiful symbols. Some look like multiple connected sets of diamonds, and some look like trees, or veins in a leaf. There are few petroglyphs in the American Southwest that are as deeply carved as these, and few that have the same sense of size."
The findings will be detailed in the December 2013 issue of the Journal of Archaeological Science.
World's oldest temple built to worship the dog star
16 August 2013 by Anil Ananthaswamy
THE world's oldest temple, Göbekli Tepe in southern Turkey, may have been built to worship the dog star, Sirius.
The 11,000-year-old site consists of a series of at least 20 circular enclosures, although only a few have been uncovered since excavations began in the mid-1990s. Each one is surrounded by a ring of huge, T-shaped stone pillars, some of which are decorated with carvings of fierce animals. Two more megaliths stand parallel to each other at the centre of each ring (see illustration).
Göbekli Tepe put a dent in the idea of the Neolithic revolution, which said that the invention of agriculture spurred humans to build settlements and develop civilisation, art and religion. There is no evidence of agriculture near the temple, hinting that religion came first in this instance.
"We have a lot of contemporaneous sites which are settlements of hunter-gatherers. Göbekli Tepe was a sanctuary site for people living in these settlements," says Klaus Schmidt, chief archaeologist for the project at the German Archaeological Institute (DAI) in Berlin.
But it is still anybody's guess what type of religion the temple served. Giulio Magli, an archaeoastronomer at the Polytechnic University of Milan in Italy, looked to the night sky for an answer. After all, the arrangement of the pillars at Stonehenge in the UK suggests it could have been built as an astronomical observatory, maybe even to worship the moon.
Magli simulated what the sky would have looked like from Turkey when Göbekli Tepe was built. Over millennia, the positions of the stars change due to Earth wobbling as it spins on its axis. Stars that are near the horizon will rise and set at different points, and they can even disappear completely, only to reappear thousands of years later.
Today, Sirius can be seen almost worldwide as the brightest star in the sky – excluding the sun – and the fourth brightest night-sky object after the moon, Venus and Jupiter. Sirius is so noticeable that its rising and setting was used as the basis for the ancient Egyptian calendar, says Magli. At the latitude of Göbekli Tepe, Sirius would have been below the horizon until around 9300 BC, when it would have suddenly popped into view.
"I propose that the temple was built to follow the 'birth' of this star," says Magli. "You can imagine that the appearance of a new object in the sky could even have triggered a new religion."
Using existing maps of Göbekli Tepe and satellite images of the region, Magli drew an imaginary line running between and parallel to the two megaliths inside each enclosure. Three of the excavated rings seem to be aligned with the points on the horizon where Sirius would have risen in 9100 BC, 8750 BC and 8300 BC, respectively (arxiv.org/abs/1307.8397).
The results are preliminary, Magli stresses. More accurate calculations will need a full survey using instruments such as a theodolite, a device for measuring horizontal and vertical angles. Also, the sequence in which the structures were built is unclear, so it is hard to say if rings were built to follow Sirius as it rose at different points along the horizon.
Ongoing excavations might rule out any astronomical significance, says Jens Notroff, also at DAI. "We are still discussing whether the monumental enclosures at Göbekli Tepe were open or roofed," he says. "In the latter case, any activity regarding monitoring the sky would, of course, have been rather difficult."
This article appeared in print under the headline "Stone Age temple tracked the dog star"
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