It’s been raining at Gunung Padang, and the grass on the mountain’s precipitous eastern slope is slick with water and mud.
But geologist Danny Hilman, is undeterred. While others slip and fall around him, he trudges expertly down this hill tucked away among the volcanoes 120 kilometres south of Jakarta to show off two big holes he’s dug.
Since Dutch colonists discovered it in 1914, Gunung Padang has been known (though not widely) as the largest of a number of ancient megalithic sites in Indonesia.
Here our prehistoric forebears, moved by the area’s strikingly shaped columns of volcanic rock, built terraces into the mountaintop and arranged and stacked the stones for whatever indiscernible purpose motivated them.
And Hilman thinks there is much more to it under the surface. If he’s right – and Indonesia’s President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono is enthusiastically encouraging his investigations – then buried beneath the piles of ancient stone is by far the oldest pyramid on the planet.
Hilman says it could predate the next oldest by a dozen millenniums or more, suggesting an advanced ancient civilisation in Java. ”It’s older than 9000 [years] and could be up to 20,000,” Hilman says, as he sits on a fallen column of stone. ”It’s crazy, but it’s data.”
Proving the authenticity of these ancient ruins among the banana palms and tea plantations of Cianjur has taken on the aura of a nationalistic quest.
A test being conducted on this day is one in a series of geo-electric surveys. Men in gumboots arrange long loops of yellow cable on huge columnar rocks denuded of their topsoil.
Hilman stands on the muddy edge and points out what he says are patterns in the arrangement of the rocks. These patterns reflect the geological testing already undertaken, he says – that stones usually found upright have been laid horizontally on beds of gravel. Some are stuck together by an ancient form of glue, he says. These have been carbon dated indicating the sites are well in excess of 9000 years old, he says.
Below this are walls he describes as rooms, internal steps and terraces, all evidence of a massive building, of human intelligence and planning.
”The structure of the building is very good, it’s been defined by many lines of the geo-electric surveys, even 3D, even GPR [ground-penetrating radar] … and core samples,” Hilman says. ”We conclude that the archaeological site, the arrangement of these columnar joints, has laminated the entire hill so it’s 100 metres thick. We also think it’s not just one layer of building, but multiple layers.” They may have discovered archaeological human structures or features to a depth of at least 15 metres.
”It’s huge,” Hilman says. ”People think the prehistoric age was primitive, but this monument proves that wrong.”
But these views are loudly disputed.