- Arts and Design
Amazing Ancient Stone Monuments Around the World
There are megalithic stone monuments found all over the world, built over the millennia by cultures with very little in common other than which is common to all humanity. (Although some have suggested that it must be aliens from other planets that built many of these monuments!).
I enjoy the mystery that surrounds their creation, who made them, how did they do it, and why. I love the stone megaliths themselves. Their forms are so unique and interesting, different from what we see in contemporary society. Yet there's something eternal about them that makes them so fascinating.
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Here I want to present some of my favorite monuments from past civilizations and cultures. I also want to continue to add to it as I come up with more information on other monuments, and write separate pages on them too. So check back soon to find more!
Why Did Ancient Cultures Build these Amazing Stone Monuments?
So, there are all these amazing megalithic stone monuments found all over the world, built over the millennia by civilizations as varied as the locations in which they are found, and as the monuments themselves. Unfortunately, in most cases we don't really know why (or even how) they built these monuments, since the cultures have disappeared and mostly left no written accounts of their purpose or anything behind. And in many cases we don't even know why they were abandoned. But then, that actually adds to the mystery and the fun of these things, it leaves us free to imagine the people and their reasons and methods of building them, how they used them, and even why they stopped.
We do know some things about most of the monuments. We know, for example, that the great Egyptian pyramids were built as tombs for the pharoahs, with special chambers for possessions and servants. We do know that they built them using huge numbers of slaves, although the exact details of how many and how exactly the workforce completed the task is still a matter of some debate. We also do not have a clear understanding of the purpose of the Great Sphinx located in the same Giza complex as three great pyramids.
Some of these monuments are really whole cities, like Machu Picchu the ruined and abandoned Inca city high in the Andes of Peru, or the mysterious Teotihuacan in Mexico with its famous pyramids.
In many cases we can religious significance has been attributed to the monuments. So, for example, Stonehenge and Avebury have been considered sites used by pagans, probably Druids, for religious activities. The pharoahs of Egypt had a clear expectation of the afterlife, and the construction of their pyramids was based as much on that as on the impact of the structure on the living. Many have suggested that a large number of the monuments were connected to sun worship. Some have also attributed astronomical significance to some structures, suggesting they were used as calendars. An example is the Intihuatana ("the hitching post of the sun") at Machu Picchu which is believed to have been designed as an astronomic clock by the Inca.
So perhaps we know some things but not everything about these monuments. In any case, we have pictures! So I hope you can enjoy them as much as I do.
Stonehenge is one of the most magnificent and mysterious megalithic monuments in the world. It was built in 4 stages over a period that may have been as long as two thousand years, beginning as much as five thousand years ago.
The inner structures are suggestive of an altar, and the way the stones are aligned in relation to sunrise and sunset at the solstices has led to suggestions that Stonehenge was built to worship the sun. Others have suggested that there was an astronomical purpose to Stonehenge. However, despite claims by various scientists to have "decoded" Stonehenge, no agreement on its purpose has actually been reached. Even the method of moving such enormous stones, and raising them to produce trilithon (meaning "having three stones") structures in which two large vertical stones support a third stone set horizontally across the top, has been a subject of debate. The only thing that can be agreed upon is that the builders must have expended great effort and so the monument must have had great significance.
Stonehenge, Druids Sacrificing to the Sun in Their Temple
Artists, visionaries and mystics have also made suggestions as to the purpose of this amazing masterpiece of engineering. Even John Aubrey and William Stukeley, early pioneers of archaeology as a science, declared Stonehenge the work of Druids. New Age seekers adopted this understanding and initiated summer and winter solstice pagan festivals at the site in the twentieth century. Due to concerns about damage to the stones public access is now limited, although it is still possible to walk around the monument from a short distance away.
Even if we never know what the purpose of this monument was in the minds of its creators, we can certainly enjoy, appreciate and learn from it today. Although enjoying the atmosphere created by being in the presence of these amazing stones may not be possible for most people, pictures, both photographs and artistic represenations, of Stonehenge pictures are pretty good! Photos that simply show the stones under normal conditions are impressive enough. How much more amazing it is when sunrise, sunset, storm clouds, and a multitude of magical effects from their own creativity are added to these already magnificent and mysterious structures!
See more pictures of Stonehenge.
There are so many great books out there about Ancient Monuments. Here are just a couple that are interesting.
The Avebury Stone Circle is located in England, close to the more famous Stonehenge. Built as much as 5,000 years ago, it is one of the finest Neolithic monuments in Europe. The site is open to the public, and you can just walk around the stones, an amazing experience!
Today, pagan festivals are conducted at the Avebury site, reflecting beliefs that it was originally used for Druid rituals. Many believe that the Avebury stone circle remains a center of spiritual energy, connecting us both to the ancient culture of the past builders, whoever they may be, and to the eternal future of the spiritual realm.
The standing stones are of 2 types: tall, skinny ones and short, squat ones. It has been suggested that the tall skinny ones represent men and the short squat ones represent women. Not sure that's entirely complimentary to women!
The site has not only large standing stones but also includes a large henge, or circular boundary earthwork with a ditch and an external bank. Aerial views of Avebury clearly reveal the henge boundary, the circular layout of the remaining stones as well as the straight line "avenues" of standing stones.
Framed Print of Aerial view of Avebury by Robert Harding
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Like other mysterious monuments, immense effort must have been expended to build it, implying that the builders had a clear purpose. The henge itself is obviously symbolic not defensive, since the ditch is on the inside. It does form an imposing boundary to the circle, clearly demarcating the areas outside and within the circle, possibly providing a "sacred" space within the circle for rituals or other spiritual purposes.
One suggestion, based on the idea that the Avebury stone circle was built according to some astronomical alignment, is that the bank of the henge provides a uniform horizon by which to observe the rising and setting of various heavenly bodies. Others have suggested that Avebury, like other huge megalithic stone monuments could not have been built by any ancient human culture alone, but were inspired and assisted, if not entirely built, by extraterrestrial aliens.
Whatever you want to believe about the builders, Avebury is undeniably an amazing place, a place in which to contemplate mysteries of life, and possibly even find some answers.
Learn more about Avebury.
Olmec Colossal Heads
These Olmec Colossal Heads are really something else! The Olmec were one of the first civilizations, perhaps the first civilization of Mesoamerica. They flourished from 1200 B.C.E. to about 400 B.C.E., and then disappeared some how. Their culture is credited with many achievements, but the one I find most interesting is their colossal heads.
Olmec Stone Head at Parque-Museo La Venta by Richard Nebesky
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I have to admit I start laughing every time I look at one of these heads! They're really huge too, like bigger than a whole person standing beside them, so they're not just some cute fun thing with a weird expression. And you can see that the faces are quite detailed in their features and expressions, which are pretty serious.
And they dragged them, or floated them on rafts or something, a long way to where they finally placed them. Those Olmecs who created them must have been really serious about their colossal heads.
In any case, whatever they thought they were doing, I really appreciate these amazing stone statues. They give such an incredible opportunity to connect with this long gone civilization, which I probably would never have heard of if they hadn't made their colossal heads.
Learn more about the Olmec colossal heads.
Moai of Easter Island
And another group of pretty colossal heads are the Moai statues of Easter Island. Here again, I have to chuckle when I see them. They're really rather cute, so out of proportion with giant heads and strange red hats like flower pots on top! And their expressions are really the best!
Moai, Ahu Tahai, Easter Island
And many of them are all lined up on their ahu (stone platform), facing inland and gazing so seriously at what is presumably the land of their creators. What are they doing there? Were they built to honor leaders, chiefs of the clan who controlled the land they were watching? Why are there 15 of them all lined up in one place?
And then there's a whole bunch that never made it far from the quarry where they were made. It seems this isn't just because it was hard work moving them, which absolutely must have been true. Even today people still debate over how anyone could move this immense stone statues! They either intended just to leave some of them near the quarry, or maybe some just never got finished because suddenly Moai-making ceased.
It seems that there was internal conflict among the inhabitants of the island, and all the Moai were toppled down, signifying perhaps that their creators no longer had control of the land and ending the "reign" of the Moai and their power over the land. Maybe we'll never understand why they made the Moai. But I for one don't mind. I just enjoy them, and wonder about the people who made them, whether they thought the Moai had some special kind of power, or whether they just built them as we build statues today to honor great people. And if that's what it was, it's another amazing example of the endless diversity of human creativity and the diversity of cultural norms that have developed around the world in human history. To me they look amusing but powerful; to others they may be serious and honorable. I hope, though, that all can appreciate them.
Learn more about the Moai of Easter Island.
Great Pyramids of Giza
The Great Pyramids of Giza consist of three main pyramids and several smaller pyramids and buildings. The whole complex is referred to as the Giza Necropolis, located on the Giza Plateau near what is now Cairo. The necropolis is an amazing collection of buildings that were constructed to house the dead. The two largest pyramids housed the remains of the two famous pharoahs Khufu and Khafre. The Great Sphinx is also located there, apparently "guarding" the tombs of the pharoahs.
These amazing monuments were built thousands of years ago, right there in the desert, using thousands of people for their construction. Not only that, they were brilliantly designed with mathematical precision (the base of each pyramid is almost a perfect square) and perfectly aligned with the North star. No fools these people of Ancient Egypt!
But why would anyone, even a great pharoah whose people believed him to be divine, want to build such an enormous monument to house their bones? Beats me! But that's what makes these monuments mysterious and endlessly fascinating. They're not just incredible works of art, mathematically precise and incredibly complex to build, they show some kind of amazing mindset in those who designed them. Human creativity never ceases to amaze me, and it's especially amazing that the creativity has always been with us for all these thousands of years. Perhaps that's why it's often been suggested that ancient cultures had help from aliens since they achieved what modern engineers architects and artists would be challenged to do today!
One thing that fascinates me about these Great Pyramids is that the "Great Pyramid" of Khufu (Cheops), the largest of them, actually doesn't look the largest. The pyramid of Khafre (Chephren), the one that still has some of its limestone casing on the top which makes it look even more special, is built on a higher bedrock and with sharper angles so it looks taller! Some kind of rivalry there maybe as the later pharoah tried to look greater than Khufu without actually having to build a bigger pyramid, perhaps.
And another thing that I have to admit fascinates me is the theory that the three pyramids are positioned to reflect the positions of the stars in Orion's Belt. That's kind of cool, and makes sense since these Egyptians were quite knowledgeable about astronomy, lining the pyramids up to the North star and all. However, the problem with the theory that really gets me wondering is that the alignment with Orion's Belt seems to be from 10,500 B.C.E. but these pharoahs were alive and supposedly building their tombs around 2,500 B.C.E. Quite a discrepancy!
Anyway, the pyramids are great, truly qualified to as amazing and mysterious monuments. Maybe I'll never understand exactly why and how they were built, but that's OK. I can appreciate them for what they are today, and just wonder about how they came to be with a sense of awe.
Learn more about the Great Pyramids of Giza.
Great Sphinx of Giza
The Great Sphinx of Giza is a large stone statue in Egypt near Cairo. It is one of the largest single-stone statues in existence. Located right beside the Great Pyramids of Giza, tombs for the great pharoahs Khufu and Khafre, the Great Sphinx is often viewed as "guarding" them.
Like the other Ancient Egyptian sphinxes, the Great Sphinx has the body of a lion and the head of a pharoah. The Great Sphinx has always been especially mysterious, though, since it is unclear exactly which pharoah the face of the sphinx represents. It is also located in the most amazing pyramid complex in the world, and speculation as to its role there, and even the way the great pyramids themselves were constructed, has continued to this day. Of course, the fact that the Great Sphinx lost its nose at some point in history adds to the mystery, and actually detracts very little from the artwork!
While most have accepted that the Great Sphinx was built during the time of the Ancient Egyptian pharoahs Khufu and Khafre, some 4,500 years ago, revisionist archaeologists have posited that the Great Sphinx may actually be prehistoric, as much as than 12,000 years or more old. They suggest that the pyramids represent the three stars of Orion's Belt, and based on computer simulations, it has been calculated that this would constitute a record of the celestial array at the vernal equinox in 10,500 B.C.E. In this theory, the lion shape of the Great Sphinx is connected to the constellation of Leo.
Whoever built the Great Sphinx and for whom, it is a great work of art and one that can be enjoyed by all, whether visiting in person or simply viewing pictures. It has been rescued from partial burial in the sand, and greatly restored, if not to its complete former glory at least to a level where it can be admired and appreciated by all.
Mesoamerican pyramids are rather different from the Egyptian style, although it is really amazing that these two cultures half a world apart should have built such similar structures!
The Pyramid of the Sun at Teotihuacan is a good example. It is the second largest in Mesoamerica, the Great Pyramid of Cholula being the largest, and having the largest base size of any pyramid in the world. Both are shorter in height than the Great Pyramid of Giza, due to the different angle of incline at which their sides are constructed.
The major external difference between the Mesoamerican and Egyptian structures is that these Mesoamerican pyramids are built with staircases on the outside. With restoration, tourists can climb up today, in some cases to the very top. And, as you can see from this photo, plenty of tourists climb up!
It is not quite clear who built some of these pyramids, like at Teotihuacan and Cholula. The Aztecs certainly took them over, but this was long after the civilization of their creators had collapsed. The Aztecs added their construction into their mythology, and claimed such things as Teotihuacan to be the "City of the Gods" and the Pyramid of Cholula to have been built by one of the giants in Aztec mythology, known as Xelhua.
What is clear though, is that "El Castillo" at Chichen Itza was built by the Maya. They had a fully developed writing system and Mayan hieroglyphs are common in the Chichen Itza site.
This "castle" at Chichen Itza, was not really a castle, but rather a temple to Kukulcan, the "feathered serpent" better known in Aztec mythology as Quetzalcoatl. The Maya were pretty amazing people, greatly skilled in mathematics and science, and had some interesting prophecies. The pyramid at Chichen Itza shows their skill, as the pyramid is cleverly constructed so that at the he equinoxes, the rising and setting sun casts a shadow that slithers down the side of the pyramid looking for all the world like a serpent. And, at the bottom of the stairway is a serpent's head carved in stone. Impressive!
© 2009 Jennifer P Tanabe