Building around 20,000 BC

The Globe




Southwest Asia




Indus Valley





The reconstruction of a 27,000-year-old settlement at Dolni Vestonice illustrates how people used shelters to colonize the frigid plains of eastern Europe. (Patterns in Prehistory)

One of the most amply documented Upper Paleolithic cultures in eastern Europe is the Kostenski-Bershevo culture centered in the Don River Valley, about 470 kilometers southeast of Moscow. About 25,000 to 11,000 years ago, the Kostenski-Bershevo area was an open grassland environment, with no rock shelters, caves, or other natural habitations, and with very little wood available for fires. People here left a variety of archeological sites, including base camps, where pit houses were constructed  by digging a pit a meter or so deep, ringing the excavation with mammoth bones or tusks, and then draping hides over these supports. Some excavated pit houses were relatively large, with many hearths, suggesting that several families may have passed the winter together. (Patterns in Prehistory)

Named after the cave at La Gravette in the Dordogne, in southwest France, the Gravettian culture existed between twenty-eight thousand and twenty-two thousand years ago. Like their predecessors, their culture was widespread. Settlements ranged from southwest France to Wales and eastern Europe. Artifacts have also been found in mammoth hunters' campsites in Russia. Although regional differences exist, Gravettian lifestyles are remarkably similar wherever artifacts have been found. Speculatively, communication between settlements may account for such similarities. When Gravettian culture appeared, a significant behavioral shift emerged. Large, organized settlements, comprising mostly simple tent structures, were founded in open lands. Animal remains suggest that some settlements were occupied for most of the year. Other settlements were quite elaborate, such as Dolni Vestonice, in modern-day Czechoslovakia. There, huts were made from mammoth bones and included storage pits for food preservation. (Before the Pharaohs)

The occupation of northern Russia and Siberia by at least twenty thousand years ago depended on many advances: elaborate houses (marked by postholes, pavements, and walls of mammoth bones), with elaborate fireplaces; and stone lamps to hold animal fat and light the long Arctic nights. (The Third Chimpanzee)

In what was the treeless wilderness of the central European Plain just before the LGM, extensive archaeological evidence has been found of lengthy settlement between roughly 27 and 24 kya. The sites of this occupation are at Dolni Vestonice-Pavlov in southern Moravia. An excavated building shows that it was first dug out from a slope and then the roof was supported with timber set into postholes. The low walls were made of packed clay and stones. (Climate Change in Prehistory)

...two similar sites at Mal'ta and Buret, both in the Irkutz district of Siberia, have been found to date from around 28-25 kya. These sites are famous for the dwellings constructed of large animal bones, and the presence of a number of human figurines. The use of mammoth bones to build huts is a feature of the steppes. The best-known example is at a later site, dating from 15 kya, in the Ukraine at Mezhirich, where the remains of four huts consisted of complex arrangements of tons of mammoth bones. The layout of these bones has been defined as the 'earliest architecture'. One hut, some four to five metres across, had a careful herringbone pattern of mammoth lower jaws; another a palisade-like ring of long bones placed on end (above). It has been estimated that the total number of bones incorporated in the structure belonged to a minimum of 95 mammoths. This need not be a measure of the inhabitants' hunting prowess. Gnawing marks of carnivores on the bones suggest that many of them were scavenged. Nevertheless, dragging the enormous skulls across country was no mean feat, as even a small one weighed about 100 kg. Here, as at other Siberian sites, there is evidence that the inhabitants dug pits in the permafrost to store meat and bones: just like present-day point Barrow, they could then stay put, living off their reserves of meat, even when the migratory herds on which they depended were far away. (Climate Change in Prehistory)

South America




North America



What has brought Natawidjaja to this radical view is the evidence he and his team have uncovered at Gunung Padang. When their drill cores began to yield very ancient carbon dates from organic materials embedded in clays filling the gaps between worked stones, they expanded their investigation using geophysical equipment—ground-penetrating radar, seismic tomography and electrical resistivity—to get a picture of what lay under the ground. The results were stunning, showing layers of massive construction using the same megalithic elements of columnar basalt that are found on the surface but with courses of huge basaltic rocks beneath them extending down to thirty meters (100 feet) and more beneath the surface. At those depths the carbon dates indicate that the megaliths were put in place more than 12,000 years ago and in some cases as far back as 24,000 years ago. (Magicians of the Gods)

“The geophysical evidence is unambiguous,” Natawidjaja says. “Gunung Padang is not a natural hill but a man-made pyramid and the origins of construction here go back long before the end of the last Ice Age. Since the work is massive even at the deepest levels, and bears witness to the kinds of sophisticated construction skills that were deployed to build the pyramids of Egypt, or the largest megalithic sites of Europe, I can only conclude that we’re looking at the work of a lost civilization and a fairly advanced one.” (Magicians of the Gods)

Schoch was in his element at Gunung Padang carefully interrogating the results of the geophysical scans with Danny, collecting samples and minutely examining the site. Afterward, when he’d returned to the US and had time to analyze the data, he wrote: The first important observation is that … Gunung Padang goes back to before the end of the last Ice Age, circa 9700 BC. Based on the evidence, I believe that human use of the site began by circa 14,700 BC. Possibly the earliest use of the site goes back to 22,000 BC, or even earlier. (Magicians of the Gods)

…the megalithic site of columnar basalt visible on the uppermost terraces of Gunung Padang is simply the latest episode in its long story and how Danny and his team used seismic tomography, ground-penetrating radar and other remote-sensing technologies to show that the man-made structures go down tens of meters beneath the surface. Core drilling into these buried structures was undertaken producing organic materials with impeccable provenance that yielded ever more ancient carbon dates extending back, ultimately to more than 22,000 years ago—before the end of the last Ice Age…(Magicians of the Gods)