Discover Gunung Padang – The World’s Largest Pyramid?

Written by Aaron Webber
Published: October 15, 2023
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If you’ve heard of Gunung Padang before, chances are you already have some strong opinions about it. The discovery and subsequent research of this mysterious site have prompted numerous theories about its construction, purpose, and history. Is it a pyramid constructed by an ancient civilization, or something more natural yet equally impressive?

Archaeologists, historians, writers, conspiracy theorists, pseudo-archaeologists, and more have visited the site and proposed their own ideas for how and when it was built. However, for all the research being done, there is much we don’t know about the site, who built it, or why. If you’ve heard the name before but don’t know anything about this mysterious mountain structure, you’ve come to the right place!

What is Gunung Padang?

Gunung padang megalithic site

One of the megalithic constructions on the lower terraces at Gunung Padang.

©Deri kurniawan/iStock via Getty Images

Gunung Padang is an ancient megalithic construction. Ancient people built it on the top of an extinct volcano in Indonesia. The site consists of five human-made terraces, steps, and other signs of ancient human activity. The ancient people of Indonesia built the Gunung Padang using hundreds of hexagonal stone pillars that were formed naturally by the volcano.

The megaliths used in the construction of Gunung Padang are impressively straight and regular. But they are not man-made. They are made of andesite. Andesite is a volcanic rock formed by cooling lava from the volcano. It often forms hexagonal stone columns.

Archaeologists recovered pottery fragments and other signs of human habitation, allowing them to date the site. Additional materials allowed them to infer meaning and purpose to the site.

On the other hand, multiple people and groups insist that Gunung Padang is much older than the accepted dates suggest. They also attribute its construction to other people and civilizations. We will cover these claims and their evidence below.

Is Gunung Padang The World’s Largest Pyramid?

Gunung Padang megalithic site in West Java, Indonesia

Gunung Padang was constructed using thousands of ancient stones. Some researchers claim it is the largest megalithic site in South East Asia.

©leodaphne/iStock via Getty Images

In short, no. Gunung Padang is a natural volcano. It was not built by humans. Ancient explorers probably discovered the site and the abundance of available building materials in the form of the massive stone pillars and made it their home.

While much of the volcano shows evidence of human construction and activity, it remains a natural formation. While humans have used natural structures to build temples and other buildings in the past, the formations themselves remain natural. Such is the case with Gunung Padang.

Facts About Gunung Padang

Gunung Padang is a local name for the mountain meaning “mountain of light”. Locals have known about the existence of Gunung Padang probably since its construction. Later, Western audiences learned of it through the geologist and scientist, Rogier Verbeek, in 1890. Verbeek described the terraces, paved areas, and small mounds that he described as probable graves.

Local farmers then rediscovered the site in 1979. Afterward, the local government and research institutions jumped at the opportunity to study and date the mountaintop ruins. Studies of the site have resulted in a number of possible dates for its construction.

According to archaeologist Lutfi Yondri, the site was built sometime between 100 CE and 400 CE. However, archaeologist Harry Truman Simanjuntak says it was most likely built between 700 CE and 900 CE. The Indonesian Bureau of Archeology, on the other hand, analyzed pottery fragments found at the site and dated them to around 45 BCE.

Gunung Padang is the largest megalithic site in Indonesia. The county declared it a heritage site and a National Site Area, protecting it for future study and excavation.

Why do People Think it is a Pyramid?

Megalithic sites Gunung Padang, Cianjur, West Java, Indonesia

A view from the top of the volcano, toward the terraces below.

©Ade lukmanul Hakim/iStock via Getty Images

Much of the speculation about the history, purpose, and construction of Gunung Padang stems from the work of researcher Danny Hilman Natawidjaja and his work during the 2010s. Subsequently, his work reportedly showed several significant, if disputed, discoveries about the mountain.

Evidence of layered construction

First, Hilman allegedly discovered that the mountain had a number of layers. These layers were not natural but formed by human hands. In total, there were four layers. Each was built on top of the others over thousands of years, until it formed a pyramid. The topmost layer underneath the surface layer of grass and vegetation, dated to around 600 BCE. The second layer dated to around 4,700 BCE. All the construction on this level is buried about five meters below the surface. The third level was around 10 meters deep and dated to about 10,000 BCE. Finally, the bottom layer, the oldest construction at the heart of the pyramid, showed signs of being built over thousands of years. The oldest parts were dated to around 25,000 BCE.

If these dates are true, and if they could be confirmed by additional studies, they would absolutely blow what we know about ancient societies out of the water. Gunung Padang would predate the pyramids, Gobleki Tepi, and any Mesopotamian or African society or megalith site. It would even be older than the last ice age! You can see now why these dates have been met with significant skepticism.

Evidence of internal chambers

Second, Hilman’s team used ground-penetrating radar and claimed to have discovered empty chambers within the volcano. These chambers resemble what we would expect to find inside a pyramid of this size, with connected tunnels and large rooms. Even if the mountain itself is a natural formation, if these chambers exist, they would significantly alter our understanding of ancient people. No additional studies have attempted to reach or explore these chambers.

Hilman and his team announced other discoveries about the site that many other experts disagree with. Only additional research and study will reveal the truth.

Why Was Gunung Padang Built?

Random stones on megalithic sites, Gunung Padang, Cianjur, West Java, Indonesia

The massive stones, formed from volcanic rock, used in the construction of Gunung Padang.

©Ade lukmanul Hakim/iStock via Getty Images

We have only hints and the slimmest suggestions as to why the megalithic site was built. And little evidence for what it was used for. Without any detailed records or human remains, it is difficult to make any assumptions about what the ancient people did on top of the volcano at Gunung Padang. However, there are some hints.

Some researchers have proposed their theories about its purpose. Because animism was a common belief among the people who constructed similar megalithic sites, some researchers say it could have been used for religious practices or sacrifices.

Because of its prominence and proximity to other ancient sites, it might have been used as a gathering place for chieftains or tribal and community leaders.

There are a few examples of design and decoration at Gunung Padang. These include patterns of repeating numbers and symbols of the Sunda Wiwitan folk religion. These indicate the people who built Gunung Padang had developed at least some degree of religion, culture, and society.

In the end, even if we never discover the true purpose of Gunung Padang, the research being done there is essential to our understanding of ancient culture, the development of human technology, and the migration of people through the Southeastern Pacific region.

Where is Gunung Padang?

Gunung Padang lies in Indonesia, in the West Java province, near the town of Karyamukti.

Even if the site is a natural formation, only used by ancient architects to construct impressive structures, it remains an impressive feat of human achievement. Thus, additional research will continue to yield interesting facts about the people who built it, and illustrate what life was like thousands of years ago. Whatever secrets the mountain holds, it is sure to capture the imagination of researchers and archaeologists for many years to 

The photo featured at the top of this post is © Deri kurniawan/iStock via Getty Images

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About the Author

Aaron Webber is a writer at A-Z Animals primarily covering history, spirituality, geography, and culture. He has over 13 years of writing for global marketing firms, ad agencies, and executive ghostwriting. He graduated with a degree in economics from BYU and is a published, award-winning author of science fiction and alternate history. Aaron lives in Phoenix and is active in his community teaching breathwork, healing ceremonies, and activism. He shares his thoughts and work on his site, The Lost Explorers Club.

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