It’s quite possible that for various reasons many modern structures won’t stand up to the tests of time. That’s not the case with the oldest landmarks in the world. Those landmarks or monuments, if you prefer to call them that, have been in existence for several thousand years and are not going anywhere anytime soon.
Surprisingly, many of the oldest monuments in the world date back to Neolithic times when man first began to create permanent settlements. Others were built by some of the most sophisticated civilisations that have ever inhabited the earth. The monuments those people left behind are more than ancient landmarks, they’re a long-lasting testimony to the cultures that created them and a fascinating insight into the past.
How we made this list
The ancient monuments mentioned in this article are ones that have been dated by scientific means. The processes used to date landmarks and monuments are complex. The most common scientific methods used are carbon dating, dendrochronology and stratigraphic analysis. All of which are far too complicated to explain in detail in a single paragraph.
That said though, without written documentation, even using the most advanced technology can only give an approximation of when the monuments were actually constructed. The data produced by various organizations can be conflicting too so always take the dating as more of a qualified guess-timate than an actual concrete date.
1. Göbekli Tepe, Turkey (9,600 – 8,200 BCE)
The Göbekli Tepe in southeastern Turkey was discovered during an archeological dig in the early 1960s. That dig is still taking place today and the majority of the prehistoric site is still unearthed, but it’s thought that the site was used by a tribe of nomadic hunter-gatherers from the Anatolia region for shelter and religious purposes.
While it was originally thought that Göbekli Tepe may have been the first temple in the world, that’s something that’s difficult to be one hundred percent certain of. It is one of the earliest examples found so far of what was permanent village life and the twenty acre site contains multiple examples of mud-brick houses and water cisterns.
Another outstanding feature of Göbekli Tepe is its enormous megaliths, the surfaces of which are covered with carvings of animals and other designs. It’s expected that there will be even more exciting finds as the excavations continue at this UNESCO World Heritage Site.
2. Çatalhöyük, Turkey (7,500 – 6,400 BCE)
Çatalhöyük in central Turkey is a similar archeological site to Göbekli Tepe although it’s not quite so old. Discovered just a few years before Göbekli Tepe, Çatalhöyük contains three mound settlements that are estimated to have contained the dwellings of around a thousand people.
The main difference between the two that has been discovered so far is that Çatalhöyük had no streets, but rather the mud-brick houses were built one on top of the other. In some places the maze-like structure reaches a staggering eighteen stories high which is an incredible feat of architecture considering the era and availability of building tools and materials.
Other discoveries in Çatalhöyük have shown that this was a cultured society that kept their living spaces clean of household waste, but frequently buried their dead somewhere inside their homes. They also decorated their walls with murals of animals, human figures and religious symbols.
One mural found in the settlement is thought to depict the layout of the village and the twin-peaked volcano, Mount Hasan. If it does then it could well be the oldest map in the world in existence, but until the historians and archeologists come to an agreement about what it depicts then it remains just another fascinating relic of past lives.
3. The Great Cairn of Barnenez, France, (4,800 – 3,500 BCE)
Cairn is a word of Gaelic origin that means a pile of stones created by human hands. Cairns in different shapes and sizes can be found all over the world, but particularly in Europe where they have been traditionally used as path markers and in their larger form, burial mounds.
The Great Cairn of Barnenez, located near Finistere in the Brittany region of France, is a chambered cairn that’s considered to be one of the oldest and biggest of its kind. The cairn is seventy-two meters in length, measures twenty-five meters across at its widest point and is eight meters high.
The cairn is built on top of a steep hill and is a very visible landmark in the French countryside. While it would originally have served as a tomb, archeological finds show that the cairn and its various chambers daubed with megalithic art have also been occupied by the living during several different historical eras.
4. Monte d’Accoddi, Sardinia, Italy, (4,000 – 3,650 BCE)
Sardinia is an Italian island that has been inhabited by some unusual civilisations throughout its history. One of the earliest known people to live there were the Ozieri. There are many Ozieri sites spread across Sardinia, but the most outstanding, and the oldest, is Monte d’Accoddi in the north of the island.
What remains of the twenty-seven by twenty-seven meter stone structure is thought to be what was a step pyramid. Unlike the pyramids in Egypt, Monte d’Accoddi has no burial chambers or apparent entrances. After archeologists discovered the skeletal remains of various domesticated animals on one level, they deduced its prime purpose may have been religious and that that religion involved animal sacrifice.
In truth, even though the various digs executed there have found pottery, stone slabs with ornate carvings, figurines of women and even huge rocks carved into rounded shapes, Monte d’Accoddi still has a lot of secrets to reveal.
5. Ġgantija Temples, Malta (3,600 – 3,200 BCE)
Religion, in many different forms, has always played a major part in the daily lives of ancient civilisations. The Ġgantija Temples on the Maltese island of Gozo are a UNESCO World Heritage Site and while they are one of several on the islands of Malta and Gozo, they are prehistoric monuments that are among some of the oldest religious monuments in Europe.
The Ġgantija Temples are a limestone temple complex that was already in existence before anyone had thought of building Stonehenge. Whatever religion had been celebrated in the temples fell out of favor sometime around 2500 BCE, but the materials they were built from meant that, even though the religion didn’t survive, they did.
There’s a local legend attached to the Ġgantija Temples and that’s, because of the size and weight of the stones used, that they were built by giants. Whether that’s true or not is difficult to determine, but as a point of interest, the history of Sardinia also refers to a culture of giants, the Nuragic civilisation who built temples from stones. The Nuragic were excellent sailors so maybe there’s a connection and maybe there isn’t. That’s something you’ll have to decide for yourself.
6. Shahr-e Sukhteh, Iran, (3,200 – 2,350 BCE)
Shahr-e Sukhteh in southeastern Iran is an archeological site that consists of the extensive ruins of what was the largest city built during the Bronze Age. The ruins spread across an area of around one-hundred and fifty hectares and contain a variety of different sections including residential areas, areas of trade where craftsmen worked and a cemetery with tens of thousands of graves.
Shahr-e Sukhteh was inhabited by people from the Helmand civilisation, a civilisation that occupied terrains in the valley of the Helmand River, but it appears it wasn’t a peaceful occupation. Archeologists have so far uncovered evidence that the city was burned down three times before it was permanently abandoned, but to date have not managed to discover why or who the attacking forces that destroyed it were, if there was one.
Several artifacts unearthed at Shahr-e Sukhteh have been deemed the oldest of their kind ever found. They include:
- The oldest artificial eyeball
- The oldest board game
- A skull showing an early example of brain surgery
- The oldest example of animation created by designs on a drinking goblet
7. Skara Brae, Scotland, (3,000 – 2,500 BCE)
Skara Brae is a relatively intact example of a Neolithic village on Mainland, one of the Scottish Orkney Islands. The nine houses in the sunken stone village are considered to have been built before Stonehenge and the pyramids in Egypt, but have somehow failed to garner the same notoriety as either.
While the houses are basic in construction and consist mainly of one large room, they exhibit examples of a primitive indoor plumbing system that would have flushed human excrement out to sea. The stone beds and furniture found in the houses is also unusual as are the covered passageways which joined the houses together allowing the occupants to go from one to another without having to brave the extremities of the Orkney Islands harsh climate.
Not a great deal is known about the people who inhabited Skara Brae other than they hunted, farmed and fished. They have been called the Groove Wear people by archeologists because of the type of grooved pottery that has been unearthed at the site. Maybe more will be revealed in the future.
8. Stonehenge, England, (3,000 – 2,000 BCE)
Stonehenge is, without a doubt, one of the most famous historical landmarks in the world. The circle of enormous standing stones located on Salisbury Plain in England has more myth and mystery attached to it than probably any other of the world’s prehistoric monuments.
There has been an ongoing controversy about whether Stonehenge was just a burial ground or whether it had some other, as yet unknown, purpose for centuries. Today archeologists are still undecided on where the stones came from and how they got there or whether or not there were also wooden structures at the henge during Neolithic times.
Legends about Stonehenge say it was constructed by aliens, transported from Ireland by Merlin the Arthurian wizard or built by an extinct race of giants. The truth is, no-one knows who built Stonehenge or for what purpose and they probably never will.
9. Pyramid of Djoser, Egypt, (2,630 BCE)
If there’s one ancient monument in the world that archeologists are able to date almost accurately it’s the Pyramid of Djoser. The Pyramid of Djoser was constructed as a burial tomb for Pharaoh Djoser who reigned for around twenty years and died sometime in the mid-27th BC.
The six-tiered step pyramid was an ambitious and innovative design for the times. The two-hundred and five foot high limestone structure contains numerous tunnels and galleries that would have been used for storage as well as the pharaoh’s burial chamber. It is classed as the first pyramid to be built in Egypt and is said to be the inspiration for all that followed.
What was sealed inside after Djoser’s death is, for most parts, a mystery as the pyramid and its contents were looted.
10. Mohenjo-daro, Pakistan, (2,600 – 1,900 BCE)
While it may seem young in comparison to some of the previous monuments and landmarks, Mohenjo-daro in the Larkana District of Pakistan is still over four thousand years old. The ruined city was unearthed in the early 1900s and excavations continued there until the mid-1960s.
All that’s really known about Mohenjo-daro is that it was inhabited by a Bronze Age civilisation known as the Harappans and it’s estimated that at one time there may have been as many as forty thousand people residing there. Why the city was abandoned is unknown.
What makes Mohenjo-daro outstanding in its own right as an ancient monument is the complex layout of its streets and buildings which were particularly advanced for the times. While most of the buildings are no nothing more than ruins, the ancient metropolis also had an advanced sewage disposal system and numerous public baths as well as an enormous grain storage facility.