5 Mysterious Stone Formations

Stonehenge is only the start

By / February 2013

When I was a kid my family would take an annual trip out to my grandparent’s farm in middle Missouri. One summer, my mother took me to her favorite place on the farm, a green hill with an old cellar carved into its side. It was at the mouth of this cellar that I found a few shards of a white and cobalt dish glinting in the yellow sunlight. I held the past in my hand. It felt weighty, surprisingly so. I wondered whether the bits were part of a plate or a bowl, and I wondered to whom the dish belonged. Did the family leave the cellar in a hurry? Was it an accident that left these bits broken in the dirt? It all felt wonderfully mysterious, like I’d tripped upon a fantastic secret. Magnify that awe and intrigue, and you’ll understand what it’s like to behold one of these five wonders each made from stone by human hands and each left behind long, long ago.


1. Stonehenge

Stonehenge, the impressive stone circle located in Wiltshire, UK, has awed visitors for centuries. But archaeologists don’t agree on exactly how many centuries — it’s believed to have been built anywhere between 3000 and 2000 BC. And it’s estimated that this ancient stone circle took somewhere in the realm of 30 million hours to erect, but no one is quite sure what it was created for. Some have surmised that humans were sacrificed here; others have theorized that it was used for astronomy. Whatever the case, the massive gray stone ring, standing stalwart atop an emerald hill, is at once disquieting and awe-inspiring.


2. Easter Island Moai

On a speck of an island in the South Pacific Ocean stands a tribe of moai statues. But “stands” isn’t really the correct word since the statues are in the shape of human heads and torsos, no legs or feet to mention. Yet even without these limbs, the nearly 900 of them that dot the desolate landscape of this Chilean territory are hefty, weighing in at an average of 14 tons each. Archaeologists believe that back between 1400 and 1600 AD, the island’s indigenous people carved these giants from hardened volcanic ash, transported and erected them for the purpose of ancestral god worship. With their backs to the sea and their solemn eyes cutting across the island, the moai are a powerful presence.


3. Machu Picchu

High in the Andes Mountains of Peru lies Machu Picchu, the best-preserved remnant of the Inca Empire. Archeologists believe that this city may have been built as a military fort, a ceremonial site, or a retreat for the Inca rulers. It was abandoned by the early 16th century. But what might be most remarkable about this astonishingly intact city is that it wasn’t discovered until the early 20th century by a Yale professor, Hiram Bingham. It took the intrepid American six days to hike to the lost city, but now visitors have the choice of re-tracing his steps or taking a much quicker train ride from nearby Cusco.


4. Great Zimbabwe Ruins

Scattered across about 200 square miles of sub-Saharan Africa are the ruins of an empire dating back to the 11th century. In its heyday, the Great Zimbabwe empire was noted around Europe, but by the 15th century when the Portuguese came calling, Great Zimbabwe had already fallen to disease and overpopulation. The ruins, which have become known as the Great Zimbabwe Ruins, are composed of millions of little stones stacked together. What’s so unique about these ruins is their precision. The pieces fit perfectly together without the help of mortar. One such part is called the Great Enclosure, and it’s 36-foot-tall walls are particularly astounding, considering the time and effort it would take to build them. The Hill Complex is another favorite for its sweeping views of the ruins and the surrounding area.


5. Yonaguni Monument

Just off the coast of Yonaguni in Japan lies a most perplexing stone monument. While the director of the local tourism association was Scuba diving in 1987, he noticed some interesting seabed formations. A group of experts soon followed and discovered a variety of sandstones and mudstones carved in different shapes, such as a star, an L-shape, a column, and a triangular indentation. But archeologists, geologists and other scientists are divided on whether the monuments were man-made or naturally created. But the not knowing just adds to the mystery of this underwater formation.


Emily Halonen Bratcher is a contributing writer at US News and World Report.


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