The site is only 120 kilometers south-east of Jakarta, but the drive may take up to five hours. The last part to the village of Karyamukti includes a stretch of roads in rather poor condition but the voyage is more than worth it. You pass through a stunning landscape of rice paddies, small hamlets and tea plantations. Once you get to Mount Padang it will take another twenty minutes to climb some four hundred stone steps that go up at a gentle angle to the summit.
There, at an altitude of 885 m above sea level you will have reached the largest megalithic site in southeastern Asia. Gunung Padang is fifteen times the size of Borobudur and covers more than twenty-five hectares, including nine hundred square meters of rectangular, stone courtyards that go up five levels from northwest to southeast. It is a series of landscaped terraces that are neatly organized with partitions and retaining walls and connected by flights of stairs. The site is scattered with many thousands of massive rectangular stones of volcanic origin that range from one to two meters in length. These smooth-sided blocks weigh from ninety to six hundred kilograms and must have been carried from some distant quarry still unknown to academic scholars.
Unlike Borobudur the site was never overgrown by jungle and in the days of the Dutch East Indies its existence was mentioned in a Report of the Dutch Department of Antiquities in 1914. In 1946 it was also briefly mentioned by the former head of the Archaeological Service of the Dutch East Indies, Dr. Krom, in his book “Under Palm and Banyan Trees”. Afterwards however Gunung Padang remained ‘forgotten’ until in 1987 some villagers from Karyamukti reported the existence of a pile of large square stones of various sizes on a nearby hilltop to a regional government official. It was not until 1998 that Mount Padang was designated as a cultural heritage site by a decree of the Minister of Education and Culture.
Although our knowledge of early Hindu-Javanese history suffers from a lack of written sources there is no doubt about the fact that the Gunung Padang site has been a sacred site of worship throughout the diverse cultures of the classical Hindu-Buddhist Tarumanegara Kingdom (early 5th century until the 7th century) and those of the Kingdom of Sunda (8th to 16th century). Neither is there any uncertainty that originally in prehistoric times Gunung Padang was created as a stage for animist rituals. It has been determined that at least several of Mount Padang’s larger standing stones point to very definite celestial phenomena, such as sunrise and sunset on the summer and winter solstices, together with those of the spring and vernal equinoxes. This is similar to the practice of European megalith-builders, who aligned their own standing stones in Britany, Western France and Stonehenge on the British Isles with identical solar coordinates. The name of the site may even be related to these solar orientations. It is notable that the word “padang’ in the Sundanese language of West Java translates as “bright.”
The controversial issue currently being debated rather hotly by Indonesian archaeologists, geologists, historians, politicians and arm-chair philosophers is the question if Gunung Padang may perhaps have marked the dawn of civilization.
In February 2012, a State-sponsored evaluation of the site was carried out and radiocarbon testing revealed it was built and first occupied about 4,800 years ago. This surprisingly early Third Millennium BCE date placed Gunung Padang squarely within Western Europe’s Megalithic Age. As the researchers were carrying out their investigations, they noticed traces on Mount Padang’s surface of what might be other, underground structures.
In the course of 2013 the team of researchers started using ground-penetrating radar units and geo-magnetometers. These state-of-the-art instruments readily found and accurately confirmed the existence of large and small chambers, walls, gates and staircases buried deep beneath the open-air ruins in a virtual subterranean mirror image of Gunung Padang.
Throughout last summer and into early fall the members of the research team test-drilled and carefully dredged up organic materials, which were sent for laboratory testing in the United States. Carbon-dating test results from the Miami lab show that the structure could date back to 14,000 B.C., or even beyond, making it older than the Great Pyramid of Giza in Egypt.
Two weeks ago President Yudhoyono paid a visit to the site and his enthusiasm is catching on. Several people have now publicly declared that the pyramid should be excavated immediately in order to prove that Java was mankind’s cradle of civilization.
Others are not so sure. Leading Geologist Dr. Sujatmiko maintains that Mount Padang is just what remained of an ancient extinct volcano and the site should be protected in a systematic way.
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