5 Mysterious Sites From the Ancient World

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Although new technology has helped archaeologists make amazing discoveries in recent years, some ancient historic sites continue to leave people puzzled. Structures that were built centuries ago seem to hold secrets and strange details that no one can explain. Questions about how they came to be and what these places meant to their builders still burn in our minds. Here are five structures from ancient times that hold mysteries we haven’t solved.

 

5. Plain of Jars

The Plain of Jars is a peculiar site in Laos. © John Pavelka

The Plain of Jars in Laos is as strange as it sounds — thousands of huge stone containers situated on a plateau. It’s a captivating but peculiar scene. The jars are scattered across several sites in a haphazard way, and some have lids and unusual etchings of animals or faces. Although the jars are well made, experts don’t know who created these basins, why they were built or what these pots held. The sites on the Xiangkhoang Plateau have been nominated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

 

4. Megalithic Temples of Malta

One of the Ggantija temples of Malta. © Jacqueline Poggi

Malta, a small European island country in the Mediterranean, features at least seven official temples that are some of the earth’s oldest freestanding religious structures. Built roughly between 3600 BC and 700 BC, they’re older than Stonehenge. Some of these structures are protected as UNESCO sites, but while they’ve been studied at length, these sacred remains provide little insight into the inhabitants who lived there thousands of years ago. Legend has it that one of the Ggantija temples on the island of Gozo was the work of a giantess who needed a place to worship.

 

3. Underground City of Derinkuyu

The underground city of Derinkuyu may have housed some 20,000 people. © Sunrise Odyssey

In central Turkey lies a vast underground city known as Derinkuyu. Carved out of volcanic ash, this underground labyrinth of caverns, tunnels, chimneys and more may have once housed as many as 20,000 people … and their livestock. The most expansive and deepest subterranean city on Earth, Derinkuyu featured 18 different levels with everything from bathrooms to schools to tombs. Eight of those levels are now open to the public.

Why go to the trouble of digging out all that space underground? Protection. The early inhabitants of the region used the city as a refuge from invaders. The first parts of the subterranean refuge were carved out beginning as early as 800 BC. Later, early Christians hid in Derinkuyu to escape persecution by Romans. The complexities that these ancient tunnels hold and their function as a self-sustaining shelter still amaze archaeologists.

 

2. Great Pyramid of Giza

The Great Pyramid of Giza, seen here at night, is a marvel of engineering. © Paweesit

Also known as the Pyramid of Khufu, this structure is the oldest of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. The pyramids were formed to encase Egypt’s rulers when they passed on to the afterlife, and Pharaoh Khufu was laid to rest in the largest of the remaining Giza pyramids. It originally stood at just over 480 feet tall. While the Great Pyramid’s tomb art has provided several answers about how the Egyptians once lived, the massive and precise construction continues to baffle scientists and archaeologists.

Recent discoveries continue to raise questions. In 2015, a camera detected thermal anomalies within the pyramid. Researchers discovered an odd void in 2017, but the reason for this cavity in the pyramid can only be speculated.

 

1. Templo Mayor of the Aztecs

Remains of Templo Mayor in the heart of Mexico City. © Sam Kelly

The Aztecs once reigned over a complex civilization with an intense religion, military might and much more. Templo Mayor stood as the center of their culture in the capital city of Tenochtitlan. The massive 150-foot structure had been built atop the remains of at least a half-dozen other temples. After the Spanish destroyed the temple in 1521, it remained buried beneath Mexico City for centuries until the remains were unearthed in 1914. Since then, the site has gradually been excavated, revealing new aspects of the ancient Aztecs. Many details of these people were wiped out along with their empire when North and South America were first being explored, but this temple has provided insight to their practices and values.

The shrine of Templo Mayor showed signs of bloody religious rituals. When the remains were discovered, the surrounding area was sparsely populated, due to legends of danger among the locals. It’s possible those ancient human sacrifices gave this place a reputation that persisted for generations.

 

One More: Lost Labyrinth of Egypt

Egypt’s pyramids aren’t the only wonder that challenges historians. The ancient Greek historian Herodotus claimed the “lost labyrinth of Egypt” was even more notable than the pyramids. The legendary labyrinth was thought to be a tomb for 12 rulers, but it also held “sacred crocodiles.” Filled with hieroglyphics, chambers and adornments, this location was believed to be able to unlock the intricacies of Egypt. Several ancients left writings about their visits to it — yet its location remained a mystery.

In the 19th century, archeologists found a pyramid and site at Hawara that some believe marks the labyrinth of legend. Controversy still surrounds this site, because there’s no clear evidence that this is the exact location — which leaves the labyrinth cloaked in mystery.

Kayla Matthews is a tech writer and productivity-obsessed Pittsburgher whose work has been featured on Digital Trends, The Week, VentureBeat, and others. When she’s not drinking coffee, she’s probably daydreaming about coffee. To see more of her work, check out Productivity Bytes or follow her on Twitter @KaylaEMatthews.

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Kayla Matthews is a tech writer and productivity-obsessed Pittsburgher whose work has been featured on Digital Trends, The Week, VentureBeat, and others. When she’s not drinking coffee, she’s probably daydreaming about coffee. To see more of her work, check out Productivity Bytes or follow her on Twitter @KaylaEMatthews.