Where can you find pyramids apart from Egypt? Maybe you’ve heard of the Incan pyramids in Peru, the pyramids of Nubia (Sudan), or the ruined pyramids of ancient Mesopotamia (Iraq) and Persia (Iran) known as ziggurats?
What you may not know is that the list was expanded in 1987, when dive tour operator Kihachiro Aratake discovered a massive stone structure in Japan, off the Yonaguni Jima islands, south of Okinawa.
This terraced pyramid appears to have been created using skilled craftsmanship and advanced technology yet belongs to prehistory. It did not attract much attention until experts and adventurers repeatedly dived at the site, photographing and unearthing this breathtaking structure and various features.
Professor Masaaki Kimura, a marine geologist at the University of the Ryukyus, has been diving there for more than 18 years to measure and map the features of the Yonaguni Monument, as it has come to be called. The structure consists of a huge network of buildings, including castles, monuments, and a stadium, all connected by an elaborate system of roads and waterways, Kimura says.
It was most likely submerged during a massive earthquake and tsunami-like disaster. Japan is located in a region of great tectonic instability—the Pacific Ring of Fire. Severe earthquakes are very common in this area.
The world’s largest recorded tsunami struck Yonaguni Jima island in 1771 with an estimated height of more than 131 feet (40 meters). Such an event may have befallen the ancient civilization associated with this structure.
Kimura presented his research and a computer-generated model of the ruin site at a scientific conferencein Japan in 2007.
According to Kimura, there are 10 submerged structures off the Yonaguni islands, and a further five similar structures off the main island of Okinawa.
Massive ruins cover an area spanning more than 48,400 square feet (around 45,000 square meters). Kimura believes the ruins date back at least 5,000 years, based on the ages of stalactites found in underwater caves that he thinks sank with the city.
In fact, there are many underwater caves with stalactites in the waters off Okinawa Island. Stalactites and stalagmites can only form above water during an extremely slow process. Submerged caves with stalactites found around Okinawa indicate that much of the area was above water at one time.
Natural or Man-Made?
“The largest structure looks like a complicated, monolithic, stepped pyramid that rises from a depth of 25 meters [82 feet],” Kimura told National Geographic News in a 2007 interview.
Over the years, he has created a detailed picture of this ancient site and has found many similarities between the underwater structures and archaeological sites on land.
For example, a semicircular cut in a rock platform matches a castle entrance in ruins on land. Nakagusuku Castle of Okinawa has a perfect semicircular entrance typical of gusuku (castles) of the Ryukyu Dynasty from the 13th century.
Two underwater megaliths—huge, 6-meter-tall, upright standing-stones positioned next to each other—also have similarities to twinned megaliths in other parts of Japan, such as Mt. Nabeyama in Gifu Prefecture.
But many scholars argue that all such structures are natural formations shaped by the actions of waves on the rocks over thousands of years.
Boston University geologist Robert M. Schoch, known for his work on re-dating the Sphinx to a much earlier age, has varied in his opinion of the Yonaguni structures. Initially, he thought the platforms and terrace-like structures were entirely natural formations after making a few dives at the site.
Schoch took some rock samples and analysis showed they were mud and sandstones from the formation called the Lower Miocene Yaeyama Group, which was deposited some 20 million years ago.
Kimura acknowledges that the basic rock structure is natural, but asserts that it has been “terraformed” by humans. For instance, two pairs of steps rising from the “main terrace” to the “upper terrace” are hard to explain by natural erosive forces.
Kimura also points out that rubble and lose blocks are not found at the base of many of the structures, or in the rock-cut channels, which would be expected if they had been produced by natural erosion.
Following later dives, Schoch agreed that: “We should also consider the possibility that the Yonaguni Monument is fundamentally a natural structure that was utilized, enhanced, and modified by humans in ancient times,” he wrote in an article in 1999.
Ancient and modern civilizations have utilized natural rock formations for a variety of purposes. The best example is the Great Sphinx of Giza in Egypt that is carved out of the “living bedrock;” others include and the temples of Petra in Jordan and Mahabalipuram in south India.
Many structures have been discovered as researchers and divers keep exploring. One has the shape of a seated statue, similar to the Sphinx.
“One example I have described as an underwater sphinx resembles a Chinese or ancient Okinawan king,” Kimura told National Geographic.
This enigmatic carved structure is now called “the goddess rock,” and was discovered at a depth of about 50 feet. Looking closely, you can make out a worn headpiece and long arms like those of the Egyptian Sphinx.
Also discovered is a large round rock resembling a human face. In a similar tradition to the “Moai” figures of the Easter Islands off Chile, this giant head is resting on the ground, perhaps gazing out at a distant skyline. Some believe this figurehead forms a virtual axis or a focal point. Alternatively, it could be a legendary Atlas giant that glorified this lost city.
Several divers and researchers have noted script-like carvings on rock surfaces around the monument, and some have claimed to see animals carved in rocks; others have disregarded these as as natural.
Stone tablets recovered from the vicinity, one known as the “Okinawa Rosetta Stone”, are engraved with symbols that are similar to Egyptian hieroglyphics. The message has not been deciphered, but could be the story of the lost city as the pyramid symbol is repeatedly engraved.
Stone tools have also been recovered from the waters nearby.
The submarine pyramid and other relics discovered at Yonaguni Jima islands could offer tantalizing proof of a sophisticated civilization that existed during the last ice age.
Most archaeologists believe that human civilization arose about 5,000 years ago, but a small yet persuasive number of experts think that “advanced” societies may have existed as long as 10,000 years ago and were wiped out in some sort of catastrophe