Two weeks ago, Danny Hilman Natawidjaja and his team in Indonesia published a paper online claiming to have radiocarbon evidence that Gunung Padang was an Ice Age pyramid complex and not, as geologists commonly believe, a natural volcanic formation that humans built atop around 1,500 years ago. The reaction from both archaeologists and geologists was swift, with calls for the journal in which the paper will soon appear, Archaeological Prospection, to retract it because of its deeply illogical reasoning. While Natawidjaja and his team performed real science that dated soil from within the hill of Gunung Padang, they neglected to complete an obvious step before claiming the dates as evidence of human activity—they did not provide any evidence that the soil was associated with human activity.
Instead, the team seems to have assumed that the volcanic cone was an ancient pyramid, and thus a glory to the honor of Indonesia, now the cradle of civilization, rather than drawing the conclusion from evidence. Carl Feagans has a thorough breakdown of the evidence that Gunung Padang is simply a natural formation with a relatively recent human occupation atop it, and his blog post is well worth the read.
I do, however, want to highlight a hilarious piece of “evidence” that Natawidjaja is promoting that Feagans highlights. I admit that I have not dived too deeply into the Gunung Padang mythos beyond what appears in Graham Hancock’s books and last year’s Ancient Apocalypse TV series, so I wasn’t familiar with this ridiculous claim.
Natawidjaja found a Dutch colonial-era coin at Gunung Padang and claims that it is a 52,000-year-old “amulet”! And when critics pointed out that it was a Dutch colonial coin, he doubled down and alleged that the Dutch modeled their coins on prehistoric Indonesian amulets!
The fact that he makes these kinds of bizarre and easily debunked claims—and is widely criticized by his fellow Indonesian scholars for both his science and his claim that Gunung Padang was Plato’s Atlantis—and nonetheless hasn’t been laughed out the conversation is testament to the power of media narratives, the power of political patronage, and the declining standards across public life that favor sensationalism over seriousness.
I am an author and researcher focusing on pop culture, science, and history. Bylines: New Republic, Esquire, Slate, etc. There's more about me in the About Jason tab.
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