• Pyramids Pt.3: Radiocarbon at Gunung Padang

    gunung-padang-case-studythe-prehistoric-cultures-are-they-primitive-39-638Is Gunung Padang in West Java a stunning mega-monument built millennia earlier than mainstream archaeologists would have you believe was possible? Is it the smoking gun that at last proves the existence of lost Atlantis? Or is it…a hill?

    Part 2 of this series examined one of the two chief lines of evidence used to support the Atlantean claims of the chief researcher, seismologist Danny Hilman Natawidjaja:  the andesite columns which Natawidjaja believes could only have reached their present configuration by non-natural means. In fact, it is perfectly possible (and far more likely) that the bulk of the andesite columns are an in situ natural geological formation, and only the ruins on the summit are manmade. On that basis alone, the Atlantean claims are dubious. But what about the other chief line of evidence: the radiocarbon dates and associated archaeological materials that are said to support a megalithic building history going back as far as 20,000 BC, the putative era of the lost supercivilization of Atlantis?

    The Radiocarbon Dates

    First, a word on radiocarbon dates in general. There is an old saying in the archaeological trade: one date is no date. Until a C14 date is crosschecked by other lines of evidence or is backed up by a suite of other carbon dates, it is not a valid peg on which to hang an absolute chronology. There are too many factors that can skew a single date: contamination, intrusion, laboratory error, and the probabilistic nature of the method itself. Second, it is critical to know the behavioural relevance of what is being sampled. Say a fragment of wood is found in the ruins of a Roman villa. Was that piece of wood freshly cut, or centuries old when it entered the archaeological record? Was it discarded while the villa was in use, or tossed into rubbish pit dug centuries after the structure was abandoned? Is its presence, indeed, a result of human activity, or natural processes? Is it part of a primary or secondary deposit? The lesson is that radiocarbon dates are not magic, and have important caveats around their interpretation.

    Here is how Graham Hancock summarizes the radiocarbon dates from Gunung Padang, both online and in his 2015 book, Magicians of the Gods (p.36):

    First the drill cores contained evidence – fragments of columnar basalt – that man-made megalithic structures lay far beneath the surface. Secondly the organic materials brought up in the drill cores began to yield older and older dates – 3,000 BC to 5,000 BC, then 9,600 BC as the drills bit deeper, then around 11,000 BC, then, 15,000 BC and finally at depths of 90 feet and more an astonishing sequence of dates of 20,000 BC to 22,000 BC and earlier.

    Other alternos pretty much follow this party line, and Natawidjaja does nothing to dispel the impression in informal interviews and presentations. However, as far as I can determine, this claimed historical reconstruction, spanning up to 25,000 years, is based on exactly seven carbon dates, derived from samples from two drill cores—the deepest at a depth of  11.3m. Table 1 shows all the dates in order of depth; see also Figures 1 and 2.




    Comments on the Carbon Dates.

    Hancock’s claim, which Natawidjaja has allowed to stand, is misleading in the extreme. There is no “astonishing sequence of dates of 20,000 BC to 22,000 BC and earlier.”  Of the two dates older than 20K, the one at 7.5m (25,040 BC) looks impossibly iffy, as it overlies material dated to 11,600 BC from the same drill core. Normal procedure would be to discard it as anomalous. The other (21,350 BC) was taken from 11.3 m (37’), which is a very far cry from Hancock’s 90’. Note also that it was apparently separated by all of six inches in depth from material dated to 14,780 BC in the other core. This is not impossible, but it raises a red flag.

    Another large red flag is raised by comparing the raw and calibrated dates from the two labs. The BETA calibrations look fine. The raw and calibrated BATAN dates, however, differ in all cases by exactly 2000 years, which is a highly unlikely coincidence—indeed, it looks more like a quick’n’dirty approximate conversion from BP to BC, and not a calibration at all. If so, this would be somewhat deceptive.

    Further red flags are raised by the mixture of samples from two different cores, and two different labs. Core 1 was drilled from Terrace 3, but I was unable to ascertain where Core 2 was drilled; therefore, it is hard to know how the depths of the samples are correlated. There is more confusion trying to correlate Natawidjaja’s “units” with the cultural and stratigraphic levels mentioned elsewhere, as the usage appears to be inconsistent. One hopes this confusion will be cleared up if and when Natawidjaja publishes a formal report, and also that he will provide the mandatory error estimates and full designations for his dates. Until then, this meagre sequence of dates can be regarded as no more than suggestive, just a step up from “one date is no date” level. It certainly cannot support the weight of his or Hancock’s grand claims.

    Behavioural Relevance Issues

    It is very difficult to sort out exactly what was being sampled for carbon dating—and therefore, to make even a wild guess at the samples’ behavioural relevance. Sometimes, the samples are described as organic inclusions in the sand or clay between layers of andesite in the drill core, as in this quote from a 2015 presentation (google translation edited for clarity):

    For example in the case of Mount Padang, the artificial rock layers underground are estimated at about 7000 years BP (= 5000 years BC) based on the age of the carbon contained in the soil between the stones of the columns or layers of soil that became the foundation; This means that we assume that the soil was brought in by the men who built the site from the ground around the site, and contained the bodies of animals and plants that lived at that time or throughout the time of the construction of Layer 2 sites.

    Of course this assumption may not be appropriate if the soil and sand used to make the site were taken from an older layer of soil/sand. Another thing that also needs to be taken into account is the possibility of mixing or contamination with younger or older carbon, due to natural secondary processes. In short, carbon dating is not an easy job…

    Natawidjaja’s second paragraph takes the words right out of my mouth. And also, effectively, blows him out of the water. Natawidjaja holds that much of the soil on the summit of Gunung Padang was carried in from elsewhere as fill; if that were so, he would have no business assuming any incidental organic materials in the matrix are unmixed, uncontaminated, or have any behavioural relevance to his hypothetical cultures.

    plasterHowever, other reports from Gunung Padang claim the C14 samples are taken from an artificial cement or mortar found between the andesite columns in the drill cores. If this were so, the mortar would indeed be relevant. It is described by Andang Bachtiar, another geologist on Natawidjaja’s team whose expertise is mainly oilpatch-based, as an orange material composed of “45% iron minerals, 41% silica minerals….14 % clay minerals, and also carbon,” thin in the upper levels, and up to two inches thick in the levels approaching the bottom of the presumed cultural horizon. He takes the high iron content as evidence not only that it is artificial (he clinkerclaims that natural iron ore contains no more than 5% iron), but that it indicates the existence of an early metallurgical technology capable of treating iron ore at high temperatures. He backs this up with what he claims is a chunk of clinker from a metal-working furnace, which he dates prior to 11,500 BC.

    On the other hand, other geologists (including vulcanologists) who have examined the so-called mortar have no hesitation in describing it as natural. Indeed, the terraces at Gunung Padang are thick with andesite column fragments covered with iron-oxide-rich orange weathering rinds, and weathering of andesite does tend to concentrate oxidized iron and silica minerals. The few images of the “mortar” I could find look like a combination of weathering rinds and silty clays washed into the interstices among the columns. The single “clinker” looks suspiciously like a chunk of vesicular basalt/andesite, which would not be out of place on an extinct volcano. On the whole, I am dubious of both the “mortar” and the metal-working technology, and am bothered by the inconsistent accounts of where the radiocarbon samples came from.


    The Ancient Amulet

    gunung-padang-artefak-coin-koinFurther reason to doubt the integrity of the radiocarbon sequence comes, ironically, from one of Gunung Padang’s crown jewels. This is an artifact described as a metal coin or amulet, 1.7 cm in diameter, apparently brought up with water from the borehole while the team was drilling at about 11m in depth. According to their dating of that level, the item should be about 12,000 years old, but they decided it came from 4m down, and should thus be dated to around 5200 BC.

    The artifact generated much excitement. As a copper alloy fusing lead, iron, and nickel, it was further evidence of the high technology of the mysterious pyramid-builders. The team decided it was an amulet, rather than a coin, and speculated on the central motif: Mayan, perhaps, or a traditional Javanese Semar puppet character, a primeval Sunda Wiwitan symbol, a kingly portrait wearing a helmet. The decoration around the edge was likened to gawangan, rectilinear wooden frames, surrounding a circle of 84 tiny raised dots.



    Alas, when a photo of one face of the artifact was released, other archaeologists and numismatists swung into action. A more-than-credible comparison was made with a certain Netherlands East Indies coin, specifically the bronze half-cent piece. The diameter is right. The circle of 84 raised dots checks out. The “gawangan” and central motif are inscriptions in Indonesian and Arabic scripts, respectively. The date? This coin was struck between 1914 and 1945. Its presence in deposits which, according to Natawidjaja and Co, are 7000+ years old, strongly suggests that something is rotten in the state of Gunung Padang’s radiocarbon dates.

    Category: FeaturedScienceSkepticism

    Article by: Rebecca Bradley

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    1. “but they decided it came from 4m down, and should thus be dated to around 5200 BC.”
      So not evidence counts, but decisions based on what?

      “The team decided it was an amulet, rather than a coin, and speculated on the central motif: Mayan, perhaps, or a traditional Javanese Semar puppet character, a primeval Sunda Wiwitan symbol,

      Again, they “decided” with out evidence. Looks more like religion than science.

    2. Actuallty I have same coin that came from 1945, and belong to your comparing picture i think that was different coint, I am Javanese and I Know font of Javanese letter, precisely . Amulet Mt. Padang rather different in spot B than 1/2 cents coin.

      1. The original identification was made by archaeologist Lutfi Yondri, of the Bandung Institute of Archaeology, and I would assume his knowledge of Javanese script is at least equal to yours. I see no difference between the two objects at Spot B.

        1. No difference ?
          The shape is quite different in many areas but let me help you, look at the top portion of the “S” shaped symbol .. now in your mind expand the size of each .. then you can see the difference. Or you can do what I did and placed two fingers on my IPad screen.

          1. Nope. They look the same to me – and yes, I did pore over blowups of the image while preparing this article. What is also decisive is the ring of tiny dots; how much of a coincidence would it be for an ancient amulet and a modern coin, of exactly the same size, to have that inner ring of the same diameter, consisting of an identical number of little dots?

    3. Dear Rebecca, I am enjoying your comments in Part 2 as this Part 3. First of all, I should say that I am a bit upset to see my data has been going out wildly in the internet without proper descriptions and explanations and off course without my consent since we have not been published them yet (in scientific journal), so it is supposed to still be considered confidential. But it is inevitable in this case, and on the other hand, I should be grateful also to see many people around the world got interested regardless of negative or positive comments. Off course, any body would easily miss the real picture if only based their analysis on unauthorized pieces of information on the internet. Anyway…
      In Part-2, I have said that there is no doubt that columnar rocks in Gunung Padang are in artificial arrangements, not in natural-state rock formation. Any geologist who comes to Gunung Padang and fails to see the difference between the artificial and natural columnar-joint rock formation should take a Geology 101 class again, I think 🙂 Well, I am kidding, it may not that easy to see it if you are not a well experience geologist who has seen many columnar-joint outcrops, but I and my geology team have carefully observed and documented columnar-joint rocks in Gunung Padang for years not just in the surface but also in a dozen of excavations (trenching) that went up to 5 meter beneath the surface. Beside we also have a dozen drill cores up to 33 meters and comprehensive geophysical explorations to illuminate underground structures up to a hundred meter depth.Now about the carbon dates. You have pointed out nutty-grity about carbon dating so I wouldn’t say anything more about it. We have sampled and dated more than you have pointed out in your article. Most of samples were sent to BETA Analytic for the analysis. We have four carbon dates associated with Layer 2 that suggest an age of about 7 ka consistently, though we still don’t know exactly the nature of the organic remains but I think it is fair enough to assume that the organic carbons that we dated comes from bio-organisms activity that occurred during the constructions or after, and we have sampled them carefully not to be contaminated by recent bio-organic activities. The carbon dates of Layer 3 (older) varies from, 13 ka to 25 ka, so we don’t know the more precise date but it seems to be Pre-Holocene (it means at the time before civilization that we knows of). One should understand also that we could also evaluate the age of the materials or rocks from their level of weathering. Although Layer 3 underlies layer 2 and it is not exposed at all at present, but the rocks of Layer 3 are much weathered then those of Layer 2… So how is that possible naturally? It must be exposed (to sun and air) for a very long time before Layer 2 exist, right?
      I say many times that our dating results could be considered still preliminary and I hope ones would continue this result with more robust effort, not simply negatively says “it is still not good enough…so forget it”…. Up to know, our effort is still constrained by limited fund; I wish I could sent much more samples to be dated or perhaps invite a carbon dating or other dating specialist to help us here. For a huge and controversial case like Gunung Padang, we need an excellent dating analysis, not just good.

      1. Again, many thanks for your input, which I appreciate. I’m unable to concentrate on replying while on a hectic round of visiting friends and family abroad, but I will have some serious questions and comments in due course. May I have your permission to quote your comments in a further blog post?

    4. Oh ya, to me the coin is not an important issue. The metal coin is reported (by my team) to be brought to the surface by drilling water when the drill core penetrate about 11-m depth (= Layer 3). Honestly, I could not verivy that it really came from such depth because it may also fell to the water circulation from shallower depth, I think. Because if it came from 11 m depth then and if the coin is really an old Netherland coin then how the heck it got there? Well, we could not rule the possibility that the Dutch had secretly dig Gunung Padang for treasure because we knows there were lots of Dutch activities around Gunung Padang (particularly military) that we don’t really knows what were they doing there …LOL.

    5. This is awesome, and I love that Danny may even be in on this conversation.. either my most interesting find online, or a really elaborate hoax. Either way, good work to the both of you!

    6. Outstanding comments in follow up, perhaps in fairness the author could consider a updated version in the near future especially given all the new info.

      Cheers and thanks !

      1. I am indeed working on a reply to DHN’s comments, but life keeps getting in the way. Please be patient a little longer. 🙂

    7. Rebecca you have posted a long article on a sceptics website attempting to debunk the work of Danny Gilman Natawidjaja. You throw in a couple of graphs and tables of his work and then assess it from afar. He has the courtesy of responding publicly and directly to you and regrettably you are too busy to respond right now. To quote your own words ‘It is perfectly possible (and far more likely)’ that you were not expecting such a challenge and would like a lengthy period to contemplate your response. Pick up the gauntlet, this is historic, if he is right the world needs to know, if he is wrong call him out , prove it, show him up as a charlatan.

      1. Thank you for your comment. As I’ve said in the last few days, I’m preparing a response in my spare time – in fact, an open letter to Dr. Natawidjaja – but it’s far from my highest priority right now. And somehow I doubt Dr. Natawidjaja is holding his breath waiting for my reply, having more urgent things to do with his time, as well. Next week, I hope.

        I’d take immediate issue with one part of your comment, though: I do NOT consider Dr. N to be a charlatan in any way. I think he is mistaken. I think he is a True Believer. And I think he would not be the first perfectly competent scientist to chase a chimera.

    8. Thank you for your response and clarification. The use of the word ‘charlatan’ was because of the sentence “indeed, it looks more like a quick ‘n’ dirty approximate conversion from BP to BC, and not a calibration at all. If so, this would be somewhat deceptive.” Forgive me for any misunderstanding.

      I look forward to hearing more from you, there are some interesting and plausible theories emerging that demand a conversation from both sides so that we are all better informed.

    9. April 24, 2017 at 9:35 pm

      “I am indeed working on a reply to DHN’s comments, but life keeps getting in the way. Please be patient a little longer. ?”

      2 months later…..

    10. April 24, 2017 at 9:35 pm

      “I am indeed working on a reply to DHN’s comments, but life keeps getting in the way. Please be patient a little longer. ?”

      2 months later…..

      Never mind. An entire post! Thanks!

    11. Frankly MS Bradley’s skepticism reminds me of all the comments skeptical of an earlier dating for the Sphinx. The main stream archeologists all says show me one other example of this sophistication 12,000 years old then oops, Gobekli Tepi.

    12. See above. The question is whether GP is a hill with volcanic outcrops, or an artificial structure. And I have noticed a tendency for people favouring the “alternate” side of archaeology to think mainstream archaeology is embarrassed by Gobekli. On the contrary, it’s tremendously exciting–the sort of discovery that enriches our picture of the past.

    13. To me! point b has a clearly defined loop forming a UT shape on relic, and is very close to an open top lower case (q) u|/ on modern coin, with clear space differentials between markings, almost as if one is inverted from the other, and point d is clearly different as there is no raised boss to left on modern coin (amulet)???

    14. Concerning the claims of Gobekli Tepi, there are actually serious concerns about interpretation as well on the dating at the site.




      And so many more concerns at G. Tepi including only 5% of site excavated and evidence of backfilling activities in antiquity which of course as Bradley points out can cause havoc with any potential dating methods on a site.

      I am neither for nor against early or later dates at such sites, but as scientists, we need healthy skepticism and yet open minds for new discoveries. Hopefully what we are apart of here is that balance that leads us to advance our knowledge, wisdom, and understanding of the world.

      Much still needs to be done at these and other sites and even then, since so little of the past survives the ravages of time, we may only be able to discuss in terms of possible, plausible, probable and improbable…

    15. If you examine the coin under high magnification the two coins unfortunately are not the same. The green coin has raised dots for the circle around the center, whereas the new coin does not. The lines in the center of the coin do not match.. The areas with the red squares are similar, but not the same. At the bottom of the new coin is a flower, which is not present on the green coin. I am not sure who is trying to fool who here, but the coin collectors who said they were the same certainly did not do their job.

      1. The pix I used in this post were the best I could find at the time, but better pix have emerged since then, and the identification with the copper half-cent is firm. See, for example, this analysis; as for the raised dots on both coins, see the close-up here.

        1. C’mon on, Rebecca. It’s 2020, where’s your reply??

          This site is man-made and you’re wrong about it being a natural volcano remnant.

          1. Hi, Ben. My reply? Perhaps in the three full blog posts that followed this one (May, August and September of 2017), all concerning the volcanic hill of Gunung Padang. Plus copious discussions. Possibly you were unaware that the discussion moved on from this point?

    16. The coin is a red herring potentially brought in by others attracted by the myths of gold digging on spec perhaps ….

      “Beside we also have a dozen drill cores up to 33 meters and comprehensive geophysical explorations to illuminate underground structures up to a hundred meter depth.” Danny Hilman Natawidjaja

      That is the mother lode

    17. I have walked on this site. I have seen many ancient sites. This is a man-made structure. I have no doubt. The stones are arranged by man, but not cut by man (they are basalt columns like those found around the world). I don’t consider this to be Megalithic – because the stones are not that large (I can move any of them myself with a lever). But it is way cool and I look forward to more work being done here. I also look forward to further analysis from the author.

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