• Gunung Padang: Letter to Danny Hillman Pt.2

    Dear Danny,

    This is my penultimate post about Gunung Padang, unless and until you formally publish your results, or dramatic new information emerges. I’m going to start by mopping up a few leftover details and niggles from the work on the site, and from your responses; and I’ll finish next time by addressing issues that only became apparent to me as I dug into the activities of your Tim Katastropik Purba and its connections with a private research group called Turangga Seta.


    The “River Rocks” and the Artificial Embankment

    According to your chronology, the summit was renovated about 3000 years ago (or maybe 7000, or maybe even earlier), when a retaining wall was built and backfilled on the south end of the terraces, where no columnar andesite is found. Both the earth and the stones were brought up, you say, from the river. You explain it most explicitly on video to Andrew Collins (see 22:47 onwards): all the soil at that end has been carried up from elsewhere, all the rocks are round from being in the river; and—most critically—because they are different from the columnar rocks on the other faces of Gunung Padang, they can only have been brought to their present location by humans, and are further evidence that G. Padang is an artificial construction.


    As far as I could find, no pictures of these rounded “river rocks” have been published—but screen caps from Mr. Collins’ video give a very good idea of what they look like. And what they look like to me is not river rocks, but volcanic bombs. That’s what they looked like to my friendly neighbourhood geologist, as well, and I would be interested in hearing what other geologists reading this might have to say. If they are volcanic bombs, they are the sort of thing you’d fully expect to find buried in volcanic deposits, with no need to suggest human agency. And it would make a nonsense of the image of labourers toiling up from the river with loads of earth to remodel the summit, and particular nonsense of the C14 dates collected from the “backfill.”

    Speaking of the “backfill,” I gather it is the level in the 10m-deep sondage described as homogeneous and unstratified, which is a major reason why you consider it to be artificial. I could not get a good look at the level—the closest I could get was screencaps from two videos (here and here) taken from the bottom of the sondage, showing a dense reddish matrix larded with lots of those rounded stones.  What it does not look like, however, is artificial backfill. In fact, the kind of deposit you suggest would be anything but homogeneous. Any artificial secondary deposits I’ve seen or excavated have been somewhat heterogeneous, often with lenses, tip lines and even individual baskets-full of earth visible in the profiles. Fluvial sediments would likely be abundant in shells, vegetable matter, and the bones of both fish and mammals, which you do not mention finding.  To sum up, the “homogeneous level” looks less like an artificial embankment than a thick natural deposit of soils derived from volcanic materials – ash and tephra—with embedded volcanic bombs.

    I notice also that, throughout your stratigraphic analysis, you do not weigh in a factor pointed out by, for example, Sutikno Bronto: that some of the features you interpret as successive building levels could be accounted for by the disturbances from periodic earthquakes and landslides.

    The Rolling Stone

    This item, found near the bottom of the 10m sondage and visible in situ in the photograph above, gave rise to great excitement when it was discovered: a spherical stone shell enclosing a spherical stone, which could roll in its casing like the ball in an old computer mouse. It became the focus of a lot of stories. For example:

    After analyzing the strange Rolling Stone, researchers decided to roll the stone 7 times to the right and 7 times to the left, at the advice of ‘community leaders.’ To their surprise, the Rolling Stone functioned as a key, giving way to yet another passageway.  …

    Still mystified by the stone, the team decided that it merited further studies. With the help of the military, who assisted in the excavation, the Rolling Stone was brought to the surface of Gunung Padang for inspection. And, that’s when another strange thing happened. / Upon bringing it to the surface, something astonishing unfolded before their eyes. When discovered, the Rolling Stone was black in color, and measured roughly 11-12 centimeters in diameter. Within a matter of just a few minutes, the stone changed into a greyish color and expanded to over 3 times its original size.

    Are those serious claims? When I look at the pictures of the Rolling Stone, oddly enough, I see just another natural volcanic feature. Which is what other Indonesian geologists viewing it have also said. Again, I would be interested in the comments of any geologists reading this. I do not know what to make of the claim for the rock’s shape-shifting properties, though I find it about as credible as the story about rolling the inner stone seven times left and seven times right.

    However, I found one of your comments on it on a Facebook thread very interesting. An elder Indonesian geologist posted a comment on his page regarding whether the “rolling stone” and the hill itself were natural or artificial, with him leaning towards “natural.” You riposted that the rolling stone is “not important” and then launched into a restatement of your interpretation of the stratigraphy. This is the same tactic you used when challenged on the coin—that it was “not important,” even though the colleagues on your own team based huge claims on it, which were picked up as fact by the pseuds and the media. And I notice a somewhat similar pattern with the next artifact under discussion.

    The Electrical Device

    I could find very little information about this much-touted discovery, nothing but breathless media speculation about the advanced technology it represents. A typical description:

    Dr. Danny Hilman is responsible for the archaeological team conducting research on the site and they have recently announced a discovery of a oddly shaped metal device that is presumed to be the world’s oldest electrical device. According to researchers, this object is made out of gold and copper and seems to resemble a primitive electrical capacitator. According to some researchers, this newly found device seems very similar in structure to the biblical descriptions of the “The Ark of the Covenant“. Carbon dating confirms the device to be 2500 older than The Ark of the Covenant.

    The only direct comment of yours that I could find was in a FB posting on Graham Hancock’s page, in response to his direct request for information. You said: “It seems to be a modification of an older article, and surely it is not right, I haven’t said such things.” Good for you for setting the record straight—but a pity that your disclaimer was not made more widely, and seems to have fallen on deaf ears. The “world’s oldest electrical technology” has taken on a life of its own in the growing legend of Gunung Padang.

    Your Archaeological Synthesis

    I’m not talking here about your “archaeological” interpretation of the site, but your strawman views of how mainstream archaeology approaches the past, and your alternative approach. In a nutshell, you appear naive about how archaeology works, in a way that strikingly matches the naiveté of “alternative scholars” like Graham Hancock, Andrew Collins, and Semir Osmanagic.

    For example, take the opening slides of your powerpoint presentation, The Pre-Historic Cultures: Are They Primitive?  Slide 3 shows a graph of global population estimates starting with the beginning of the Common Era (about 300,000,000), with the caption: “If we extend the linear trend back then zero population occured (sic) at 3000 years BC. But human race appears on Earth since 195,000 years ago! How’s that possible?” Which is the kind of absurd argument that I have previously only seen used by Young Earth Creationists, to prove mathematically that we all descended from the eight survivors of Noah’s flood.

    Your point (I think) is that, in order to extrapolate linearly to zero population at 200,000 years ago, we’d need to posit an absurdly low rate of population growth—thus, you propose cyclical catastrophes that occasionally reset humanity to nearly zero. But your initial assumption—linear global population growth at a constant rate—is fallacious. And you do know about the other hominins, right? And how speciation necessarily involves an existing population?  Essentially, you’re proposing a series of bottlenecks like the Toba Event, and hinting that each also destroyed “advanced civilizations”—fine, but where is the evidence?

    The fact is that the model you reject is the model amply supported by the archaeological evidence: a couple million years of hominins living the wandering, foraging life with low-tech but effective technology; the emergence of archaic and AM humans, accompanied by a stunning florescence of lithic and other technologies, still in mobile foraging mode; and the beginnings of sedentation as early as the Epipaleolithic in some places, with markers of increasing social complexity and a preadaptation to food production.

    To me, it sounds like you cannot accept that anatomically modern humans with brainpower identical to ours would go for so long without inventing civilization. Is that your position? If so, it is not just naive about the nature and process of civilization—it is an absurd value judgment.

    Next and last: the Sunda Agenda.

    Category: FeaturedScienceSkepticism

    Article by: Rebecca Bradley


    1. Dear Dr. Bradley,

      I started writing this comment that originally went like this: “Unfortunately, you are simply wasting your time …”, but then I changed my mind. I, as well as many others who wrote comments, were examples ample enough to show that your efforts were not wasted. Thank you for that.

      Nevertheless, I still have to criticize you: you are being too soft on these charlatans. Actually, you even frustrated yourself by trying to be nice, as I gathered from the tone of your writing, which progressively became harsher, as it should have been from the beginning. Please, be harsher!

      These people pray on the ignorant bunch who are more than ready to gobble down any superstition, especially those served in small servings and nicely sauteed in pseudo-science. That’s all. Therefore, Dr. Natawidjaja is nothing but a basic liar. Maybe, he wasn’t so in the beginning. But, now, he is in too deep and, probably, can’t find a clean exit. As you raised the issue in your letter, I was also intrigued as to why he never invited an archaeologist to join his team.

      As for the other guy, Graham Hancock: oh my god! It was actually his web site and articles that made me suspicious about the whole thing. Plus this: he made a terrible mistake when referring to Göbekli Tepe.

      In his article “From Indonesia To Turkey …” (grahamhancock.com/indonesia-to-turkey-hancock) Mr. Hancock writes: “… Gobekli Tepe (which means “Potbellied Hill” in the local Kurdish language) …” which is wrong because both words are genuine Turkish. Especially, “tepe” is quite ancient and linguistically important. Therefore, if the mistake is an honest one, then Mr. Hancock is a very bad researcher; if not, then he is a blatant liar. Now, he must choose one of these titles. I would be happy with either outcome.

      Dr. Bradley, my expertise is in technology, another fertile field for such snake-oil salesmen to thrive, and I have been fighting the same kind in my small circles. We teach college kids, from the beginning, the laws of physics, say, laws of thermodynamics. Yet, even in their senior years some of them can still swear that they saw a YouTube video proving the concept of perpetual motion machine, or a new whatever that can save 30-60% on car fuel, and so on. Then, I realized that they actually wished and hoped that the obvious trickery played out before them may have a chance, however small, of being true. It was simply a human condition.

      It is not unlike the case of fast food versus healthy food. Just as fast food is catered to your feet and is easy to eat, so are pseudo-sciences, metaphysics (in the bad sense), superstitions, and religion. Science, doing and making of it, on the other hand, is hard to prepare, tiresome, arduous, hard to chew, … just like the healthy food. This is why people readily flock around religious leaders, politicians, astrologers, alternative science and technology mongers, alternative medicine, and so on.

      The basic flaws necessary to be able to cater to the need for fantasy of the people are simply a capacity for telling lies, and, lack of conscience and morality. And, we have plenty of people with such a character around us.

      By the way, just recently, the governing party where I reside was finally able to disprove (!) Darwin’s theory of evolution. “It is just a ‘theory’,” they say, as in “I have a theory.” Then, they properly removed the topic from all primary and secondary school curricula. And, who approved wholeheartedly? The people! I have seen the same people in USA and elsewhere, too. My thought on this was and still is as follows: Of course, you can’t make a monkey accept evolution.

      Believe me, Dr. Bradley, we are still living in the middle ages. Well, I mean the ratio of the illuminated to the rest has not yet changed appreciably.

      With regards,

    2. Dear Rebecca,
      First, my initial suggestion still stands, if you really want to understand what’s going on, we are very open if you want to come and see Gunung Padang and all the data we have yourself, not just making conclusion (and accusation) by just compiling whatever information you can get from the internet. Anyway, I’ll comments on your letter below.
      About The “river rocks” and artificial embankment: I can assure you, it is absolutely not a volcanic bombs and also we didn’t find any tephra or tuff layers at Gunung Padang mound. The stratigraphy of these rounded boulders at this southern side of Gunung Padang, where we dig 11-m trench, is juxtaposed abruptly with the thick artificial layer of columnar-joint rocks below the “southern-most terrace” (i.e. called the fifth terrace of the megalithic site). In short, it must not be an insitu geological formation but “transported materials”; and we conclude that it is an artificial layer or back fill. We found a unique stone artefact (i.e. famously called the Kujang stone artefact) buried at about 3-m deep at another trench, a few meter south of the 11-m deep trench. “The Rolling Stone”, which was found at about 10-m depth, becomes famous since lots of people claim that it appears to have been shape-shifted… well, off course any one will hard to believe it including myself. I was not at the site when it happened, but I interrogated people who watch it (including my research team and the army), and none of the eye witnesses deny it; So, what can I say? The bottom line, I cannot claim that it is true (I wish someone took a video of the shape-shifting processes) but it is not that important for my (geological-archeological) study anyway. What’s important is the documentation of the rock layer (where the “rolling stone” found) showing that it is not the natural rock formation; that just it. The geologist in charge of this excavation is Dr. Andang Bachtiar, one of the top sedimentologist in Indonesia. The conclusion as I describe here is also his conclusion (and his team). One of my team who is an expert in petrologist, Dr. Andri Subandrio from the Institute of Technology Bandung, wanted to take this rolling stone to his lab to investigate “the rolling” property of the rock including whether it is natural (because of spheroidal weathering) or else but the local people did not permit us to take it, they wanted to put this rock inside the trench again and buried it, so we did it.
      About the “electrical device”, it is interesting that you are still posting it in your article like it is one of my “pseudo-science” act by highlighting it in an italic-font paragraph, but thanks to you, still kindly mention my direct comment to this story as a hoax, but still blaming me not made this information more widely though… Why? I was not happy indeed, someone telling this story like it came from me, but I don’t want to waste my time to respond (I only responded when somebody asked me).
      About my “archeological synthesis”; well this is a very interesting topic aside from Gunung Padang. You have highlighted one of my talk that Homo Sapiens (our species) has appeared since 195,000 years ago (according to the oldest fossil has ever found), and we generally believe that our culture just started to develop since about 11,000 years ago (the end of Pleistocene or the beginning of Holocene period) marked by the invention of agriculture. And if we extrapolate back our population it goes to (near) zero in ~10,000 years ago or 10 Ka according to several studies (IT IS NOT 200 ka my dear Rebecca, you misread my power point!). If we extrapolate back linearly from 0 AD then it goes to zero in about 5 Ka! These are the “facts”, Are we have an agreement? Then, it is logical if one question about what happen with the process of civilization between 195 ka and 11ka? Yes? I am also aware of other brainy human-like-us species like Neandhertal and Dennisovan, but at this time, let’s just focusing on our species. One excellent book that discuss about it is “The Brief History of Humankind” by Yuval Noah Harari. It tries to explain about what happen between 195 Ka to 70 Ka (where H.Sapiens is believed to start spreading worldwide from Africa – The Out of Africa Theory), and then from 70 Ka to 11 Ka (invention of Agriculture), and from 11 Ka till recent. The book states that the invention of agriculture in about 11 Ka is very unlogical, it said a “big fraud of the century”. However, the book mostly focuses on the history from 11 Ka. It tries to explain what happens between 70 Ka and 11 Ka, but very unclear since worldwide data is sparse, in deed; And say almost nothing about what happens between 195Ka and 70 Ka since worldwide data is close to zero. Have you read it? So, If do you think I am naïve about the process of civilization, why don’t you explain or make your own story about it? I would like to hear. If you are still working toward your Ph.D in archeology, I think this is one of a very interesting and challenging topic. Nonetheless, my basic training is a geologist, not an archeologist. In my hypothesis (not a synthesis like you said): I proposed that the power of nature that can reset human population and culture has been being undermine. The suspected bottle neck in human population when Toba supervolcano erupted about 74 Ka is not my preposition but it is according to other people studies (you can search it). I only pointing out that the Toba-eruption even seems to be coincided with the timing of “Out of Africa even”, when people from Africa populate the world, or should we say RE-populate the world…?. Don’t you think it is interesting to study further? Another suspected Global Catastrophic even and closer to us is the Younger Dryas (YD) even (12.9 ka – 11.6 Ka). I am well aware of debates and controversial about the cause of YD, but whatever the cause of this drastic-extreme global temperature changes it seems to be related to worldwide mass extinction of large animals like mammoth, stegodon etc. Interestingly, almost no study about what happened to Homo Sapiens during YD even. We just believe that the rise of Homo Sapiens culture started after Younger Dryas. Before that we generally believe there is no advance culture. So, in short, I think it is legit if I proposed a hypothesis about taking into account the global natural catastrophic events in explaining human history; Hence, the development of human history may not be linear but cycles, terminated by global catastrophic events. You are asking about where the evidences? Oh come-on, are you serious? It is hypothesis that needs research. I am not developing this hypothesis if it is already proven (by enough evidences). I think geologists and archeologist (and historians) should work more closely together.


    Leave a Reply

    Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *