Retracing Footsteps Of The Past

Retracing Footsteps Of The Past
Baikal landscape with an old railway bridge, Photo Credit: Shutterstock

A guide to six prehistoric sites you probably haven’t heard of

Labanya Maitra
October 23 , 2019
07 Min Read

The history of a place dictates its culture, and culture gives it character. So, when planning your next vacation, why not give some lesser known history a chance? Here are six hidden historic sites waiting to share their story with you.

Ruins of the roman basilica of Volubilis, a UNESCO world heritage site near Meknes and Fez, Morocco

VOLUBILIS, MOROCCO

Roughly 33km north of Meknès, Volubilis is one of the best-preserved archaeological sites in Morocco. This ruined Roman city was one of the world’s largest trading centres once. Declared a Unesco World Heritage site in 1997, Volubilis is known for its striking mosaics, which were preserved in situ.

Dating back to around the third century BCE, the site has only been half excavated. The House of Commons and the Triumphal Arc of Caracalla can be easily spotted even centuries later. You can even find flat olive pressed and stone storage vats scattered across the complex—representative of its ancient economy. It once also served as an administrative centre to the kingdom of Mauretania.

The best time to visit Volubilis is during the spring to get some relief from the harsh sun, the ideal time to go is early in the morning or late afternoon.

For more information, visit https://whc.unesco.org/en/list/836/

 Archaeological Park Takalik Abaj in Retalhuleu, Maya and Olmeca, periods Preclassic and Classic, from the IX century B.C.

TAK’ALIK AB’AJ, GUATEMALA

Tak’alik Ab’aj is one of the oldest Mayan archaeological sites in Guatemala and dates back to roughly 1000 BCE Located along well-drained volcanic slopes that run through the Pacific coast, Tak'alik Ab'aj functioned as a strategic trading point and developed as an important economic and cultural hub. It was flourishing during the 1st century CE.

The site’s trading system allowed the long-distance transport of raw materials all the way from El Salvador to the Isthmus of Tehuantepec. It was an important catalyst in the relationship between the Olmec and Maya regions, with remnants from both cultures still present there.

Tak’alik Ab’aj underwent a revitalisation in the Late Classic period with the ancient plazas and sculptures being recreated as large open-air museums. Buildings were remodelled, new rock sculptures created, and the city was expanded.

Currently, you can find the ancient city of Yax Mutal in the site, which was built between the 2nd and 9th century.

For more information, visit https://whc.unesco.org/en/tentativelists/5737/

Caral, UNESCO world heritage site and the most ancient city in the Americas

THE LOST CITY OF CARAL, PERU

Caral is known as the ancient city of pyramids in Peru. With pyramids dating back to 2,600 BCE, they are almost as old as their Egyptian counterparts. Caral beats the earliest known civilisation in the Americas by about a 1,000 years. Many archaeologists believe that Caral might have been a ‘mother city’. This is especially fascinating since civilization is thought to have originated from six places around the world—Egypt, Mesopotamia, India, China, Peru and Central America.

This elusive ‘mother city’ is crucial to determine the first stages of city-building. This is especially difficult to find as the then-prevalent warfare having destroyed most prehistoric sites.

When Caral was discovered, without a single sign of warfare, it became the perfect contender for a mother city. An elaborate labyrinth of temples, households and pyramids, Caral hasn’t ever been built over. This suggests that the city was, in all likelihood, a peaceful one—primarily indulging in culture and commerce.

For more information, visit https://whc.unesco.org/en/list/1269/

Megalithic structure in Brittany (Barnenez)

CAIRN DE BARNENEZ, FRANCE

Located on the Kernéléhen peninsula in northern Finistère, Brittany, France, Cairn de Barnenez is one of the oldest monument structures in the world. Dating back to 4,800 BCE, this Neolithic site is also the “largest megalithic mausoleum” in Europe.

The monument has 11 chambers separated by different passages. It’s an 8m tall, 25m wide and 72m long structure constructed with roughly 14,000 tons of stone. It is generally agreed that the monument was constructed in two phases—using dolerite in the first phase and granite n the second.

About 2,000 years older than the pyramids of Giza, Barnenez has been known to contain both Neolithic and Bronze Age pottery shards, polished stone axes, and arrowheads—some of which are available for visitors to look at in the visitor’s centre.

The site was found in 1850 as a man-made mound of earth, but later rediscovered in 1955, and excavated until 1968 to its original appearance. Tickets cost about €6, and is free for people under 26 years of age.

For more information, visit http://www.barnenez.fr/en/

Ancient Site of Gobekli Tepe in SanliUrfa, Turkey

GÖBEKLI TEPE, TURKEY

A neolithic site near Åžanlıurfa in southeastern Turkey, the Göbekli Tepe temple has striking layers of carved megaliths. It is estimated to date to the 9th–10th millennium BCE

Predating the Stonehenge by about 6,000 years, Göbekli Tepe was first discovered in the 1960s. It’s true age and importance, however, were revisited by archaeologists in the 1990s. Most experts identified the complex as an important ritual site, but it is unlike that Göbekli Tepe was a permanent settlement. This is due to the lack of a trash pits, hearths, or other indicators of domestic life.

Presumable built during the era of hunter-gathers, as suggested by the plant and animal bones uncovered from the site, Gobekli Tepe is actually a temple complex—possible one of the first ever built by man. The pillars found on the site are about 6m high and weigh between 40 and 60 tons. They are also have different animals carved on their surface.

Interestingly, the site was filled with soil and mysteriously abandoned about 9,000 years ago.

For more information, visit https://www.britannica.com/place/Gobekli-Tepe

A view of the frozen Lake Baikal

LAKE BAIKAL, RUSSIA

While we’ve read about prehistoric man-made structures aplenty, let’s look at something that existed long before man himself—something that’s about 25 million years old.

The oldest existing freshwater lake on Earth, Lake Baikal is located in the southern part of eastern Siberia within the republic of Buryatia and Irkutsk province of Russia. It is also the largest and deepest lake in the world with a maximum depth of 5,315ft. Lake Baikal contains about one-fifth of the freshwater on Earth’s surface and has over 300 rivers and streams draining into it. Baikal also contains nearly 45 islets and islands.

Known as the 'Galapagos of Russia', the lake’s age make it home to some incredible flora and fauna including the unique freshwater seals called nerpa, most of which cannot be found anywhere else. Baikal has 2,000kms of shoreline and is only drained by the Angara river. The lake is set on a continental rift zone, and it’s mammoth depth cannot be explained by erosion. It’s often called the clearest lake in the world with the water is pure to drink in most places, but there are some environmental concerns.

For more information, visit https://whc.unesco.org/en/list/754/

If you enjoy tales of prehistoric times, you might want to know more about the fossil parks in India.


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