8 Oldest Structures in the World

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Mankind’s oldest structures date back to the end of the Neolithic era (which started around 15,200 BCE and ended sometime between 4500 – 2000 BCE). These early structures were typically made of stone and used as burial chambers or temples. Most of these sites have become historic national treasures and  provide insight into the lives of early humans. All of these structures still stand today and many have been restored over the years.  

8. Listoghil 

Date:  c.3550 BCE
Location:  County Sligo, Ireland 
Use:  Passage tomb

Listoghilphoto source: Wikimedia Commons

Listoghil (or Carrowmore 51) is the large central monument that is a part of the Carrowmore group of prehistoric tombs found in County Sligo, Ireland. Sometime during the 1800s, the site was damaged by workmen removing rocks for “road metal”, but once the workers uncovered the central tomb chamber, the site’s destruction stopped. Listoghil is the only part of the Carrowmore passage tombs believed to have had a cairn or covering mound of stones.

In the late 1990s, the site was partly excavated by Swedish archaeologist, Goran Burenhult, who dated bones and carbon material and also uncovered the still intact kerb, or stone ring built to enclose barrow over a chamber tomb. The site was restored by the Office of Public Works and a new cairn was placed over the tomb.  

7. West Kennet Long Barrow

Date:  c.3650 BCE  
Location:  Wiltshire, England
Use:  Tomb 

West Kennet Long Barrowphoto source: Wikimedia Commons 

The West Kennet Long Barrow is a Neolithic tomb found in Wiltshire, England that dates back to about 3650 BCE. Researchers believe that the tomb was used for about 1,000 years and was sealed sometime around 2000 BCE – the main passage was filled with earth, stone, rubble, and debris. Then the forecourt was blocked with sarsen boulders and a false entrance and finally, three massive sarsen blocking stones were placed across the front of the tomb.

The tomb was first excavated in 1859 and then again in 1955-1956 and researchers found at least 46 individuals within the barrow, ranging from babies to elderly persons.  

6. Ggantija Temples

Date:  c.3600 – 3200 BCE  
Location:  Gozo, Malta  
Use:  Religious temple   

Ggantija Templesphoto source: Wikimedia Commons  

The Ggantija Temples are the earliest of the Megalithic Temples of Malta, dating back to between 3600 – 3200 BCE. The site consists of two temples, which are older than the Egyptian pyramids, and today are listed on the UNESCO World Heritage List.

The temples are believed to be part of the ceremonial site used for a fertility rite – researchers have found numerous statues and figurines that allude to this use. There are also animal bones and remains as well as stone hearths that suggest rituals involving animal sacrifice were performed at the temples. The temples and their surrounding areas were restored in the 2000s and a heritage park was opened in 2013.  

5. Knap of Howar  

Date:  c.3700 BCE  
Location:  Island of Papa Westray, Orkney, Scotland    
Use:  House   

Knap of Howarphoto source: Wikimedia Commons  

The Knap of Howar is a Neolithic site on the island of Papa Westray in Orkney, Scotland that is believed to be the oldest preserved stone house in northern Europe. The site consists of two “houses”, commonly referred to as “the farmstead”, which were built through dry stone construction with an adjoining passageway between them.

Excavations show evidence that the inhabitants of the house kept cattle, sheep, and pigs; cultivated barley and wheat; gathered shellfish and also fished for species which need to be line caught using boats. The larger building (House One) is believed to be the living quarters while House Two served as a workshop and storage space.  

4. Monte d’Accoddi  

Date:  c.4000 – 3650 BCE    
Location:  Sardinia, Italy
Use:  Possibly an open-air temple, ziggurat, or a step pyramid 

Monte d'Accoddiphoto source: Wikimedia Commons  

The Monte d’Accoddi is a large stone structure located in Sardinia, Italy – it looks like a step pyramid, but is not confirmed to be a pyramid.  Although the site has been extensively researched, the structure’s purpose has not been determined; researchers speculate that it may have been an altar, ziggurat, mound, an ancient temple, or possibly an astronmical observatory. 

The site was discovered in 1954 and the structure and its surrounding areas were excavated in the 1960s. Near the monument is a dolmen (a single chamber megalithic tomb), a prominent menhir, one of several standing standing stones that were formerly found in the vicinity, and several mysterious carved stones.  

3. Tumulus of St. Michel  

Date:  c.4500 BCE   
Location:  Carnac, France
Use: Burial mound

Tumulus of St. Michelphoto source: Wikimedia Commons 

The Tumulus of St. Michel is a megalithic grave mound found in Carnac, France, dating back to around 4500 BCE. At 125m(410ft) long, 60m (196.85ft) wide, and 10m (32.8ft) high, the tumulus is the largest burial mound in continental Europe. The mound was excavated in 1862 and researchers found a central vault containing fairly prestigious funerary furniture such as axes, pearls, flint tools, and sillimanite – all of these objects are now located at the Carnac and Vannes Polymathique museums. It was declared a Monument historique (French national heritage site) in 1889. Today, the St. Michel chapel is located on the tumulus’ summit.

2. Tumulus of Bougon   

Date:  c.4700 BCE
Location:  Bougon, France
Use: Burial mounds 

Tumulus of Bougonphoto source: Wikimedia Commons

The Tumulus of Bougon or Necropolis of Bougon consists of a group of five Neolithic barrows. The barrows were built at various times between 4700 – 3500 BCE. The tumulus mounds were re-discovered in 1840 and to protect the monuments from destruction and damage, the site was acquired by the department of Deux-Sèvres in 1873. The five barrows are notable for being different from one another as each one showcases a unique architectural style. During excavations, researchers uncovered over 200 skeletons and grave goods.

Today, the site is open to the public and a small museum which displays the archaeological finds from the tumulus is located nearby.  

1. Cairn of Barnenez    

Date:  c. 4850 BCE  
Location:  Brittany, France  
Use: Passage grave 

Cairn of Barnenezphoto source: Wikimedia Commons

The Cairn of Barnenez (also called the Barnenez Tumulus of Barnenez Mound) is one of the oldest structures in the world and dates back to the Neolithic period. It is a stone burial chamber and is considered to be the largest megalithic mausoleum in Europe. The cairn is made out of two burial chambers – the older one dating back to between 4850 – 4500 BCE made out of dolerite and the second one made a few hundred years later built with granite from the Île de Sterec. Megalithic art, such as wavy lines, axes, and bows, are carved into the stone chambers and passages.  

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