A submerged formation of rocks off the coast of Okinawa in southern Japan continues to baffle experts ever since its discovery more than 30 years ago
Words: Anmol Sharma
Our great planet Earth is vast. No matter how many mysteries are solved, some will always remain mysteries. Stonehenge in England, for example, while one of the most visited tourist destinations in the world, is ultimately a mystery. No one knows either its origin or its purpose.
Theories abound as to why those particular stones were presumably hauled to that particular spot and what purpose they serve. But no one knows for sure, and it still remains an unsolvable mystery for historians and anthropologists all over the world.
Other mysteries abound in fiction – whether it be the lost city of Atlantic, or the mythical, alluring El Dorado. But as common wisdom reminds us – truth is stranger than fiction. And what was discovered under the sea off the coast of Japan only a few decades ago proves the truth of that statement.
This architectural mystery that continues to astound laymen and divide scientists is an underwater ‘monument’ in Japan – the Yonaguni. It is a submerged formation of rocks off the coast of Okinawa island in southern Japan.
Discovered in 1985 by Kihachiro Aratake, a dive tour operator, Yonaguni is a set of many sedimentary rock structures of different shapes and sizes. The largest of these structures is shaped like a pyramid and rises from a depth of about 25 metres.
The rest of the structures surrounding the monument resemble an architectural style called the ziggurat – which is common in a number of Middle Eastern and Latin American civilisations. A ziggurat is a stepped pyramid, where the structure rises in the form of terraced steps with mostly flat walls on all sides and not a single continuous triangular structure.
Other structures found on the site include a few that look like temples, one that looks like a castle, a triangular pool, and one that seems to resemble some kind of a stadium. Evidence also suggests that many of these structures are interconnected through roads or water canals.
The monument, which is the main structure, is made of sandstone and is part of a single rock formation instead of many rocks put on top of each other. At the top of the monument seems to be a carving of what looks like a turtle.
Eminent geologist Masaaki Kimura suggested that the particular hieroglyph found on top the monument resembles a character from an ancient Asian script called the ‘kaido’ script.
One of the mysteries surrounding the Yonaguni monument is about its origin. There is a lot of debate around the question of whether it is manmade or natural. Robert M Schoch, a marine biologist who studied the monument in 1997, deduced that it is a product of the natural erosion of rock by sea waves.
While this thesis seemed bewildering at the time, especially given the very precise angles at which the rocks seem to have been hewn and shaped into stairs, the theory has found a considerable number of proponents. Schoch did maintain that even though the structures themselves are natural, it is possible that they were used and transformed by humans in the past, at least in part.
Schoch claimed that it is possible that some part of the monument was above sea level at some point of time, many centuries ago, and that part was modified in some ways by humans. However, the rest of the monument resembles the walls of rocks on the cliffs above water at the site today; walls which have been hewn into their present shape through erosion by waves and air over swathes of geological time.
Theories like Schoch’s are contradicted by those of marine geologists like Kimura, who claimed that the intricate carvings like that of the turtle, the precise angles at which the structures have been cut, and most especially, the several areas on the monument that seem to be human-made drawings of animals, prove that the structures are almost definitely manmade.
These conclusions have been corroborated by more recent research. Schoch, on the other hand, maintained that what Kimura sees as drawings on the surface of the rocks, are actually natural scratches due to erosion. As of now, no conclusive evidence has been found.
One of the features of the monument that supports this hypothesis is the presence of two round holes near the edges of the pool.
Nearby there is another straight row of smaller round holes. Scientists believe that these holes were created as part of an attempt to split a section off the main rock with the help of wedges.
They claim that hardly any natural force would explain this particular formation.
Geologists also claim that while naturally eroded sandstone also comes to have a lot of the same features as those of these monuments, it is the simultaneous presence of so many different types of structures in such a small area that proves that these are indeed remnants of a long lost civilisation.
The complete submersion of what seems to have been a functioning civilisation at one point of time is explained by the nature of environmental processes. About 10,000 years ago, which is when some geologists suggest the monuments were first created, the portion of seabed they are on was above water and possibly even connected to mainland Taiwan.
Kimura even goes so far as to suggest that since evidence has been found of remnants of structures all over the seabed around the Yonaguni monument as well, this entire portion of the sea might once have been the land on which the mythical lost ancient civilisation of Mu existed and flourished.
Conjectures like these have led to a number of geologists calling Yonaguni the Atlantis of Japan. Kimura dates the formation of the monuments to the last Ice Age, after which the sea levels rose, up to a height of around 40 metres. The land would have been submerged either due to the naturally rising levels of sea water or an earthquake that led to similar geological change.
The mystery and controversy surrounding the Yonaguni monument has been brought into popular culture by various media. British writer and journalist Graham Hancock made a documentary called “Quest for the Lost Civilisation,” which covered the Yonaguni monument and its possible existence as the centre of the lost civilization of Mu.
The mystery surrounding the monument has also been explored by a number of programmes on The History Channel.
In interviews, Kimura maintained that while all evidence points at the monuments as being manmade, some archaeologists and geologists continue to stand by the natural-product hypothesis because believing the latter changes human history and will cause a paradigm shift in how a number of scientists and geologists study the rise and fall of human and proto-human civilisations.
Not only will it blur the line between the mythical and the historic, but it is also a change of geological proportions (pun intended).
Interestingly though, while the monument has been covered in documentaries and brought to the western audience’s notice, the local government of Okinawa, the island where the monument is located, as well as the Japanese Agency of Cultural Affairs, do not recognise this site as an important cultural artefact.
It should be noted that even today, no official research or preservation work is being carried out there. One can only hope that this does not amount to neglect and cost human civilisation an important piece in the puzzle of our vast planet.
The discovery of Yonaguni, and its similarity to other myths of lost civilisations like that of Atlantis served as a major source of the excitement of discovery to archaeologists, anthropologists and researchers worldwide.
As John Anthony West in Hancock’s documentary states, there are more than 6,000 myths all over the world that talk of an ancient, primitive civilisation being wiped out by global super-floods; and while we might consider them mythical, these myths do deserve serious academic thought and research, if only because of their universality.
The discovery of a submerged civilisation, one similar to what fictional archaeologists have been trying to discover in popular Hollywood movies for decades, is not only rich fodder for all the conspiracy theorists out there, but is also a serious call for the need of looking into the scientific bases of myths that span over generations, civilisations, and centuries.
After all, human beings would never stop attempting to delve into the mysteries of the universe, whether it be through soaring the chasms of space, or through plumbing the depths of an ocean, even somewhere off the coast of a small town in Japan.
Anmol is a creative writer and sports enthusiast. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org