NAHA, Okinawa Pref. — In the waters off remote Yonaguni Island, from which Taiwan can be seen on a clear day, lies one of Japan’s most puzzling mysteries.
A giant stone structure with perfect geometric angles that appear to be tunnels and staircases has convinced some, including noted writer Graham Hancock, that an unknown ancient civilization occupied the area nearly 10,000 years ago.
But others, including a noted geologist, are skeptical, saying the geometrical shapes of the stones may be due to a unique, but natural, form of erosion.
Recent studies of the phenomenon — such as that by Masaaki Kimura, a professor in the Department of Physics and Earth Sciences at the University of the Ryukyus — have only fueled the debate.
The submerged structure, known in English as the Yonaguni Monument, lies just south of the island. Photographs show what appears to be a pyramid structure, somewhat reminiscent of temples found in Central and South America.
The monument itself is about 20 meters high, 50 meters long and 20 meters wide.
What has caught the attention of scholars is that the structure has been dated at more than 8,000 years old, more than 5,000 years before the first signs of civilization in Japan.
For some, including Hancock, the stones represent proof of a legendary continent called Mu, a Pacific version of Atlantis — a highly advanced civilization that some believe disappeared in the sea thousands of years ago.
Kimura said he believes it is a mostly man-made structure and could have possibly served as some sort of shrine.
In Okinawan folklore, there are tales of traditional gods and a land of the gods called Nirai-Kanai, an unknown faraway land from where happiness is brought. Kimura said the Yonaguni Monument may have been built to serve a similar deity.
Kimura’s been looking to the island just on the horizon for answers. “Over the past year, we have conducted research on Taiwan, comparing some giant stone monuments there with the Yonaguni structure. In May and June, we carried out a survey on the topography of the monument, and have mapped its base,” he said.
Several years ago, Kimura’s research caught the attention of Hancock, who has been conducting his own investigations. Hancock believes the monument is man-made and more than 10,000 years old. Kimura makes a more nuanced assessment.
“Our investigations have shown that the top of the Yonaguni Monument is more than 6,000 years old. At this point, we believe it may be around 10,000 years old and we can’t deny the possibility it is even older,” Kimura said.
Others who have seen the site do not necessarily dispute the age of the structure but wonder how much is man-made and how much is due to erosion.
Geologist Robert Schoch, who made headlines several years ago by claiming the Sphinx was much older than previously thought — based on a controversial theory that erosion at the Sphinx’s base was due to water, not sand — visited the monument and concluded that its shape was primarily the result of nature, not man.
Kimura said, however, that Schoch saw only a part of the monument. While he agrees erosion is responsible for some of the shapes, as a whole, he remains convinced that it is man-made.
In the meantime, research by Kimura continues, both on the monument itself and what appear to be similar structures in the surrounding area.
One thing everyone is looking for is a hammer or chisel mark that would offer proof positive that geometric angles were hand-carved.
The nonscientific community, led by Hancock, wonders not whether the monument is man-made but who settled there and why they disappeared.
Like the Pyramids, the statues on Easter Island or the temples in the jungles of the Amazon, the monument, if man-made, poses tough questions about how an ancient civilization could construct something so complex.
The answers, all who study the monument are convinced, could change the nature of how we see our supposedly primitive ancestors.