Historians have a tendency to ignore modern discoveries, which makes it easier to understand how recent discoveries, of Stonehenge-like structures in Italy have failed to attract much attention. Not only is the Italian construction more complex, it is older; and, moreover, its builders apparently possessed advanced astronomical knowledge long before the builders of Stonehenge.
History also has a tendency to overlook its most ancient past, given that few records may remain, or that much was destroyed. While Italy is one of the most visited nations in the world, its history seems, to most, to have begun with Rome. There is, of course, good reason for that. Though inheritors of more ancient arts, sciences, political, social institutions, and even religions from the Etruscans, the Romans had made it a point to wipe out anything relating to that prior civilization. Roman emperors even conducted a purge of Etruscan royal families to ensure their own rule. Greek and Roman writers, however, often defied dictates and threw some light on Italy’s early history, but, for the most part, it was ignored. Ages before the straw huts of Romulus emerged on the Palatine, and centuries before Greek immigrants were settling the south of Italy, earlier races were writing the history of Italy.
It wasn’t until the nineteenth century that antiquarian research and a great deal of excavation finally unearthed some of the much older past. Now in the twenty-first century, an even more surprising, and very ancient, Italian history emerges.
The Overlooked Civilization
The first of two major new discoveries was in Calabria near Nardodipace. This small town is one place in Calabria that is not ancient, or even old. The town was built in 1955 to accommodate inhabitants of nearby villages that had lost their homes in a flood. The region of Calabria, however, is very ancient. Greeks settled this southernmost province of Italy in the seventh century BC, but the history of Calabria was already old, and neither Greeks nor Italians had any knowledge of this past. The Calabrese people are known to protect their secrets. Even today, a stranger will not receive an answer to the most innocent of questions. One secret is that it has one of the most beautiful coasts in ancient and even in modern, times. When Rome was still a series of villages, Pythagoras was teaching here. Most of the important towns and cities are along the coast. Inland from the coastal bounds, there is a huge expanse of mountains that in olden times was very difficult to traverse and, apparently, it remains so today.
In 2002, on a 3500-foot-high hilltop, in an area described as many square miles, a series of prehistoric stone structures was discovered. The largest consisted of stones 33-feet tall and 60-feet wide. Some, it was determined, weighed as much as 200 tons. In comparison, the greatest stones that make up England’s Stonehenge are 20 to 50 tons.
Stonehenge had to have been a sacred site for millennia, as 5,000 to 4,600 years ago it was developed from circles of wooden posts to ones of bluestone. The earliest construction is believed to have started around 3100 BC, when a series of pits were dug and used for burials of cremated bones. The second stage is thought to have been a massive project requiring thousands to push and pull gigantic stones from as far away as Wales. This phase of construction, we are told, took place in 2150 BC when 82 bluestones were transported to the site. Many weighed four tons, and the theory is that they were carried on rollers, then transported by water, and finally brought to their resting place. The distance was a remarkable 240 miles.
Stage three required the carrying of the massive Sarsen stones from twenty-five miles away. It is believed by conventional science that the task could have employed as many as 500 men to pull one stone. The final stage, it is said, was completed in 1500 BC.
The Calabrian structure must have been that much harder to construct. The stones not only weighed much more than their English counterparts, they had to be transported up into the steep hills of Calabria.
The age of the Nardodipace construction has been estimated between 4,000 and 6,000 years, placing them within the early Neolithic period for Italy and Sicily. When first discovered, the site was believed to be the only one of its kind in Italy, but that view was soon debunked. Predictably, historians first claimed it was a nature-built structure. Those who had not actually visited the site, most likely, made such claims. The random effects of earthquakes could not have produced the placement of square granite blocks topped by a massive lintel.
Those who do credit the structures to an earlier civilization believe that a people known as Pelasgians traveled widely throughout the Mediterranean. Herodotus claimed they originated in Greece and Italy, but since the time of that Greek historian, the structures attributed to them have turned out to be much more widespread. The structures were, it is believed, built for religious purposes although no written records have revealed just what such religious purposes might have been.
Polygonal Walls of Central Italy
Building their protective walls at such early dates, the Pelasgians were already aware of the need for earthquake-resistance. Much of Italy’s ancient stonework has been overlooked in favor of the wonders of the Etruscan and Roman civilizations. But just outside of Rome are places where earlier cyclopean walls are still in existence. Towns like Alatri, Arpino, Segni and Veroli are near to Rome, while further north Tuscany, Ansedonia, Orbetello, and Roselle are also surrounded by immense walls, built with stones so large, they are wonders in themselves, best described as gigantic, weighing several tons. Each stone appears to have been individually carved, often placed at acute angles with interlocking corners and fitting together so tightly that their joints will not permit a knife’s blade to pass between them.
Few civilizations in Europe are known to have possessed the technical skills to create such exacting construction or to move the immense stones weighing in excess of twenty-five tons.
While it is amazing that such an ancient culture had the ability to transport such heavy stones and to place them in such precise order, their related scientific knowledge is equally shocking. For one thing, the ancient builders were able to align their structures to the cardinal directions. This does not happen by accident. It is clearly the work of a culture with an understanding of both astronomy and monumental architecture, whose advancements would have required long periods of time to develop.
In Alatri, the site known as the ‘Acropolis’ there is a series of walls protecting an area known as the Hyeron. It is a platform, described as an altar, that is carefully, astronomically, and geometrically aligned to be the virtual center of the city. The gates of Alatri are aligned to the rising and setting of the sun at the solstices and equinoxes. Archaeologists today have better tools to recognize the placement of the stars in ancient time. The complex of Alatri could not have been created later than 1270 BC, a date that excludes the Etruscans who did not emerge until a century later.
Cyclopean construction is evident in Peru, of course, where Machu Picchu, Ollantaytambo, and Sacsayhuanman preserve stones walls made up of blocks that cannot be lifted by today’s construction equipment. Polygonal walls are also found in Greece and Malta, again showing the existence of a superior civilization that existed before written history. The entrance tunnel to the Khafre Valley temple in Egypt is similarly made up of such massive blocks. David Hatcher Childress, in his book The Lost World of Cham, relates the discovery of a Pacific civilization that used stones as large as 80 tons in construction.
The logical possibility is that long before our history was recorded there was a migration of people and information that spanned much of the planet.
Another Recent Discovery
From the toe of the Italian boot in Calabria, it is just a short hop in modern times by ferry to Sicily. In ancient times the straits of Messina, separating the island of Sicily from the mainland, was much more dangerous, leading some to believe it was the legendary Scilla and Charybdis of Homeric tales. Like southern Italy, credit for the early inhabitants was given to those Greek settlers who colonized the Mediterranean.
The city of Gela in Sicily has seen better days. Colonists from Crete founded it, it is believed, in 688 BC and Rhodes not long after the city of Syracuse was settled. Two centuries after the Greek colonists arrived, Carthaginians and Mamartines destroyed its harbor; then its walls were destroyed, preserved only, in some places, by the sands that buried them. The early visitors are still remembered in a small museum of artifacts from Greek and Cretan settlers. But the recording of Gela’s ancient past may have missed its most important history. A population of Neolithic builders was there much earlier. Their ancient presence remained a secret until late 2016 when a group of archaeologists mapping World War II bunkers came across an ancient monument dating to five thousand years ago.
There, six miles outside the town of Gela, they found a 16.4-foot menhir, a standing stone often serving as a reference point for astronomical events. It had been knocked over or had fallen, but the pit at its base implied that it once stood tall. Such structures still exist in England and France, Portugal and northern Africa. The menhir stood twenty-six feet away from an unusual arrangement of rocks. Included was one with a deliberately made 3.2 foot diameter hole. The discoverers of the site concluded that it was a massive calendar used to mark the seasons, but first they needed to test their theory. They didn’t have long to wait. A few weeks later, on the winter solstice, December 21, 2016, using a compass and an aerial drone mounted with a GPS, they recorded a perfect alignment with the rising sun passing through the man-made hole. Italian archaeologist, Giuseppe la Spina, said that the sun shone through the hole with incredible precision.
The site with its 23-foot-high stone and precisely carved hole marked the turning point for the season, the beginning of winter, with a period of cold and bleak weather ahead. It is believed that another such hole exists somewhere in the vicinity marking the summer solstice. These two dates were the most important from Neolithic to modern times. Rituals developed around them and sites where such monuments were erected were generally considered sacred.
The solstices and the equinoxes measured the ancient year and may have played a role both in agriculture and religious worship. The beginning of spring was often greeted with prayer to the sun god and the fertility goddess for a sustaining crop. Even when agriculture became less important, the solstice dates continued to play a role in Christianity; June 21 to June 24 celebrated the feast of St. John the Baptist. John was an embodiment of the pagan sun god. The Church moved the birth of Jesus to a day beyond the pagan celebration of the winter solstice.
The newly discovered stone complexes in Calabria and Sicily are evidence that an advanced culture existed long ago in prehistory. Because the megalith-building civilization extends around the world, it confirms the belief of many that man crossed oceans long before there was a Sumer, an Egypt, or a Phoenicia. It is impossible to believe such widespread peoples—from Peru to England to the Mediterranean—suddenly developed advanced sciences like astronomy and architecture on their own.
It may be hard to believe that many cultures have now lost their ancient abilities, but that fact is something that our own civilization would be wise to remember.