MNN Galleries

8 amazing structures with mysterious origins

By: Josh Lew on May 23, 2014, 8:19 a.m.
Nan Madol

Photo: Wikimedia Commons

2 of 10

Nan Madol

Located in the far-flung South Pacific nation of Micronesia, the imposing stone structures of Nan Madol sit on top of a coral reef in a lagoon adjacent to the island of Pohnpei. A network of natural “canals” connect the different islets of this ancient complex (which is one of the oldest places not yet named to UNESCO World Heritage Site list). Carbon dating has put the earliest settlements in the area at about A.D. 1200, though some archeological finds suggest that people were living on Pohnpei over 2,000 years ago. 

Little is known about the curious monolithic structures on the islets of Nan Madol. The large stone blocks that make up the structures are too heavy to have been lifted into place without some sort of mechanical aid.  Many theories and myths have been created about the origin of these buildings, ranging from local legends involving sorcerers and black magic to fantasies that hypothesize about a “lost race” that came from a now-disappeared continent. There are also more believable (but unproven) theories that suggest that Nan Madol was some sort of royal complex meant to keep the island's elites separate from the common people.