On the Indonesian island of Sulawesi, Lore Lindu National Park is recognised by UNESCO for its rich wildlife and rare endemic species. The region is home to plants and animals found nowhere else in the world (including a species of dwarf buffalo and the babirusa, strange creature also known as the deer-pig), but the dense Indonesian rain forests are hiding something else, too.
The national park covers an area of around 2,180 square kilometres, and hidden throughout its forests are some 400 granite megaliths. The smallest of the statues are only a few centimetres tall, while the largest tower up to 15 feet above the ground. Attempts to date the statues put their origins at around 3000 BC to 1300 AD, and no one truly knows what the significance of these mysterious stones is.
National Geographic reports how it wasn’t until 2001 that the megaliths were subjected to any sort of formal documentation. The 400 granite monuments seemed to comprise around 30 distinctly different human forms, and a variety of myths and legends may offer an insight into whom those forms could represent.
(Image: Tropenmuseum; a monolith photographed before 1937)
Local lore says the megaliths are all that remain of criminals who once prowled the forests. Turned to stone for their crimes, they were cursed to an eternity of solitude deep within the jungle. Some stones even have names and stories assigned to them, including one known as Tokala’ea. Legend says he was turned to stone for the crime of rape, and the rock surface is marked with deep gouges said to correspond with the knife wounds inflicted on the man’s human form before he was condemned to megalithic form.
Another statue is named Tadulako, who was said to have once been a respected figure in a local village. But Tadulako betrayed his fellow villagers by stealing rice. When he was caught, he was turned to stone in the form of a megalith whose oversized eyes and gaping features still look out over the village he once called home.
Scattered among the mysterious megaliths of Sulawesi’s Bada Valley are dozens of giant stone urns. No one knows for sure what they were used for, either. Local legends claim they were the bathtubs of village nobility, but scholars find this explanation unlikely. Some of the urns have heavy stone lids, suggesting they might have been used to collect water, or even served as coffins.
The mystery of the Lore Lindu National Park megaliths runs deeper still. No further traces of whatever lost civilisation crafted them has ever been found. There are no ruined settlements or burial grounds, no apparent tools or temples, and no artwork or etchings to explain why these enigmatic megaliths were created.
Edward Pollard of The Nature Conservancy made a rather heartbreaking observation, in which he pointed out that without these ancient monuments, we’d never have known that a sophisticated civilisation had lived and thrived in these rain forests long ago.
People would have lived and loved for generations, toiled to make life worth living, and likely faced some of the same challenges that we face today. They would have bickered and argued, raised their children and faced the ultimate end – before disappearing completely.
Without their breathtaking megaliths, we likely never have known they were there, bringing to mind the number of lost civilisations like them that have simply vanished without a trace over the centuries.
Today, the Bada Valley and Lore Lindu National Park are protected by a Indonesian-German collaboration called Stability of the Rainforest Margin in Indonesia, or STORMA. At the same time as deforestation and logging is being managed, tourism is developing in the hopes of protecting this ancient part of the world and its unique ecology.
If you’re a fan of standing stones and other ancient monuments, don’t miss the mysterious stone circle of Doll Tor in the Peak District National Park, or the striking reconstruction of Milfield Henge, Northumberland.