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Nan Madol ruins on Pohnpei island. ( CC BY-SA 2.0)

The Enigma Of Nan Madol: Home of Pre-Flood Stone Gods

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Nan Madol is a mysterious place, there is nothing like it the world over. Its people are vanished and its purpose spectacularly obscure. Was it built by the mythical brothers Olishipa and Olosohpa, in honor of the god of thunder Daukatau, or to commemorate the sunken cities off the coast?

Known traditionally as Soun Nan-leng (‘Reef of Heaven’), Nan Madol is a megalithic complex made up of over 90 man-made islets built on coral fill and spread 200 acres over a lagoon edging Pohnpei’s surrounding barrier reef. Pohnpei (formerly Ponape) is the third-largest member of the Federated States of Micronesia, a spray of over 600 islands so-named after their minuscule size. Pohnpei is a compound meaning ‘upon an altar’, in reference to a cloud-capped mountain at the island’s center: at its summit is a basalt altar and a mangrove tree which symbolically represents the birth of the isle from its ocean bed. Nan Madol, popularly referred to as the ‘Venice of the Pacific’ perches upon the southeastern coastline of Pohnpei. Nan Madol means ‘spaces between’.

Map of Nan Madol.  Federated States of Micronesia (Public Domain)

Map of Nan Madol.  Federated States of Micronesia (Public Domain)

Venice Of The Pacific

The rectangular buildings of this megalithic metropolis are assembled out of massive boulders and tidily stacked piles of prismatic basalt. The four-to eight-sided columns of this dark, dense and smooth material formed millions of years ago. Guarding Nan Madol from battering ocean tides are the ruins of breakwaters along its coast, while running around and in between the islets is a network of connecting waterways. Today, the majority of crisscrossing canals are glutted with mangrove swamps, while thick tropical growth smothers nearly all of the islets. If left unchecked, the invasion of jungle will devour the entire site - and initiatives to restrain it are not forthcoming. Pohnpei is a hotspot attracting divers and big fish anglers, but sadly not visitors to its megalithic ruins. Many native Pohnpeians are also loath to visit the site, especially at night, since they believe Nan Madol is haunted by ancient spirits which should not be disturbed.

Currently it is thought construction of the site dates back no more than 1,500 years, although earlier foundations have been documented along with evidence of remodelling by successive occupants. Modern scientific research of the complex began in the 1960s and has largely been confined to topography and surface inspection.


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Alistair Coombs studied religion and archaeology (Silk Route) at the School of Oriental and African Studies and obtains his PhD at the University of Kent in 2019. His work on prehistoric astronomy has been presented on the BBC, MSN and Science Illustrated.

Top Image: Nan Madol ruins on Pohnpei island. ( CC BY-SA 2.0)

By Alistair Coombs

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Alistair is a Doctor of Philosophy with interests in Neolithic transitions, religious movements, esotericism, archaeoastronomy and environmental impacts on human behaviour. 

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