The ‘Ancient Underwater Ruins’ of Yonaguni, Japan

Yonaguni Composite

One of the pseudo-archaeological claims that I see from time to time on the intertubes is the speculation that there are underwater ruins of an ancient civilization off the coast of Yonagumi.

This by itself isn’t such a fantastic claim. There are countless settlements and remnants of civilizations as old as the neolithic and before that have since been inundated by rising sea levels. At the height of the Last Glacial Maximum, sea levels were as much as 100-120 meters lower[1]. According to Graham Hancock, a mystery-monger and significance-junkie who profits quite well from his books and media appearances in which he appeals to the sense of mystery in us all, the site at Yonaguni is at a depth of “up to 30 meters[2].” By conservative estimates, this would put the region above sea level at between 8-10 thousand years ago[1]!

What Hancock would have us believe is that a culture lived and thrived on this remote island 10,000 years ago and was able to create monumental architecture. Again, by itself, this isn’t a completely far-fetched idea. Monumental architecture did start to appear in various places around the world at around 10,000 – 6,500 years ago. Unfortunately, it doesn’t seem to be the case at Yonaguni.

The conclusion that the submarine rock formations found at Yonaguni are anthropogenic is quite a leap that isn’t supported by evidence. To reach this conclusion, we must first begin with the premise that the submarine geology cannot be natural. As with other sites around the globe, mystery-mongers will quickly and quite fallaciously conclude that “nature doesn’t make right angles” and Hancock, in chapter 27 of Underworld, quotes, mentions, or implies this more than once. You might recall my previous posts on Semir Osmanagic and his (and others’) “nature doesn’t make right-angles” claim.

Many of the angles that I’ve seen in various photographs on the “ruins” aren’t right-angles at all, but rhombohedral. That is to say, they’re slightly off from perpendicular, which is a characteristic of a kind of fracturing in geology known as jointing. Jointing occurs when there is fracturing without movement as with a fault. Imagine placing a stack of Graham crackers on a pencil and apply force to the top of the cracker and you’ll see various fracturing occur depending upon the direction and intensity of the force applied and the position of the pencil (or pencils if you want to get creative).

Cypriot Anchor
Alleged Tablet

One of the supporting claims of proponents of the “ancient ruins” speculation is that a “stone tablet” has been found, but photos of this “tablet” look more like a weight or anchor -which would depend upon the size. None of the photos on the internet have actually had anything included in the photo for scale (archaeologists often include a small black and white placard in centimeters; geologists often just plop their hammer in the photo). I would be very surprised if these types of stones weren’t common in the region given the thousands of years of fishing economy. Nets need weights and boats need anchors.

Alleged Colossal Head

Yet another supporting photo is the “colossal head,” reminiscent of Olmec society in Mesoamerica. Yet this rock seems to be a perpetrator of pareidolia more than anything. Like the so-called “face on Mars,” this rock only just resemble a face with some vaguely familiar crevices where one might expect to see eyes. Given the number of rocks in the area, there are bound to be several that have naturally occurring “faces” on them -you can see such “faces” just watching a few cumulus clouds pass on a breezy spring day.

Then there’s the pictures at the top of this post. Number 1 shows an alleged “site plan” of the “ruins,” but this is completely fallacious and leading since it presupposes and leads the viewer into the expectation that something has actually been discovered. Looking at this diagram, you can see its labeled with “terraces” and “streets,” a “sacred place” and a “gate” and so on. None of these alleged features have any supporting evidence for context. Not a shred. Indeed, they look like rocks that have fractured underwater in the same manner that they have above sea level. The difference is the debris. There is a distinct lack of debris in the photos you see of the underwater features (i.e #2) while there are more rubble and debris from broken and fallen rock on the coastal formations. The reason is most likely the current. I noticed that this warm water region is distinctly void of vegetation and fish, which is consistent with rough water due to wave action. These same waves would remove the debris from broken rock and fill the base with sand further hiding the debris.

If we can assume the model (#3) found on many websites is accurate, we can then compare it with terrestrial geology. Does it compare? I’d say so. Photo number 4 is a close up of the same member, with the same apparent strike and the same stratigraphy of shale or sandstone as the underwater version. There are right angles. There are rhombohedral angles. There are steps. There are “terraces.” See the full size version below:

There’s little doubt that those who want there to be a dark, mysterious but lost civilization to exist in the waters of Yonaguni will simply go on seeing only evidence of that imagined civilization in the very natural but cool geology of the region. However, there simply isn’t any supporting evidence that such a civilization existed and that this civilization created the monumental architecture necessary to be what is claimed. There are too many new assumptions that must be introduced (which is the very thing that appeals to certain mystery-mongers) about human evolution. Along with monumental architecture comes wide-scale domestication of plants and animals -a fishing culture alone would not be able to provide the required calories for the number of people necessary to engage in such architecture. There should be corresponding artifacts on the island of Yonaguni which support the hypothesis that 10,000 years ago there existed a culture which was able to engage in monumental architecture. Such evidence is not forthcoming either on land or below the surface of the waves thrashing Yonaguni’s shores.

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References and Notes:
  1. http://www.cartruts.com/pictures/Post-Glacial_Sea_Level.jpg [] []
  2. Hancock, Graham (24 May 2008) Confronting Yonaguni, online excerpt of Chap. 27. Underworld. Crown, 2002. []