Who could have built such a complex structure 150,000 years ago, at a time when man had barely started using fire?
The Baigong pipes are one of the greatest mysteries of the ancient world. They can be found inside a badly-eroded pyramid located on top of Mount Baigong in the Qinghai Province of northwestern China.
The crumbling pyramid once had triangular entrances on three of its sides but over time, two of them caved in and are currently inaccessible. The one that remains goes deep inside the mountain. Iron scraps and unusually-shaped stones litter the floor, suggesting that long ago, this place saw activity.
The only remaining cave houses an intricate network of metal pipes, with diameters as large as 1.5 feet and as small as a toothpick. Dozens of pipes run straight into the mountain, leading who knows where.
Some of the archaeologists who visited the site speculated the pipework could have once supplied water to the pyramid. Their theory seems to be supported by a multitude of iron pipes found on the shores of nearby Lake Toson. These ones are also available in a range of lengths and diameters, some reaching above the water surface, others buried below.
Intrigued by these out of place artifacts, the Beijing Institute of Geology analyzed the Baigong pipes using a technique called thermoluminescence. This method allowed them to determine when the pipes were last subjected to high temperatures. Analysis showed the pipes must have been crafted 150,000 years ago.
And the mystery goes deeper. Analysis performed at a government-operated smeltery was unable to determine the exact composition of of the pipes. Although the pipes were made up of ferric oxide, silicon dioxide and calcium oxide, they also contained 8% unknown material.
There is no easy way to explain this mind-boggling discovery. Human presence in the region can be traced back to 30,000 years ago but was mainly comprised of nomadic tribes. It would have been impossible for a primitive society to leave behind such an advanced structure.
A number of theories have made attempts to explain who could have built these pipes and what purpose they might have served. An advanced but long-forgotten human civilization could have constructed a facility that required coolant, and the pipes leading to the lake nearby are all that’s left.
Kenya: 3.3-million-year-old stone tools were found in Lomekwi 3
Archaeologists working in the Kenyan Rift Valley have discovered the oldest known stone tools in the world. Dated to around 3.3 million years ago, the implements are some 700,000 years older than stone tools from Ethiopia that previously held this distinction. They are so old, in fact, that they predate the earliest fossils representing our genus, Homo, by half a million years. As such they suggest that stone tool manufacture began not with Homo, but with a more primitive member of the human family.
The Turkana Basin Institute (TBI) created 3-D laser scans of the Lomekwi 3 tools to reveal very fine details on their surfaces. “The tools are much larger than later Oldowan tools, and we can see from the scars left on them when they were being made that the techniques used were more rudimentary, requiring holding the stone in two hands or resting the stone on an anvil when hitting it with a hammerstone, said Sonia Harmand of TBI.
The tools from Lomekwi 3 are quite large larger than the stone tools from the site of Gona in Ethiopia that were previously the oldest on record and larger than the rocks that chimpanzees use to crack open nuts. According to Harmand, preliminary observations suggest that the Lomekwi toolmakers intentionally selected big, heavy blocks of very hard raw material from nearby sources even though smaller blocks were available. They used various knapping techniques to remove the sharp-edged flakes from the cores.
Exactly what the Lomekwi knappers used their tools for is not yet clear. Animal bones recovered thus far at the site do not show any signs of human activity. But evidence from another site does suggest that hominins (the group that includes H. sapiens and its extinct relatives) were butchering animals back then.
Although very recent research has now pushed back the origins of the genus Homo to as early as 2.8 million years ago, the tools are too old to have been made by the first fully fledged humans, Harmand said in her talk. The most likely explanation, she concluded, was that the artifacts were made either by australopithecines similar to Lucy or by Kenyanthropus. Either way, toolmaking apparently began before the birth of our genus. Harmand and her colleagues propose to call the new tools the Lomekwian technology, she said, because they are too old and too distinct from Oldowan implements to represent the same technology.
A file photo of a pipe, and a view of Qinghai Lake in China, near which mysterious iron pipes were found. (NASA; Pipe image via Shutterstock*) The universe is full of mysteries that challenge our current knowledge. In Beyond Science Epoch Times collects stories about these strange phenomena to stimulate the imagination and open