8 Astonishing Ancient Sites in the Americas

8 Astonishing Ancient Sites in the Americas

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1. The Pyramid of the Sun

Latin America’s answer to the Great Pyramid of Giza, the Pyramid of the Sun is located in the ancient city of Teotihuacan near Mexico City. Constructed around 200 A.D. by an enigmatic pre-Aztec civilization, the monument stands over 200 feet tall and is roughly 700 feet wide, which would have made it one of the largest structures in ancient North America. Excavations in the 1970s revealed that the pyramid sits atop a 300-foot cave-tunnel leading to a four-winged chamber. More recently, archaeologists have discovered that the tunnel complex includes caches of pottery and sacrificial remains, which suggest that it once served as a spiritual shrine or royal tomb. Along with the nearby Pyramid of the Moon, the Pyramid of the Sun would have dominated the skyline of Teotihuacan during the first millennium A.D. The city was mysteriously abandoned sometime around the seventh century, but at its peak it may have had as many as 100,000 inhabitants.

2. San Agustín

According to UNESCO, Colombia’s San Agustín boasts the largest collection of megalithic sculptures in all of South America. The site consists of a massive necropolis strewn with some 40 burial mounds and 600 stone statues fashioned from volcanic rock. The statues range in height from only a few inches to around 20 feet, and depict grotesque monsters, club-wielding warriors and animals such as eagles, jaguars and frogs. The vast majority of the monuments date to between the first and eighth centuries A.D., but little is known about what significance they may have had for the ancient northern Andean culture that made them. A Spanish friar who saw the statues in the 1750s famously concluded that their fearsome imagery must have been the work of the devil, but modern scholars tend to believe they were designed to serve as guardians for the people buried in the surrounding tombs.

3. The Nazca Lines

In the high desert of southern Peru lie the Nazca Lines, a collection of bewildering geoglyphs that were etched into the arid landscape as many as 2,500 years ago. The drawings extend over a 200 square mile area and include everything from geometric shapes and swirls to representations of animals such as a hummingbird, a spider, a monkey and a killer whale. The gargantuan art gallery was most likely the work of the ancient Nazca people, who made the lines by clearing away a top crust of dark-colored rocks to reveal a layer of white sand. Why they did so, however, is a matter of considerable debate. Some researchers believe the drawings were connected to rituals involving rain, while others argue they may have had an astronomical function. Still others think they served as a ceremonial route walked by pilgrims on their way to a temple or religious site.

4. Cliff Palace

Nestled in Mesa Verde National Park in Colorado, the 800-year-old Cliff Palace is the largest and most famous settlement of the Ancestral Puebloans, a civilization that once inhabited the Four Corners region of the American Southwest. The imposing cliff dwelling was built from sandstone bricks, wooden beams and mortar, and includes some 150 rooms and towers as well as two-dozen circular meeting rooms, or kivas. As many as 100 people called the fortress home during the 13th century A.D., but the Puebloans abandoned it just a few decades later, most likely because of a prolonged drought. Cliff Palace became a ghost town and remained unknown to non-natives until 1888, when a pair of ranchers happened upon it while looking for stray cattle.

5. Joya de Cerén

Though not the most spectacular architectural site in the Americas, El Salvador’s Joya de Cerén is almost certainly among the best preserved. Known as “the Pompeii of the New World,” the small Mayan farming village was entombed in 17 feet of ash during a volcanic eruption around 600 A.D. Like its more famous Italian counterpart, it was effectively frozen in time, creating a fascinating snapshot of daily life in Pre-Hispanic Central America. Since its rediscovery in the 1970s, archeologists have unearthed several thatch-roof structures as well as a plaza and a communal sweat bath. They have also found scores of everyday objects such as sleeping mats, jade axes and food jars. There are no human remains at Cerén—its 200 residents seem to have fled before the volcano blew—but the eruption did preserve some of their footprints. There are even ash imprints of the corn stalks that once grew in the surrounding gardens.

6. Tiwanaku

Situated more than 12,500 feet above sea level near Bolivia’s Lake Titicaca, Tiwanaku is a mystifying complex of temples, pyramids and statues that was once the capital and spiritual center of the ancient Tiwanaku culture. The city reached its peak during the first millennium A.D., when numerous monumental structures were erected near the moat-enclosed city center. Two of the most important were the Akapana pyramid and the Kalasasaya temple, the latter of which features a “Gate of the Sun” protected by a frieze of a deity brandishing a pair of staffs. Pumapunku, another major ruin, lies outside the city center and consists of several platforms, plazas and stairways. The Tiwanaku complex is famous for its monolithic stonework, which includes walls dotted with stone heads and statues hewn from sandstone and andesite blocks, some of which weighed over 100 tons. Many of these stone pieces were cut so precisely that they fit together perfectly without the use of mortar.

7. Cahokia

Long before Europeans were aware that the New World even existed, the outskirts of modern day St. Louis were home to a metropolis now known as Cahokia. Built by the ancient Mississippian culture, the 5 square mile site reached its peak sometime around 1100 A.D., when it may have supported a population of 10,000-20,000 people—roughly the same as London. The city included sprawling public plazas and residential neighborhoods, but its most striking feature was its roughly 120 terraced earthen mounds, which often served as tomb complexes or platforms for important buildings. The largest, the so-called “Monks Mound,” still stands some 100 feet tall and was once topped by a temple or palace. Excavations at Cahokia have revealed evidence of human sacrifice as well as crafted stone figurines and a palisade solar calendar dubbed “Woodhenge,” but since it residents kept no written records, archaeologists still know relatively little about their culture or religion. Even more mysterious is the settlement’s sudden decline: by the 1300s, it had been completely abandoned.

8. Copán

Famed for its exquisite hieroglyphs and stonework, the ancient Mayan city of Copán sits in modern day Honduras near the border with Guatemala. The site began its life as a small agricultural settlement in the B.C. era, but it reached its zenith between the fifth and ninth centuries A.D., when it was ruled by a dynasty of 16 different kings. During that time, the city center was expanded to include numerous plazas, staircases, pyramids and stone temples, many of which were painted a striking shade of red. One of the site’s most famous monuments is the so-called “Hieroglyphic Stairway,” a 63-step staircase carved with over 2,000 individual glyphs—more than in any known Mayan inscription. There are also several stone steles and altars adorned with images of the city’s rulers and descriptions of its history. Copán may have had some 20,000 residents at its peak, but it went into decline in the eighth century after its 13th king was captured and beheaded during a conflict with a rival kingdom. The city was subsequently abandoned and remained largely unexplored until the 1800s.

8 Astonishing Ancient Sites in the Americas - HISTORY

© 1996-2015 National Geographic Society, © 2015- 2021 National Geographic Partners, LLC. All rights reserved

There’s something surreal about wandering the ruins of an ancient place—a place where great cultures once flourished and then faded away. But while impressive archaeological remains can be found in many parts of the world, certain sites are imbued with an air of mystery: how did people of the past build these great structures using nothing but rudimentary tools, and what caused their collapse?

Olmec Civilization, 1200-400 BC

Mesoamerican/Wikimedia Commons/CC BY 4.0

The Olmec civilization flourished on the gulf coast of Mexico and constructed the first stone pyramids in the North American continent, as well as the famous stone "baby-faced" head monuments. The Olmec had kings, built enormous pyramids, invented the Mesoamerican ballgame, domesticated beans, and developed the earliest writing in the Americas. The Olmec also domesticated the cacao tree and gave the world chocolate!

8 Oldest Buildings in America

The first successful European colonies in America were established in the early 1600s and these early colonists built some of the oldest buildings in what would later become the United States of America. However, humans first arrived in America around 13,000 years ago, and their descendants built and still inhabit the oldest buildings in this country.

This list contains eight of the oldest buildings still standing in America, most of which date back to early colonial times, with a few going back thousands of years. All of them are still in use today, mostly as historical house museums.

8. Richard Sparrow House

Date: 1640
Location: Plymouth, Massachusetts
Original Purpose: Residential home
Still in use: Yes

photo source: Wikimedia Commons

The Richard Sparrow House is a historical house that dates back to around 1640 and is the oldest surviving house in Plymouth, Massachusetts. The house was built by Richard Sparrow as a home for his family after he was granted a house tract of six acres in 1636, which required him to build a home within four years.

Sparrow was a surveyor and by 1642, he added seven more tracts to the home’s original six acres. The house was added to the U.S. National Register of Historic Places in 1974 and is currently operated as a museum and art gallery.

7. Henry Whitfield House

Date: 1639
Location: Guilford, Connecticut
Original Purpose: Residential home
Still in use: Yes

photo source: Wikimedia Commons

The Henry Whitfield House was built in 1639 for Henry Whitfield, a Puritan minister who had come to the New World to flee religious persecution and was one of the founders of the town of Guilford. It is the oldest stone house in New England and the oldest surviving house in Connecticut. The house was used as a home for Henry and his wife and children and also served as a place of worship before an official church was built in Guilford.

The Henry Whitfield House was remodeled in 1868 and since 1899, its been open to the public as the Henry Whitfield State Museum, which is owned and operated by the State of Connecticut. The house was restored again in the early 1900s and today teaches the history of the English settlement of Connecticut and the coming together of the European and Native American cultures.

6. C. A. Nothnagle Log House

Date: c. 1638 – 1643
Location: Gibbstown, New Jersey
Original Purpose: Residential home
Still in use: Yes

photo source: Wikimedia Commons

C. A. Nothnagle Log House, also known as Braman-Nothnagle Log House, is one of the oldest surviving log cabins in the U.S. The house was built by Finnish settlers in the New Sweden colony of what is now New Jersey, sometime between 1638 – 1643. During the 18th century a large addition was added to the house and a wooden floor was added in around 1730.

The log house is privately owned by Doris and Harry Rink and open for tours by private appointment only. The Rinks have owned the cabin since 1968 and have restored it to near-original condition. Recently (June 2017), the house, which is a registered National Historic Site, was put up for sale for $2.9 million. The Rinks say that even after the house is sold, they will continue to take care of the house and give tours.

5. Fairbanks House

Date: c. 1637 – 1641
Location: Dedham, Massachusetts
Original Purpose: Residential home
Still in use: Yes

photo source: Wikimedia Commons

The Fairbanks House is the oldest surviving timber-frame house in the U.S., which was built by Puritan settler Jonathan Fairbanks sometime between 1637 – 1641. Jonathan built the house for his wife Grace and their family and when he died in 1668, he left the house to his eldest son, John.

After that, the house was passed down through eight generations of the Fairbanks family until 1904 when Rebecca Fairbanks was the last person to live in the house. Upon Rebecca’s departure, the Fairbanks family members established the Fairbanks Family in America, Inc. to purchase the house and preserve it for future generations.

Today, the Fairbanks House is a historic house museum that is open to the public.

4. San Miguel Mission

Date: c. 1610 – 1626
Location: Santa Fe, New Mexico
Original Purpose: Church
Still in use: Yes

photo source: Wikimedia Commons

The San Miguel Mission, also called the San Miguel Chapel, is believed to be the oldest church structure built in the U.S. Although it is hard to pinpoint the exact date when the church was built, the earliest documentation mentioning the church dates back to 1628 – this means that the San Miguel Mission was built prior to that time.

The city of Santa Fe was established in 1610 and according to oral history, the church was built around the same time. Since then, the church has been rebuilt and restored several times as it was destroyed during the mid to late 1600s, however, the building still retains its original adobe walls.

The San Miguel Mission is still open during the week for prayers and visitors and mass is held on Sundays.

3. Palace of the Governors

Date: 1610
Location: Santa Fe, New Mexico
Original Purpose: Government building
Still in use: Yes

photo source: Wikimedia Commons

photo source: Wikimedia Commons

Throughout Spain’s control over the region, the Palace served as the Spanish seat of government and when New Mexico was annexed as a U.S. territory, the Palace became New Mexico’s first territorial capital. The Palace was declared a U.S. National Historic Landmark in 1960 and today serves as New Mexico’s state history museum.

2. Acoma Pueblo

Date: c. 1000 AD – 1200 AD
Location: Cibola County (west of Albuquerque), New Mexico
Original Purpose: Residential
Still in use: Yes

photo source: Wikimedia Commons

The Acoma Pueblo is made up of three villages: Sky City (Old Acoma), Acomita, and Mcartys. Although no one knows for sure how old the Acoma community is, archaeologists agree that the Pueblo has been continuously occupied since at least 1200 AD. At one point, the land that the Acoma Pueblo was on totaled about 5,000,000 acres, but the today, the Acoma tribe only retains about 10% percent of this land, forming the Acoma Indian Reservation.

There are around 5,000 Acoma tribal members living in the Pueblo today, which is a U.S. National Historic Landmark.

1. Taos Pueblo

Date: c.1000 AD – 1450 AD
Location: North of the modern city of Taos, New Mexico
Original Purpose: Residential
Still in use: Yes

photo source: Wikimedia Commons

The Taos Pueblo isn’t a singular building, but a group of ancient homes and ceremonial buildings that were built by a Tiwa-speaking Native American tribe of Puebloan people. According to the people who still inhabit the Taos Pueblo, the main part of the existing structures was built between 1000 AD and 1450 AD. The Pueblo is made entirely of adobe (earth mixed with water and straw, then either poured into forms or made into sun-dried bricks) and remains mostly unchanged since it was first built.

Moundville Archaeological Park

An artistic rendering of how the site might have looked 800 years ago

The Moundville site, occupied from around A.D. 1000 until A.D. 1450, is a large settlement of Mississippian culture on the Black Warrior River in central Alabama. At the time of Moundville’s heaviest residential population, the community took the form of a three-hundred-acre village built on a bluff overlooking the river.

The plan of the town was roughly square and protected on three sides by a bastioned wooden palisade. Moundville, in size and complexity second only to the Cahokia site in Illinois, was at once a populous town, as well as a political center and a religious center.

Within the enclosure, surrounding a central plaza, were twenty-six earthen mounds, the larger ones apparently supporting noble’s residences alternating with small ones that supported buildings used for mortuary and other purposes.

Neither the rise of Moundville nor its eventual decline is well understood by scholars. The immediate area appears to have been thickly populated, containing a few very small single-mound centers just before the creation of the public architecture of the great plaza and erection of the palisade about A.D. 1200.

However, by about A.D. 1350, Moundville seems to have undergone a change in use. The site lost the appearance of a town but retained its ceremonial and political functions. A decline ensued, marked by the abandonment of some mounds and the loss of religious importance in others. There was also a decrease in the importation of goods which had given prestige to the nobility.

By the 1500s, most of the area was abandoned with only a few portions of the site still occupied. Although the first Europeans reached the Southeast in the 1540s, the precise ethnic and linguistic links between Moundville’s inhabitants and what became the historic Native American tribes are still not well understood. Dr. Vernon James Knight, Associate Professor of Anthropology at the University of Alabama, is the Museum’s Curator of Southeastern Archaeology.

Hiking Trails With Ancient Ruins In Georgia

What are the most beautiful hikes in Georgia?

Georgia hikes are truly some of the best in the country. Not only does Georgia have such a uniquely diverse geographical offering, but you can also hike all year long and experience something new with each season. Beyond the historic places in Georgia you can hike mentioned above, you can also check out these 19 epic hiking spots in Georgia that are some of the most beautiful in the state.

What are the most picturesque hiking trails in Georgia?

Make sure to bring your camera when you check out the unique hiking trails in Georgia because many of these will be most memorable. In case you’ve never been out exploring Georgia during the wintertime, then you should know these are some of the most picturesque experiences you can have. Check out these 8 stunningly magical winter hikes in Georgia .

Can I hike to historical sites in Georgia?

Absolutely! Besides the historic ruins we mentioned in the article above, there are plenty of historic sites you can hike to in Georgia. For instance, this hike in Georgia will take you to a historic graveyard high in the mountains . Also, these 11 Georgia hiking trails will take you on a trip back in time .

Are there any other concerns about the tools?

Archaeologists also take issue with the stone tools that aren’t there. Usually, hammer-and-anvil sites also come with lithics, flaked stone tools and the debris from their manufacture and use, notes Jim Adovasio, the Florida Atlantic University archaeologist who excavated Meadowcroft Rockshelter, one of North America’s oldest archaeological sites.

These types of tools are missing entirely from the Cerutti site, even though it supposedly dates to a time when hominins were perfectly capable of making sophisticated hand axes.

“They make a statement that the [evidence at Cerutti] is consistent with many other sites,” says Adovasio. “Well, I’m sorry, it’s not—that just isn’t simply true.”

Steve Holen of the Center for American Paleolithic Research, one of the research team’s archaeologists, rebuts the charge, saying that there’s evidence for archaeological sites in the Americas that don’t have flaked stone tools. For the last 25 years, Holen has studied two sites in Kansas and Nebraska that are about 14,000 to 33,000 years old. He claims these sites are also bone quarries where humans did not use flaked stone tools, much like the Cerutti site.

Hemmings however, isn’t convinced that the evidence uniformly supports the idea that humans at Cerutti were trying to use the mastodon bones as tools. In particular, one of the mastodon’s teeth is shattered for no obvious reason.

“Everything that’s broken was still there, so it wasn’t mined for tools, and you’re certainly not getting marrow out of the bone of a mastodon tooth,” he says. “So what exactly is supposed to have gone on?”

30 of the world’s most impressive ancient ruins

While modern structures can be more than impressive in their own right with respect to architecture, technological advancement, and beauty, there’s something to be said about structures from the past.

Ruins around the world have withstood the test of time and remain standing for travelers to marvel at. (Well, they haven’t completely withstood the test of time, or else they wouldn’t be called ruins.) Many of the methods used to create these ancient cities, temples, and monuments remain rather mysterious, as building them in this day and age would still be considered an impressive feat.

Check out these 30 awesome ancient ruins around the globe and see for yourself, and read about the new 7 Wonder of the World here.

Rock-hewn churches of Lalībela

Lalībela, located in north-central Ethiopia, is famous for its rock-hewn churches, which date back to the late 12th and early 13th centuries. The 11 churches, important in Ethiopian Christian tradition, were built during the reign of the Emperor Lalībela. The churches are arranged in two main groups, connected by subterranean passageways. Notable among the 11 churches are House of Medhane Alem (“Saviour of the World”), the largest church House of Golgotha, which contains Lalībela’s tomb and House of Mariam, which is noted for its frescoes. Centuries after they were built, the churches still draw thousands of pilgrims around important holy days.

8 Astonishing Ancient Sites in the Americas - HISTORY

Review - "Chronology" offers a fascinating series of snapshots throughout American history, including things I really haven't thought about, such as. what was life like here before the European explorers showed up? Some of the chapters are essays about specific topics or time periods, and others are the actual text of documents from our history. Even if you think you know American history, I'll bet you'll find something you didn't know, or an aspect you never thought about!"

Timeline Book

Book Reviews

Great Book for the Context of History - I'd say this would be great for anyone from age 12 and up who needs to know the context of history or the history buff who wants to be reminded where and when things happened. Recommended.

Very Good Complilation - This was a great refresher for someone who was very big into my history lessons. Great for quizzing your kids.


  • The Timeline of America's Best History from americasbesthistory.com has been used by the video department of the Freemasons Association as a reference source in a documentary on the Masons in history.


America's Best History where we take a look at the timeline of American History and the historic sites and national parks that hold that history within their lands.

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The Venus Figurines (30,000 – 10,000 BC, Europe)

The Venus figurines is a term given to a collection of prehistoric statuettes of women made during the Paleolithic Period, mostly found in Europe, but with finds as far as Siberia. To date, more than 200 of the figurines have been found, dating back to between 30,000 and 10,000 BC, all of whom are portrayed with similar physical attributes, including curvaceous bodies with large breasts, bottoms, abdomen, hips, and thighs, and usually tapered at the top and bottom. The heads are often of relatively small size and devoid of detail, and most are missing hands and feet. Some appear to represent pregnant women, while others show no such signs. The figurines were carved from all manner of different materials, ranging from soft stone (such as steatite, calcite, or limestone) to bone, ivory, or clay. The latter type are among the earliest ceramic works yet discovered.

The term ‘Venus figurines’ is controversial in itself. Inspired by Venus, the ancient Greek goddess of love, it assumes that the figures represent a goddess. Of course, this is one possible explanation, but it is just one of many interpretations that have been proposed. A considerable diversity of opinion exists in the archaeological and paleoanthropological literature regarding the possible functions and significance of these objects. Some of the different theories put forward include: fertility symbols, self-portraits, Stone Age dolls, realistic depictions of actual women, ideal representations of female beauty, religious icons, representations of a mother goddess, or even the equivalent of pornographic imagery.


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