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Kevin Forestell
September 17, 2021

The construction of the past has shaped and molded the world we live in today. From the pyramids to the hanging gardens and Buckingham Palace to the ancient city of Athens, old buildings impact how we look at construction and how contractors build structures today. 

Taking a deeper dive into the oldest buildings and structures around the world gives us a hint at what our ancestors valued, how they maintained their cultures and what life was like for them thousands of years ago. Let’s explore some of the oldest buildings around the world. How were they created? What was their use? What construction processes did these structures need? And more importantly, are these buildings still intact today?

Here is everything you need to know about the 5 oldest buildings around the world. 

1. Göbekli Tepe

Göbekli Tepe is an archaeological site of a temple in Southeastern Turkey and has been dated back to 9500 - 8000 BCE. This date was discovered by carbon dating old tools found during excavations. This building is in fact the oldest structure on earth that we have found to date. It is even older than the Egyptian pyramids and even Stonehenge. 

globekli tepe excavation site
Image borrowed from BBC and credited to Michele Burgess/Alamy.

The buildings that makeup Göbekli Tepe are large circular structures supported by stone pillars. The interesting thing about this is that the pillars are decorated with carvings and drawings of animals such as oxe, lions, scorpions and vultures. Some of the pillars are blank while others feature these animals, winding and covering all sides. 

These carvings provide an insight into how the people lived at the time. Archaeologists have concluded that this area, long before it was farmed into a relatively flat and open area, would have been a paradise of sorts. The land would have been full of grazing animals, birds, butterflies and life. 

animal carvings at gobekli tepe
Image borrowed from Haaretz.

What Was Göbekli Tepe Used For?

The primary use of Göbekli Tepe has been debated for many years. Recently, archaeologists have agreed that this temple was most likely used as a space for hunter-gatherers to hone their skills and prepare to hunt. It was also used as a temple for religious practices and worship where hunter-gatherers could pray to and thank the gods before going out to hunt. The concept of drawing and carving animals on the pillars is believed to be their way of amping themselves up for the creatures they would face while hunting.

The buildings are made up of stone structures and pillars alike. Materials like limestone fragments, stone vessels and stone tools were used to construct this marvelous building. Within the Göbekli Tepe, there are two layers.  The bottom layer was older, believed to have been built as a first stage or testing of sorts. The second layer - the top one - could have been a second-go of sorts for building the temple. Archaeologists don’t really know why this temple was built, buried and rebuilt but it adds another aspect of mystery to the structure. 

 There is no definite answer about how much manpower was used to build it. Since there was a lack of equipment back then, it’s right to assume that larger numbers and a generous amount of manpower would be needed to haul rock and move the stone from quarries up into this area. 

Is the Göbekli Tepe Still Around Today?

The Turkish Ministry of Tourism has undertaken a program to preserve this building. Future plans include constructing a museum in order to preserve the site in the way that it was discovered by archaeologists Klaus Schmidt, Necmi Karul, and Lee Clare. 

2. Cairn of Barnenez 

The Cairn of Barnenez is a monument that can be found in Northern France. This is the second oldest structure in the world, dated all the way back to 4800 BCE. This is the largest megalithic mausoleum found to date. “Megalithic mausoleums” are buildings that house tombs and burial chambers. They are often built underground and were looked at as a passageway for the dead to reach the afterlife.

The cairn de barnenez in France
Image borrowed from Brittany Tourism.

Back in the 1850s, this structure was reported as a tumulus. A tumulus is an artificial mound created by humans. About 100 years later, quarry work dug down into this mound and discovered not just a tumulus but a building created with stone. All quarry digging stopped and restoration and excavation efforts began to ‘rediscover’ the historic building lying below.  

The Cairn of Barnenez contains 11 passage tombs built throughout the interior. Burial rituals and routines were incredibly important in history - just as they are now. The 11 passage tombs were built in two parts as more space was needed.

plan of the Cairn de Barnenez with 11 tombs
Graphic showing the two stages of construction and the 11 tombs. Image borrowed from Jplours.

Construction of the Cairn of Barnenez

Construction of the Cairn of Barnenez is said to have taken place in 2 phases. The first phase began in 4850 BCE while the second phase began in 4200 BCE. These two phases of construction can be seen in physical construction differences between certain tombs. Dolerite - which is a fine-grained rock - was used to construct the stone houses within the first phase. Granite - which is a coarse-grained material - was used in the second phase of construction in order to cool and solidify the underground passages. 

Other differences include the number of tombs. The first phase of construction included six chambers of passage and the second phase only holds five - resulting in the collective 11. Not much can be found about equipment or manpower used, but it can be assumed that due to the time this building was constructed labor was extensive and equipment used was dearth. 

The Cairn of Barnenez Today

The Cairn of Barnenez is still standing today, making it one of the oldest free-standing stone mausoleums in the world. Tours of this historic building are available but due to the mausoleum previously being used as a quarry, there are certain areas in the inside that tourists cannot see because of safety concerns. 

3. Tumulus of Bougon

The Tumulus of Bougon is the 3rd oldest building in the world and is also located in France. This building is actually 5 different tumulus' located on one site. 

one of the tumulus de bougon in france

What Is a Tumulus?

A tumulus is pieces of earth or stone placed over graves to raise them. Burial mounds are common in many different cultures all over the world and were built for two main purposes. The first is to honor the dead. The more important the person was the larger the mound was. The second reason was convenience. In many areas around the world, digging down meant digging through rock, stone, roots and clay. Building up and around was easier.  So much like the Cairn of Barnenez, this too is a burial site. 

Tumulus of Bougon was used as a burial site in order to pay remembrance to the people who had passed away in nearby villages. These burial sites are one of the world's oldest examples of funerary architecture. Each tumulus differs in size and was used during different time frames for proper burial. Upon archaeological research, other artifacts have been found such as pottery, art, stone tools, and beads. 

Construction of Tumulus of Bougon

Construction of Tumulus of Bougon was done at various times during a period of 1200 years from 4700 to 3500 BCE. In order to construct the 5 parts of the Tumulus, dry stone walling was used. Oddly enough a beehive roof structure was also created using natural resources such as grass, and of course, more stone. 

To reinforce the structure and prevent collapse, drystone walling was implemented around the outside of the burial sites. Much like the Cairn of Barnenez, not much is found about labor or equipment used so once again it can be assumed that labor was intensive. Due to the time period, hand labor and basic tools would have been used in construction. The extremely long time period hints that this structure was built upon and added to as needed. 

The Tumulus of Bougon Today

This site is currently still standing and it is truly something worth seeing. The greenery, design and thought process needed for the construction of this resting place makes it truly beautiful to behold. 

4. Uruk

Another one of the world's oldest structures is Uruk. Uruk actually isn’t just a single building but an ancient city. It is believed to be the first city ever created. It was made up of many temples and other buildings in Iraq and represents a turning point in the history of civilization. 

Constructed in 4000 BCE, Uruk was home to about 40,000 people. So far, archaeologists have been able to identify 20 temples, 1 room, 2 normal halls, 1 great hall, and 4 buildings for bathing and other necessities in the remains. The various buildings within the city or Uruk allowed the 40,000 residents to live comfortably, even allowing for up to 80,000 inhabitants at various times. 

ruins of uruk city in Iraq
Image borrowed from Mostly History.

The Ancient City

Uruk’s primary use mimics the use of cities of today; living, social necessities, government and work. Temples were used for accommodating all those living there, halls were used for dining and city meetings. Some of the other buildings were used for bathing, worship and agriculture work. This city was huge - 2.1 square miles long.

Construction of Uruk

Construction of the city Uruk would have been intense and would have taken place over many years. Because it was not one building they were building but many, the planning would have been extensive. Architects would have needed to design where temples, buildings and halls should go with a vision of how everything would flow and move within the city as a whole.

The main material that was used during construction was adobe brick. Adobe is a mixture of soil, organic materials such as straw and dung and stone pressed into brick-like shapes and dried. They are also known as mudbrick. 

Adobe Brick in Construction

The adobe brick played an integral role in maintaining the lasting nature of the city as it regulates temperature and hardens nicely - ensuring stability. Every person living in Uruk contributed to the monumental task of creating this city. Hard physical labour would have been needed.  It has not been clarified whether this was a requirement to live in the city, but it can be assumed that construction within the city was an ongoing process for residents to partake in. 

Uruk Today

This city is currently still standing and tourists are able to travel to Iraq to explore the city. If you are interested in learning about the history of civilization then visiting Uruk is a must.

5. Knap of Howar

The Knap of Howar is a stone-built farmstead that may be the oldest preserved stone house in all of Europe. It is located in Scotland and dates back to 3700 BCE. 

knap of howar ruins in scottland
Image borrowed from Saint and Stones.

The building consists of two stone-wall buildings overlooking the sea. The first stone house is said to be living quarters, whereas the second stone house is deemed as a workshop. Both would have been lit by fires to stay warm and are equipped with holes in the roof to let out the smoke. 

These stone homes were used for farming purposes. It’s believed that the inhabitants kept cattle, sheep and pigs. They also cultivated their own grains. The proximity to the sea meant that fishing and gathering shellfish would have been part of their food source as well.

Construction of Knap of Howar

The construction of this building or buildings was relative to the time it was built.  Stone was used for the walls, storage compartments, cupboards, and even workshop necessities. The roof was made out of stone and greenery like grass and turf. Since it is a smaller building and independent homestead, it can be assumed that construction was done by a family and their neighbors and was not a large community project like some other buildings.

knap of howar in scotland
Image borrowed from The Traveller.

Knap of Howar Today

This site can still be found standing today in Scotland and has still not been completely explored. According to Historic Environment Scotland, they believe that these two houses are a part of a larger settlement that has not yet been found. 

The Oldest Buildings in the World

These 5 of the oldest buildings around the world demonstrate that with the proper mindset, determination and materials you too can construct a building to withstand anything. The fact that all these buildings are still standing today is truly a remarkable achievement and something to idolize when finding inspiration for new buildings today. 

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Kevin Forestell headshot
Kevin Forestell
Kevin Forestell is CEO of DOZR and one of the co-founders. Kevin first got started as an entrepreneur when he founded Forestell Landscaping right after graduating from University. His love and passion for the industry and desire to help solve an equipment problem that contractors faced every day is what brought the founding team to start DOZR. Kevin is proud of the level of efficiency brought to the industry through DOZR and hopes that DOZR will help change the standard way equipment is rented.
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