Yonaguni Enigmatic Underwater Monuments Dr. Robert M Schoch dives the island of Yonaguni and explores the underwater monuments.

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An Enigmatic Ancient Underwater Structure off the

Coast of Yonaguni Island, Japan


by Robert Schoch 1999

[The following text is the original draft in English of the article that was

published in Spanish as: Schoch, Robert M., 1999, La Pirámide de Yonaguni:

Recuerdo de Mu? Más Allá de la Ciencia. No. 123 (May 1999), pp. 20-25.

The Yonaguni Monument is discussed further in the book

VOICES OF THE ROCKS by Robert M. Schoch

with Robert Aquinas McNally.]


        [Dr. Robert M. Schoch is a tenured associate professor of science and mathematics at Boston University's College of General Studies. Trained as a geologist (Ph.D. in geology and geophysics from Yale University), Schoch has done field research in the Canadian High Arctic, the western United States, Pakistan, Egypt, and most recently Japan. Dr. Schoch's latest book is entitled Voices of the Rocks: A Scientist Looks at Catastrophes and Ancient Civilizations (coauthored with Robert Aquinas McNally; Harmony, Crown Publishing Group, Random House Inc., 1999, ISBN 0-609-60369-8). In Voices of the Rocks Dr. Schoch discusses, among other things, his work on the Yonaguni Monument of Japan, the redating of the Great Sphinx, and a new interpretation of ancient history.]


        For many decades, indeed for centuries and even millennia, various researchers and writers have searched for the truth behind Plato's lost continent of Atlantis (usually, but not always, considered to have been located in either the Mediterranean Sea or in the Atlantic Ocean), or for the presumed sister continent of Atlantis in the Indian or Pacific Ocean, referred to variously as Mu or Lemuria. By a literal interpretation of Plato's chronology, Atlantis was destroyed cataclysmically around 9500-9600 B.C., and the supposed civilization of Mu is thought to have been even older. Now remains that are considered by some people to be tangible evidence of a lost, highly sophisticated, and very ancient civilization have been located

in the Okinawa area under the sea. Could this be Mu or Lemuria?


        The structures that have been discovered thus far are all located off the coasts of Okinawa and various islands of the Ryukyu Island chain, Japan. The best publicized and most spectacular of these structures is one located off the southern coast of Yonaguni Island, a small (approximately 10 km by 4 km) Japanese island located east of Taiwan and west of Ishigaki and Iriomote Islands in the East China Sea.


        The structure off the coast of Yonaguni has been hailed as "the world's oldest building" (Barot, 1998), taking the form of a "stone ziggurat" dating back to 8000 B.C. (Barot, 1998). If this is actually the case, this could prove to be one of the most important archaeological discoveries of the last fifty years. In order to evaluate the site, I have visited Yonaguni on two separate occasions (in September 1997 at the invitation of the Japanese businessman Mr. Yasuo Watanabe and during July-August 1998 as a member of the "Team Atlantis" underwater archaeological project). On each trip I made several dives on the site.


        The "Yonaguni Monument," as I refer to this structure, superficially has the appearance of a platform-like or partial step-pyramid-like structure. It has been compared to various pyramidal and temple structures in the Americas, such as the ancient "Temple of the Sun" near Trujillo in northern Peru (Joseph, 1997, pp. 4-5). The Yonaguni Monument is over 50 meters long in an east-west direction and over 20 meters wide in a north-south direction. The top of the structure lies about 5 meters below sea level, whereas the base is approximately 25 meters below the surface. It is an asymmetrical structure with what appear to be titanic stone steps exposed on its southern face. These steps range from less than half a meter to several meters in height. When viewing photographs of the Yonaguni Monument many people immediately have the impression, due to the regularity of the stone faces of the steps and the sharp angles made by the rock, that this is an artificial structure.


        The rock faces appear to be dressed stone. If this is an artificial, man-made structure then it is reasonable to assume that it was built or carved not underwater but at a time when this area was above sea level. Indeed, this area has experienced major rises in sea levels during and since the Pleistocene ("Ice Age") and based on well-established standard curves of sea-level rises in the region, as recently as 8,000 to 10,000 years ago the Yonaguni Monument may have been above local sea level. Thus we can suggest with some confidence that if the Yonaguni Monument is a man-made construction then it must be at least 8,000 years old.


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        Dr. Masaaki Kimura, a professor in the Department of Physics and Earth Sciences at the University of the Ryukyus, Okinawa, has carried out an extensive underwater mapping project of the Yonaguni Monument. During my trips to Japan I have had the opportunity to visit with Dr. Kimura several times, both on site in Yonaguni and in his office in Okinawa. Based on his research, Dr. Kimura has espoused the view that the Yonaguni Monument is, on the whole, an artificial structure. If this is the case, then the Yonaguni Monument appears to bear testimony to a previously unknown, yet very early and highly sophisticated civilization.


        During my own research on the Yonaguni Monument, one of the first things I found is that the structure is, as far as I could determine, composed entirely of solid "living" bedrock. No part of the monument is constructed of separate blocks of rock that have been placed into position. This is an important point, for carved and Arranged rock blocks would definitively indicate a man-made origin for the structure - - yet I could find no such evidence.


        During my initial two dives of September 1997 I was unable to determine, even in a general way, the stone of which the Yonaguni Monument is composed. This was due to the fact that the surfaces of the rocks are covered by various organisms (algae, corals, sponges, and so forth) that obscure the actual surfaces. I believe that this coating of organic material tends to make the surfaces of the Yonaguni Monument appear more regular and homogeneous than they actually are. This, in part, enhances the impression that this must be an artificial, man-made structure.


       On some of my later dives I spent time scraping the organisms off the rocks in several places, so as to gain views of the actual rock faces, and also brought some samples of the rock to the surface. The Yonaguni Monument is composed predominantly of medium to very fine sandstones and mudstones of the Lower Miocene Yaeyama Group (the rocks themselves were deposited about 20 million years ago). These rocks contain numerous well-defined, parallel bedding planes along which the layers easily separate. The rocks of this group are also criss-crossed by numerous sets of parallel and vertical (relative to the horizontal bedding planes of the rocks) joints and fractures. Yonaguni lies in an earthquake-prone region; such earthquakes tend to fracture the rocks in a regular manner.


        I have also spent a fair amount of time traveling the length and breadth of Yonaguni Island so as to examine and gain an understanding of the local geology and geomorphology of the island. Along the southeast and northeast coasts of Yonaguni Island the Yaeyama Group sandstones are abundantly exposed, and here I could observe them weathering and eroding under current conditions. I became convinced that presently, at the surface, natural wave and tidal action is responsible for eroding and removing the sandstones in such a way that very regular step-like and terrace-like structures remain. The more I compared the natural, but highly regular, weathering and erosional features observed on the modern coast of the island with the structural characteristics of the Yonaguni Monument, the more I became convinced that the Yonaguni Monument is primarily the result of natural geological and geomorphological processes at work. On the surface I also found depressions and cavities forming naturally that look exactly like the supposed "post holes" that some researchers have noticed on the underwater Yonaguni Monument.


        In fairness to Dr. Kimura's position, I must point out that he believes that at least some of the surface features that I here interpret as the result of natural weathering and erosion are either man-made or were modified by humans. However, I could not find any surface evidence (such as tool marks on the rock surfaces or carved blocks that had been moved into place) that, in my opinion, would substantiate his contention of artificiality. Of course, I have had only a very short time to search for such evidence, and just because I did not find it does not mean it does not exist. However, at this time based on my own findings and analysis, I cannot agree with Dr. Kimura's conclusion that the Yonaguni Monument is primarily a man-made structure. My current working hypothesis is that the Yonaguni Monument is primarily of natural origin; that is, it's overall structure is the result of natural geological and geomorphological processes.


        I think it should be considered a primarily natural structure until more evidence is found to the contrary. However, by no means do I feel that this is an absolutely closed case. The question of its genesis - - artificial versus natural - - may not be an all or nothing question. We should also consider the possibility that the Yonaguni Monument is fundamentally a natural structure that was utilized, enhanced, and modified by humans in ancient times. The Yonaguni Monument may even have been a quarry from which blocks were cut, utilizing natural bedding, joint, and fracture planes of the rock, and thence removed for the purpose of constructing other structures which are long since gone.


        On Yonaguni Island and elsewhere in the Okinawa area there appears to be an ancient tradition of modifying, enhancing, and improving on nature. On Yonaguni there are very old tombs (age unknown, but possibly on the order of thousands of years old) that stylistically appear to be comparable to the "architecture" of the Yonaguni Monument. There is still other evidence of some kind of human working of the local stone on Yonaguni. Scattered over the island are apparently very ancient (age unknown), obviously human-carved, stone "vessels." These are composed of local rock, and clearly were neither made nor transported to the island in modern (that is, in the last 500 years or so) times. These stone vessels remain somewhat of a mystery, as does the Yonaguni Monument and other underwater structures reported in the Okinawa area.


        On Yonaguni beautifully crafted ancient stone tools have been found that could have been used to both shape some of the stone vessels and other objects, as well as to modify the Yonaguni Monument that is now found underwater. Even if it is a primarily natural structure, it may have been reshaped to serve as foundation for stone, timber, or mud buildings that have since been destroyed. Or it may have even served as some form of boat dock for an early seafaring people.


        I believe that the art and architecture of the area may have been influenced by the natural geomorphology of the Yonaguni Monument and similar structures. There may have been a complex interplay between nature and artificiality, natural forms and man-made structures, in very ancient times. Perhaps rather than being the work of humans per se, the Yonaguni Monument directly influenced the art and architecture of humans some 8,000 to 10,000 years ago, thus helping to initiate a stylistic tradition that continues to this day.


        Over the last few years, Professor Kimura has perhaps softened his position somewhat regarding how much of the Yonaguni Monument is "man-made" or "artificial" and how much is "natural." Most recently Dr. Kimura has been referring to the Yonaguni Monument and related structures as being "terraformed," that is natural geological features that have been manipulated or modified by human hands. This is essentially the position that I have come to, so perhaps Dr. Kimura and I are converging in our opinions of the Yonaguni Monument.


        If there is evidence of some human modification of a natural structure off the coast of Yonaguni Island, why were the people of ancient times so interested in this particular spot? One suggestion is that 10,000 years ago Yonaguni was located very close to the Tropic of Cancer. Today the Tropic of Cancer is located at approximately 23 degrees 27 minutes north latitude while Yonaguni Island is located a full degree further north. However, the position of the Tropic of Cancer varies over the millennia, from under 22 degrees to over 24 degrees, according to a 41,000 year cycle. In about 8000 B.C. the Yonaguni Monument was located very close to the Tropic of Cancer. Perhaps it was the site of an astronomically-aligned shrine. In conclusion, based on my preliminary reconnaissance of the Yonaguni Monument, I am not yet absolutely convinced that it is an artificial structure - - but in my opinion, even if it is primarily natural, it may have been modified by human actions in ancient times. This enigmatic structure merits more detailed examination.




        It was through the generosity of Mr. Yasuo Watanabe (Japan Medical Dynamic Marketing [MDM], Inc., Tokyo) that I was able to first visit Yonaguni Island and explore the Yonaguni Monument on 23-24 September 1997. I sincerely thank him for his hospitality and patronage. Mr. Graham Hancock was instrumental in arranging the trip to Yonaguni, and Graham Hancock and his wife Santha Faiia joined me there to dive on the Monument. Mr. John Anthony West also accompanied me to Yonaguni in September 1997. Mr. Shun Daichi (New Perspectives Quarterly, Tokyo Correspondent) also joined us in diving, and provided me with various reference materials on the Yonaguni Monument and help in translating. Mr. Kihachiro Aratake, who actually discovered the Yonaguni Monument, was our guide for the dives, and dive masters Mr. Hiroshi-Kubota and Ms. Yoshimi Matsumura provided us with invaluable assistance, as did Ms. Megumi Kondo (MDM), Ms. Akiko Ito (MDM), Mr. Ken Yamada (Ortho Development Corporation, Utah), Mr. Dale Kimsey (Ortho), and Mr. Steve Hubbard (Ortho).


        I returned to Japan in late July and early August 1998 to further study the Yonaguni Monument and related structures as a member of the Team Atlantis multi-disciplinary underwater research team and documentary film project. I thank Mr. Michael Arbuthnot for organizing this effort and inviting me to participate. Mr. Boris Said, producer for Team Atlantis, was immensely helpful in making sure that everything worked out. The project would have been impossible without the assistance of Ms. Iris DeMauro, who gave freely of her time and energy throughout the expedition and allowed us to stay at her family's beach house in Okinawa during the latter half of the trip. Dr. James J. Hurtak and Dr. John T. Dorwin also participated in this trip; sharing freely of their knowledge and opinions, they gave me much food for thought. Also in Japan with the Team Atlantis 1998 expedition were Ms. Janet Arbuthnot, Mr. Christopher DeFelice, Ms. Sarah Kingston, Mr. Peter McDougall, Mr. Vince Pace, Mr. D. J. Roller, Mr. Matthew Sapero (the excellent webmaster for Http://www.teamatlantis.com), and Ms. Sandy Wright. I thank them all for their participation. In Japan we were assisted by many people; in particular I would like to single out Mr. Kihachiro Aratake, Mr. Atsushi Mori, and Ms. Chie Mikami of Ryukyu Asahi Broadcasting Corporation. Finally, I extend a heartfelt thanks to Dr. Masaaki Kimura for his hospitality. Dr. Kimura met with us numerous times during our stay and explained in detail his ideas regarding the Yonaguni Monument and similar structures. I greatly appreciate his years of research.


Sources for Further Reading on the Yonaguni Monument


Barot, Trushar, 1998. "Divers find world's oldest building." The Sunday Times [London], 26 April 1998, page 4.


Hancock, Graham, and Santha Faiia, 1998, Heaven's Mirror: Quest for the Lost Civilization. London: Michael Joseph.


Joseph, Frank, 1997, "Underwater City found near Japan," Ancient American, vol. 3, #17 (March/April 1997), pp. 2-6.


Minamiyama, Hiroshi, 1997, Bottom of the Ocean Ooparts [Out of Place Artifacts]. Tokyo: Futami Shobo, Publisher. 302 pages. ISBN 4-576-97087-9. [In Japanese. The Yonaguni Monument and related structures are discussed on pp. 11-46.]


Schoch, Robert M., with Robert Aquinas McNally, 1999, Voices of the Rocks: A Scientist Looks at Catastrophes and Ancient Civilizations. New York: Harmony, Crown Publishing Group, Random House.


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