Nan Madol is an ancient and remote city that has long been out of reach for archaeologists. Now, new tech has given scholars unprecedented access to the site, which was once the seat of the Saudeleur Dynasty (1100 CE to 1600 CE).
The “floating” city sits on a coral reef in the Pacific Ocean off the coast of the island of Pohnpei, the capital of the Federated States of Micronesia, 4,000 kilometers (2,500 miles) from Los Angeles and 2,575 kilometers (1,600 miles) from Australia.
In the latest episode of What On Earth? on the Science Channel, viewers can gaze at recently taken satellite images showing the archaeological site from above. As Dr Patrick Hunt, an archaeologist at Stanford University, points out, “Why would somebody build a city out on the middle of the ocean? Why here, so far away from any other known civilization?”
Nan Madol is a little smaller than New York, according to an article in Smithsonian magazine, and comprises of 90-something geometrically-shaped inlets constructed out of basalt and coral boulders. Archaeologists believe that each inlet served a specific purpose, such as canoe building or caring for the sick. They are linked by a network of canals, which is how the city got its nickname, “the Venice of Micronesia”.
“As amazing as this site appears from satellite imagery, coming down to ground level is even more astounding. There are walls which are 25 feet tall and 17 feet thick,” Dr. Karen Bellinger, archaeologist and founder of The Time Tribe, a game series based on real history and archaeology, explains in the clip.
On each of these inlets, there are the remains of temples, public baths, meeting houses, palaces, and residences built between 1200 CE and 1600 CE. The tallest building in Nan Madol is a royal temple called Nandauwas. This is surrounded by walls 7.6 meters (25 feet) high, roughly as tall as two giraffes.
Residents of Pohnpei do not know how the city was built but they believe that it involved magic. Rumour has it, the first Saudeleurs to visit the island were brothers called Olisihppa and Olosohpa. The two sorcerers used their God-given powers to create the city of Nan Madol.
Scientists disagree and say the basalt boulders were likely shipped from the other side of the island using rafts and levered into the right position with palm tree trunks. All in all, it probably took thousands of workers hundreds of years to construct.
By the time European visitors first came to in the island nineteenth century, Nan Madol had been abandoned. Now, islanders avoid the ancient city, believing it to be haunted.