How likely is it that there are undiscovered long-lost ancient buildings in the world?

It’s probably fair to say that we, collectively as humans, have discovered all ancient ruins of significant scale (i.e Machu Picchu, Chichen Itza, Angkor Wat, etc…), and that there are probably innumerous ancient smaller structures languishing in deserts and jungles which have been weathered and decayed such that they are barely worth discovering.

But, could there be a middle-ground of structures - small pyramids or temples, say… - which have maintained enough structural integrity to still be interesting, but have remained undiscovered by centuries/millennia? Anything big enough to fit a sarcophagus imprisoning an angry Egyptian deity will do - or a central American temple with a cursed crystal skull - that sort of thing.

While difficult to put an exact number on it, what’s the likelihood that such structures might have escaped any human attention (and/or desecration) since their presumed abandonment until now? And if so, where in the world would these structures most likely be?

Not urgent - thanks in advance

It is entirely possible although it is unlikely that there are intact large structures that aren’t completely buried under a seabed, in river silt, or in the desert covered by meters of sand. Most truly ancient cities or religious complexes will have been built over again and again like Tory and Uruk because they were situated in places suitable for agriculture or trade, then sacked or abandoned by a collapsing society only to be redeveloped later, often on the literal trash-heap of the previous society.

Technically speaking, none of the complexes you list are actually “ancient”; Chichen Itza, while abandoned in the pre-Columbian period, was constructed and in active use in the Mesoamerican Late Classical era (600-900 CE), while Machu Picchu was constructed in the mid-15th Century CE and was still in active use by the Incas at the time of the Spanish Conquest of the Americas. Angkor Wat in the 12th Century CE in the middle of the height of height of the Khmer Empire and was never truly ‘lost’ or abandoned though it was not seen by Europeans until the 16th Century CE and not well known in the West until the 19th Century.

There are doubtless remains of cities in the ancient Near East, sub-Saharan Africa, and likely in North America although none intact enough to “fit a sarcophagus imprisoning an angry Egyptian deity…or a central American temple with a cursed crystal skull…” That is the stuff of H. Rider Haggard, Edgar Rice Burroughs, H.P. Lovecraft, and other writers of the “Lost World” genre who mostly had only a passing acquaintance with archeology or anthropology and whose ideas of lost empires and ancient people who rigged cleverly booby-trapped temples are the very definition of pulp fiction. Fun stuff (despite the often racist overtones) but not remotely plausible.


They are still discovering ruins in Central and South America. Lidar reveals landscape of ancient cities hidden in the Amazon

They just discovered a city in Iraq. MSN

Can we be sure that humans were the first to invent technology on Earth? Is it possible that another species developed technology before humans? If it were a long time ago (66 million years or so), what ruins would be left from a civilization similar to ours? One candidate species might be Hadrosaurs.

If this thread is intended to be just about archaeology (human history), I will shut up, politely.

That headline just begs for the application of Betteridge’s Law.

Ruins? Likely very few. If they quarried a great deal of stone, evidence of that might last millions of years. Or if they practice any earth moving, like the Plum Bayou people of what’s now Arkansas, I imagine that evidence might still be around.

Yep, “Any headline that ends in a question mark can be answered by the word no .” Kinda like ‘Is it possible that…? And if so…’ Standard protocol for all the ‘Ancient Civilizations’ TV shows. But maybe a slightly modified version of the Copernican principle would also apply - Humans are not privileged observers of the Earth.

Obvious typo here. You obviously meant the cities of Tory and Urkel.

Explain that!

We can be pretty confident that no previous civilization has emerged on Earth that developed modern chemical synthesis, deep mineral extraction, intensive combustion or nuclear fission power generation, or semiconductor manufacturing technologies because we would find chemical technosignatures in lithic strata. A civilization based upon enzymatic technologies or something equally ephemeral could have arisen and gone extinct without leaving traces that would be evident over the intervening span of millions of years but there are no species in the fossil record that would suggest such advanced development and impact on the ecosystem, although if a hypothetical advanced species was invertebrate we might not find or recognize the development of capability.


“Lightning. Fire. The power of God or something.”


We have top men working on it. Top. Men.

Which is why I think this thread is so interesting. I’m not sure we would necessarily recognize capability in vertebrates if their technology didn’t resemble ours; they still might have been able to generate and manipulate energy sources.

Any conventional means of powering “energy sources” capable of powering an industrial civilization would almost certainly leave lithochemical traces; even our manufacture of photovoltaic solar panels and mining of metals such as copper, gallium, arsenic, cadmium, selenium, et cetera will leave an identifiable layer in the strata, and burning of coal releases far more radiation globally than the mining of uranium. A society based upon purely organic ‘machines’ and energy storage mechanisms such as glucose would not leave any identifiable traces after even thousands of years but it seems pretty implausible that any terrestrial vertebrates would have developed such a technology, and there is no record that any marine vertebrates have shown any evolutionary sign of either industrial adaptations or an explosion in population size akin to that of Homo sapiens in the Agricultural and then Industrial Revolutions.

If any species had a world-spanning advanced civilization it would likely be invertebrates in the oceans and using ‘technology’ that was based upon biology rather than electromechanical energy conversion. In fact, this is the hypothesis that a lot of astrobiologists have latched onto to ‘explain’ the Drake Equation (not that a defense is really needed): that most advanced intelligence will actually develop in deep underwater oceans of the moons of gas-giants, powered by tidal energy and developing some kind of low-metal industry, hence, no space travel or observation. It is entirely speculative although the statistics on the likelihood of icy moons with liquid oceans is persuasive, but there is absolutely no evidence for such a civilization having ever emerged on Earth. On the other hand, H.P. Lovecraft prophesied that humanity would become extinct and replaced by a race of giant beetles that would be telepathically possessed by the Elder Things, which is about as plausible and scientifically grounded as any speculation about ancient civilizations on Earth.


The answer to the OP is 100%.

Today’s Washington Post, in fact, has a headline of Egypt unearths trove of artifacts, 250 mummies in ancient necropolis.

But that necropolis was already known, you might protest. OK, then, let’s go back a whole year.

Modern archaeology has always been hampered in Egypt by lack of funds and an uncertain political situation. It’s long been an international scandal in the community. The relative peace and an influx of money is beginning to remedy the situation. I do not exaggerate a bit when I say that the likelihood of new discoveries on the piddling level asked for by the OP is absolutely certain.

Yeah. Considering this Mayan ruin was discovered in the last few weeks (?), I’d agree that the chances are awfully good:

Definitely, we find new stuff like that all the time (see examples above). Sub-Saharan Africa, for instance, is largely unexplored in this regard.

Yes, we can.

No. It is impossible that another species developed technology and left exactly zero evidence of said technology.

Well, we find their fossils, so we’d find their technology too. And there isn’t one stone axe, never mind anything like modern tech.

This is pure fantasy.

Lidar is changing everything. It’s like the Hubble telescope into the past. In addition to the Mesoamerican sites mentioned above, the Amazon basin is also showing itself to be full of structures:

ETA: Just to be clear, undiscovered sites on the scale of Machu Pitcchu or Chichén-Itzá absolutely could exist. There is a lot of very dense vegetation and very remote locations out there.


This guy built a resort, it failed, and TPTB built a damn, flooding over it. The photo in that preview shows what happened when the lake water receded and the stone amphitheater was partially revealed. Lake levels returned to normal and it was gone again.

The article says:

For years, stories circulated of a treasure being buried within the amphitheater. W. T. McWhorter was determined to find out if it was true, so he planned to dynamite the amphitheater on the day he was to transfer the deed to the CoE. Spectators attended the planned explosion, but it was stopped just in time by CoE attorney David Waid.[62]

So it could happen anywhere but going with the Egyptian thing…maybe an angry pharaoh ordered a location to be dammed and flooded, then killed all those with knowledge of it?

A good natural disaster like an earthquake could also bury a place for a time or a volcanic eruption’s lava could obscure the path to a place, etc. The Pelee eruption could do that AND leave only a few survivors to tell the tale.

Almost everyone within the city proper—about 28,000 people—died, burned or buried by falling masonry. The hot ash ignited a firestorm, fueled by smashed buildings and countless casks of rum. Only two people survived within the city, along with a few tens of people caught within the margins of the cloud. All survivors were badly burned.[3]

Explosive activity on 20 May resulted in another 2,000 deaths as rescuers, engineers and mariners brought supplies to the island. A powerful eruption on 30 August generated a pyroclastic flow that resulted in over 800 people killed. The eruption continued until October 1905.