The Russian city of Vladivostok harboured the main naval base of the Soviet Pacific Fleet, which meant that the city was closed to foreigners during the Soviet years. Its military status meant that it was an ideal location for the Strategic Arms Limitation Talks in November 1974 between Leonid Brezhnev and Gerald Ford, one of the few occasions Westerners got to see a bit of the area.
Since the collapse of the Soviet regime, Vladivostok is open for business, though it remains a distant and hard-to-reach location. The “hinterland” around Vladivostok is even more difficult to reach; it is nevertheless the region where one young Russian student, Maxim Yakovenko, thinks he may have discovered a geological feature that is anomalous – if not a pyramid. Worse – or better – there are two such structures, next to each other, at the mouth of a river.
The suspected pyramids are located in the vicinity of Nakhodka, which became the primary deep water port in the Russian Far East when Vladivostok was closed off to foreigners between 1950 and 1991. Near the mouth of the Partizanskaya river, two hills display a pyramidal form. They are named Sestra (Sister) and Brat (Brother). Sestra’s height is 319 metres and resembles the shape of a pyramid. Its neighbour – and literally brother – is named Brat, 2.1 miles NNE from Sestra. Brat resembles a platform pyramid, but this is due to recent human intervention: in the 1960s, stone was quarried from the top. This reduced the site from an original height of 320.5 metres to its present height of 242 metres.
Their uniform height and their location at the mouth of the river in an otherwise flat landscape, is no doubt what set these hills – these Twin Peaks – apart. Anyone with a shamanic predisposition would have given some legendary importance to these structures, and their very names, Brother and Sister, suggest this indeed occurred. Furthermore, the famous Russian traveller, historian and anthropologist Vladimir Arseniev wrote, in the beginning of the 20th century, that the hills had been holy places for the ancient settlers; people had come from China and Korea to pray here. Their older names were Da-nai-shan (now Sestra) and Er-nai-shan (now Brat). In those days, the local settlers believed that the hills had been built, “a long time before”, but they did not know by whom. Though few now come to pray, locals still claim that they feel happy and healthy on these hills, and when Brat was devalued to a stone quarry, the population of Nakhodka seemed to hold this act of desecration responsible for a bad patch of weather that hit the city.
The all-important question is: are we confronted with two sanctified natural hills, or man-enhanced structures? In favour of a deliberate human intervention to make these hills into pyramids is that the sides of both hills are orientated towards the cardinal points – like most man-made pyramids, including the famous Egyptian ones.
Maxim Yakovenko has organised a series of field expeditions to the pyramids, from 2004 onwards. First of all, he does not believe that Sestra is a pyramid, but a natural hill. He does believe that one side, namely that which is directed towards Brat, has been artificially enhanced, as this side of the hill is the only one of its fours sides that has a clear pyramidal shape to it. As to Brat, he argues that this is not constructed like the Egyptian or Mexican pyramids, but that it was in origin a natural hill that was then reshaped to a pyramid form.
The suspected pyramid – Brat – still shows the signs of detonations and bulldozers; there is a road to the top, and one side is almost crumbled. Yakovenko argues that another side was detonated by soldiers and workers, because they were searching for an entrance to inner chambers inside the pyramid, where they believed there might have been statues or other statues waiting for them.
Was there something inside? Speaking to the local population, Yakovenko learned that many people knew of or believed in such inner structures. There was even a legend that said that statues could be found inside. And in the 1950s, archaeologists found some amazing artefacts in the vicinity of Brat. These excavations were actually stopped when the hill became a quarry in the 1960s.
Yakovenko thus queries why Brat was transformed in a quarry. “The official version tells us about the mining of limestone, but the structure of Brat isn’t limestone at all.” He adds that if this was an ordinary stone quarry, the work would have begun at the foot of the hill, not on the top. “There are many hills in the region of Nakhodka which were blown up for mining and no-one comes with a destroyed top. To blow up Brat’s top for mining was a very expensive and dangerous deal.”
Whether manmade or natural, these two hills are not the only sacred hills. Another sacred mountain, this time 70 kilometres from Vladivostok, is Mount Pidan, rising to a height of 1333 metres, which reveals its sacred nature by the presence of stone walls, dolmen and standing stones on its slopes. Though none of these structures are too impressive, they do betray tell-tale signs of human intervention. The wall is located at a height of 1050 metres and measures three to six metres in height and 350 to 400 metres in length, and runs almost perfectly straight. What is more, the dolmen is situated at the beginning of this wall, perhaps suggesting that the wall separated a sacred from a profane area.
Here too, legends speak of a forgotten civilisation, which built these structures on the mountain that is now called Gora Livadiyskay, though everyone continues to refer to it as Pidan. As there were legends, there was the arrival of Vladimir Arseniev, to note down the legends attached to this peak. One spoke about a flying woman, flying above Pidan. The local people reported to Arseniev that she was the soul of the wife of the ancient priest who was the custodian of Pidan. As can be expected, the legend comes in a number of variations, one of which is that when the priest was killed, his wife suffered his loss so much that she died soon afterwards. However, her soul never ascended to heaven and, either intentionally or unintentionally, she – or her soul – then became the supernatural custodian of the mountain, following in the footsteps of her husband. No doubt, the legend was concocted to explain some anomalous sightings on, around and above the mountain; her spirit is said to have appeared in the forest, or near the river and to do this day, people report sightings of “her”; some even report that the phenomenon was captured on video.
Was there a civilisation that could have sculpted these twin pyramids? The valley around Brat and the Partizanskaya river is rich in shards of old jugs and dishes. In fact, the valley is known as the “Golden Valley” (“Zolotaya Dolina” in Russian) and residents, amateur and professional archaeologists have stumbled upon dozen of ancient dishes and plates; one man even created a small museum, in the village of Sergeevka, putting some of his findings on display.
It is of course a giant leap from being able to create pottery to reshaping a hill. Wolfgang Lösch is one of the few, if not the only, authors who has already tackled these Russian pyramids. Apart from mentioning their existence, he posited a possible connection with Korean pyramid-like structures
The majority of these Korean pyramids, like the Andong step pyramid, which is one of those that has withstood the test of time the best, are clearly man-made structures, but on a smaller scale than Brat. However, these Korean pyramids do prove that the concept of the pyramid as a sacred structure were known in this region, and this would thus make the Nakhodka structures anomalous in size only. Furthermore, we need to remember that Arseniev wrote how people had come from China – another country that has pyramids – and Korea came to pray her. There must have been a good reason these pilgrims came here, and whether natural or man-enhanced, the twin pyramids seem the most likely reason for their voyage.
The two hills remain officially listed as natural hills, but at least, together with several other important landscape features, they have now received official protection. This means that destructive quarrying will be more difficult to execute – but equally, that any archaeological exploration of the hills will have to jump through more hoops.