Fact Check

Massive Stone Age Tunnel Stretches from Scotland to Turkey

Mysterious underground passages known as "Erdstall" have been found throughout Europe, but there's no evidence of a continuous tunnel running from Scotland to Turkey.

Published Sept. 16, 2016

 (Pfeifferfranz, Wikimedia Commons)
Image courtesy of Pfeifferfranz, Wikimedia Commons
Stone Age tunnels have been found that stretch thousands of miles all the way from Scotland to Turkey.
What's True

Medieval Erdstall tunnels dating back centuries have been found in places such as Germany, Austria, France, Ireland and Scotland.

What's False

These tunnels comprise a continuous passageway all the way from Scotland to Turkey.

Since at least 2011, web sites dedicated to spreading rumors about spirits and the underworld have been claiming that a connected "network" of tunnels dating back to the Stone Age and stretching across Europe from Scotland to Turkey has been discovered.

The yarn has wended its way across conspiracy theory sites and hubs of fiction such as Ancient-Code.com and SimpleCapactiy.com:

Across the Europe there are thousands of underground tunnels from the north in Scotland leading all the way down to the Mediterranean.

This 12,000-year-old massive underground network is very impressive.

Some experts believe the network was a way of protecting man from predators while others suggest the idea that the linked tunnels were used like motorways are today, for people to travel safely regardless of wars or violence or even weather above ground. They could be described as a kind of ancient underground superhighway.

Others think the tunnels can be seen as a gateway to the underworld.

The story seems to have originated from a gross misinterpretation of a 2011 article in the German news magazine Der Spiegel that detailed mysterious tunnels found throughout parts of Europe known as "Erdstall." The myth version also references the work of a German prehistorian, Heinrich Kusch, who along with his wife Ingrid authored a 2009 German-language book about the Erdstall tunnels. The Kusches believed the tunnels were built 5,000 (not 12,000) years ago, and scientific evidence places Erdstall at an even more recent timeframe than the Kusches suspected:

A few radiocarbon dating analyses have also been performed, and they indicate that the galleries date back to the 10th to the 13th century. Bits of charcoal recovered from the Erdstall tunnels in Höcherlmühle date back to the period between 950 and 1050 A.D.

The Erdstall tunnels are not an interconnected highway between Scotland and Turkey (which would have required people with rudimentary tools to dig a tunnel under the North Sea or the English Channel to reach mainland Europe). The tunnels comprise multiple unconnected passageways that have been found mainly in Germany, Austria, France, Ireland and Scotland:

As a result of the international cooperation of the Erdstall working group, new clues have come to light. The galleries are also concentrated in parts of Ireland and Scotland, and there are also clusters in central France.

This distribution bears intriguing parallels to the routes of the Irish-Scottish traveling monks who, coming from the Celtic north in the 6th century, traveled across the continent as missionaries. The tattooed monks made the passage to the continent from the islands, carrying long staffs and wearing coarse habits.

The legendary Kilian, born in Ireland around 640 A.D., preached in the southern German city of Würzburg. According to a hagiography, angry natives killed him and buried him in a stable. St. Gall (died 640 A.D.) made it as far as Lake Constance.

Ahlborn speculates that these early Christian missionaries also brought along heathen ideas, the remnants of Druid scholarship or special Celtic concepts of the afterlife, which led to the construction of the subterranean galleries.

While there isn't evidence that Erdstall tunnels have been discovered as far east as Turkey, large and sophisticated underground cities in that country's Cappadocia region have been unearthed and explored in recent years, perhaps the most famous of which is Derinkuyu:

In 2013, construction workers demolishing low-income homes ringing [a Byzantine-era hilltop castle in Nevşehir] discovered entrances to a network of rooms and tunnels. The city halted the housing project, called in archaeologists and geophysicists, and began investigating ...

In 2014, those tunnels led scientists to discover a multilevel settlement of living spaces, kitchens, wineries, chapels, staircases, and bezirhane—linseed presses for producing lamp oil to light the underground city. Artifacts including grindstones, stone crosses, and ceramics indicate the city was in use from the Byzantine era through the Ottoman conquest.

Like Derinkuyu, the site appears to have been a large, self-sustaining complex with air shafts and water channels. When danger loomed, Cappadocians retreated underground, blocked the access tunnels with round stone doors, and sealed themselves in with livestock and supplies until the threat passed.

While the underground labyrinths in Turkey were relatively advanced and were used to shelter residents from danger, the purpose of the European Erdstall tunnels is still mysterious. Unlike the underground structures in Turkey, where a 300-year old Ottoman paper trail guided modern researchers to key infrastructure, there are no written records about the Erdstall tunnels in Europe. According to Der Spiegel, there is disagreement as to whether they were shelters from marauders and robbers, spaces for perceived spirits or souls of the dead, or even toilets. Except for a few seemingly random items such as an iron plowshare and a few millstones, the tunnels are not just empty but "swept clean," which seems to add to the mystery of their purpose.

While research on these archaeological phenomena is bound to continue and more answers may be forthcoming, we found no credible evidence of the existence of a 12,000-year-old subterranean highway system stretching from Scotland through mainland Europe, all the way to Turkey.


SimpleCapacity.com.   "OFF THE RECORD 12,000 Year Old Massive Underground Tunnels Are Real and Stretch from Scotland to Turkey."

Schulz, Matthias.   "Experts Baffled by Mysterious Underground Chambers."   Der Spiegel.   22 July 2011.

Pinkowski, Jennifer.   "Massive Underground City Found in Cappadocia Region of Turkey."   National Geographic.   26 March 2015.

Bethania Palma is a journalist from the Los Angeles area who has been working in the news industry since 2006.

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