Massive 5,000-year-old burial monument unearthed in Kenya

View of Lothagam North Pillar Kenya, built by eastern Africa's earliest herders around 5000 years ago, researchers say. Megaliths, stone circles, and cairns can be seen behind the 30m platform mound.

Lagos, Nigeria (CNN)Kenya's arid, gullied Lothagam Valley is a throwback to a very distant past. Now, the region is the site of a discovery that has the potential to change how the world views ancient societies and the way they operated.

A team of researchers from Stony Brook University and the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History have discovered a massive, elaborate cemetery in the region that is the largest and oldest in Eastern Africa. Here, temperatures can rise to 40 degrees Celsius (104 Fahrenheit), and the vast, rocky landscape can look like a desert planet from the "Star Trek" movies -- or Mars.
"This discovery challenges earlier ideas about monumentality," said Elizabeth Sawchuk of the Department of Anthropology, Social & Behavioral Sciences at Stony Brook University in New York.
    For decades, Lothagam's well-preserved grandeur has fascinated archaeologists. The researchers wanted to study a large community of animal herders thought to have built the Lothagam North Pillar site, a communal cemetery, about 5,000 years ago.
    The herders built a platform approximately 30 meters in diameter, with a deep cavi