A great deal has been written about and made much of in alternative archaeology books about how and why our technologically primitive ancestors were able to carve out, transport and erect massive multi-ton stone blocks into megalithic monuments of well, monumental size. The implication is that since there is no doubting the existence of these structures, our ancestors must of in fact possessed an advanced technology or had assistance from those who did (i.e. – ‘ancient astronauts’). That runs contrary to the standard model of scholarly archaeology. But the questions remain.
Perhaps I’d better say what I mean by massive multi-ton stone blocks. I mean stones that are at least several tons in weight, up to the largest known carved (but still in-situ and unused) stone block weighing in at roughly 1250 tons. That’s not the record however for there is, apparently, a stele base in China that weighs in at 16,250 tons. I mean these are stones that aren’t trivial to toss around, even today. And while not all major continents and countries have megalithic stone monuments, like North America (USA & Canada) or Australia (including New Zealand) that still leaves a lot of places, and well known places, that do.
How and why these megaliths were constructed is no trivial matter. For our ancestors to go to such lengths and expend such efforts, well these stone monuments were obviously very important to them, and it’s important to us to figure out how and why they did it. Using large stone blocks instead of wood or even small stone blocks or bricks must have served a purpose despite the greater hardships involved. So, why did our ancient ancestors need large stones; and how did they handle them?
As to the why, presumably, for starters, if you decide to use stone, then it’s important enough a material serving a purpose(s) that necessitates lasting for all practical purposes an ‘eternity’. If you build something to last, at least back then, you use stone, the larger the better. But for what purpose did the ancients need such megalithic giants?
Issues Arising: Purpose
These ancient societies or cultures spent an awful lot of resources to build things that were relatively peripheral to their basic needs. The Easter Islanders could survive without those Moai statues; ancient Egypt would still have been a ‘superpower’ even without those pyramids, the Giza Sphinx, massive statues of some New Kingdom pharaohs (like Ramesses II – often called Ramesses the Great), stele and obelisks. The Parthenon in Athens was just a shrine to one of the Greek deities (Athena), and similar observations could be extended to the thousands of other monumental megalithic temples and monuments around the world which were mainly ceremonial in function.
It’s difficult to figure out how Stonehenge contributed to the basic survival needs of the local population – you don’t need to construct something of that magnitude just to tell you what season it is! If you need to mark, say the Summer Solstice, all you need have is a traditionally and permanently well marked and easily identified Point A, where you can observe some fixed structure like a rock on the Horizon, that’s Point B, and when the Sun arises directly over Point B, that’s the longest day of the year. There’s no need to engage in any sort of backbreaking toil or construction whatever.
If a society can afford to spend time and effort and money on secondary projects, say like in modern society various public art works compared to primary projects like roads (transport), schools (education) and hospitals (health care), then you have to conclude that that society was well off given that they could divert basic resources from primary projects to undertake projects of a secondary nature. Either that, or that which looks to us as relatively trivial or unimportant like Stonehenge or Carnac (Brittany, France) or those Easter Island statues or the Sphinx actually held a primary function incomprehensible to us but which rivalled in importance housing and insuring adequate food supplies and similar things vital to their day-to-day survival.
Issues Arising: Logistics
There’s also the logistics problem. You need a large workforce that had to be fed and clothed and housed and cared for, especially fed. There wasn’t exactly a nearby supermarket where endless supplies could be purchased. Further, while employed on these quarrying, transporting and construction projects the workers couldn’t be gainfully employed elsewhere to provide basics like hunting and gathering for food or even tending to domesticated livestock and agricultural crops. The workers couldn’t have been used for serving in the army, or any other useful and necessary task. All of this carving, transporting and construction were not just busy work designed to keep the rabble off the streets and out of trouble, and slave labour wasn’t usually in vogue either, contrary to many popular Hollywood images. Of course in the case of the Giza Sphinx, it was carved, but wasn’t transported, nor constructed per say. Still, the logistics in caving that massive stone statue from a rock outcrop would have been enormous, and the reason(s) for doing so of vast importance to the powers-that-be.
Issues Arising: Ways and Means: The How!
Though our focus and interest is often on the construction phase, as in how was that done, that’s usually just one-third of the hard yards. Take those 2.3 million blocks that make up the Great Pyramid at Giza. Phase One: each block had to be carved to size. You just didn’t hack out rocks at random and put them in place. That carving alone is hard yakka and helped keep up a state of full employment. Hard yakka Phase Two was transporting those carved blocks from the various quarries – some local, some not – to action city, the Giza Plateau. More full employment. The how in Phase One and Two isn’t usually all that mysterious – just bloody hard backbreaking work. Anyway, back to the construction – Phase Three.
To me the major mystery is not so much how you get something from the horizontal to the vertical, like an obelisk, (that was demonstrated on the NOVA TV series “Secrets of Lost Empires”), but how you get a massive multi-ton stone block raised straight up, say 20 to 30 to 40 or more feet to act as a lintel, like those at Stonehenge or on all those Greco-Roman and Egyptian temples, like say the Parthenon. One can always conceive of building sand or dirt ramps to haul massive lintels upwards into place, hence removing the sand or dirt after-the-fact, but if you think about it, such infrastructure is a far more labour intensive and an all-round major project in its own right. For example, constructing a sand ramp to haul those multi-ton stone blocks for the Giza pyramids would require a greater volume of material to be put into place (and of course later removed) than that of the volume of material required to build the pyramid in question in the first place. Of course if the project is that important, and if there is just no other way – well there’s always those hard options.
To illustrate as an example of just how bad our knowledge of our remote ancient ancestors really is, here’s a trilogy of extracts from classical scholar Nigel Rodgers in his text “The Ancient Greek World: People and Places” (2010):
“[T]he Greeks relied on their intellectual powers and their remarkably skilled craftsmanship to erect their buildings. Few details survive of their actual building techniques, however.”
“Cranes were almost certainly used to help raise the masonry up to the temples during construction, although no traces of such machinery have been found.”
“How the Athenians assembled these temples, and indeed housed and fed the large, highly skilled workforce required to build them, so efficiently is unknown.”
So, now let’s look at alternatives as offered in some alt-archaeological texts.
One theory sometimes seen in alt-archaeological tomes is that these massive blocks didn’t start out as massive blocks, just like a brick doesn’t start out as a brick, but rather they were poured into place, in a mould, like concrete or cement. Sorry, but modern petrologists’ could easily detect such. Often in fact the quarry from where the stone originated can be precisely identified, though that often raises the question then of transport, since the distances twixt quarry site and construction site can be hundreds of miles. That’s an issue that applies to Stonehenge as well as some of the stonework for the Giza pyramids.
If you really want to go far-out, star-scout, let’s try antigravity! Anti-gravity is only available in one form, dark energy. Dark energy is that mysterious antigravity force that’s causing the expanding Universe to keep on expanding at ever faster and faster rates, in defiance of gravity which should slow the expansion rate down. Alas, dark energy, which while dominant over the scale of the entire Universe, is trivial locally relative to Earth’s intense gravity field.
Alt-archaeology texts are full of references to sound energy that levitates (negates gravity) and thus massive blocks of stone can be floated around and put into place even with just the oomph of an infant, just by making the appropriate sound at the appropriate level.. Sound of course can be focused. We all know and appreciate the science of acoustics in theatres. Sound can shatter objects, well at least relatively fragile objects like wine glasses when subjected to the professional projections of the trained human voice (or equivalent). However, if you crunch the numbers, the energy required to negate gravity is way outside the realm of which sound energy can muster. Considering the cacophony of sounds the human race produces daily, you’d think that all the relevant elements would come together somewhere, sometime and ‘just so’ as to produce levitation in something, levitation observed and photographed for the record. Alas, not so.
In some constructions, it’s not just a matter of manipulating massive but irregular stone blocks but fitting them together like a jigsaw puzzle, results that are immediately apparent at sites around the world, like those from the Incan Empire. Precision carving in stone using only other stone or copper tools is not easy by any stretch of the imagination. It’s not simple; it’s extremely exhausting and time consuming work. Double that when all your blocks aren’t a standard square block size and shape.
What Do Our Ancestors Say?
Pity that although the ancients left all manner of images behind of their daily lives and culture, I find it amazing that despite all of those multi-thousands of images from ancient Greece, Rome, Egypt, the Americas, etc. not one shows an actual half-finished or partly constructed monument, like a pyramid, or a temple like the Parthenon that’s under construction, or whatever. That’s highly anomalous IMHO, though there are images of ancient Egyptians transporting massive stone blocks.
However, even some of those ancient cultures were puzzled as to how their even more ancient ancestors achieved these megalithic ‘missions impossible’.
There’s something very odd when the natural descendents of ‘primitive’ natives resort to tales akin to sci-fi or science-fantasy to account for how their ancestors constructed, transported and erected massive stone monoliths.
Easter Islanders say that their Moai statues walked by themselves from quarry to their final resting (actually standing) place. Who am I to argue with first hand or on-the-spot observations, except Thor Heyerdahl’s “Aku-Aku” team accomplished the same with less elegant but with pure grunt power. Walking stone statues are just a bit too far into the “Twilight Zone” for comfort. Actually for some reason Easter Islanders at some point downed their stone tools and abandoned their statue constructions for reasons not entirely clear other than priorities altered. The abandoned unfinished statues can still be seen today, lying in place, now long neglected.
Also in the Pacific region, Nan Modal is an ancient city of about 0.75 square kilometres off the coast of the island of Pohnpei in what’s today termed Micronesia. The city is comprised of artificial islands criss-crossed by canals, and thus often referred to as the Venice of the Pacific. Those ‘islands’ however are built up of massive megalithic stone walls up to 25 feet high. How so? Well the stones were carried on site on the backs of dragons apparently. To be honest, that makes as much sense as anything else.
I noted above that allegedly sound could levitate massive stone blocks. That theory or observation is found in both South America and ancient Egypt – massive stones are somehow lifted and transported by sound. I still think that’s highly suspect and I think scientists would need an actual modern-day demonstration. I know I would.
As I noted above, it’s not the caving or the transport that’s the real issue, nor going from the horizontal to the vertical that’s a real problem, rather the issue is lifting massive stones straight up that I especially puzzle over.
The puzzlement relates to our own use of stones in building projects. We could I guess, if we wanted to, build our buildings out of mega-ton blocks of stone. But we don’t. Your house, if it contains building stones at all, are stones that are probably akin to weights of just several pounds, maybe dozens of pounds; hardly tons.
So do we have a major mystery here? Well yes, especially when compared to modern society as noted immediately above. In our modern high-tech age, when we do use stone as a construction material, it’s in manageable bits and pieces. We don’t build our homes or office buildings or ballparks or monuments out of multi-ton to multi-hundred ton stone blocks as the ancients did. But when duty called, like when Abu Simbel had to be relocated to a higher elevation when the Aswan High Dam was constructed giving rise to Lake Nasser and the flooding of the historical site, even using modern technology it was still a major and massive effort.
A Possible Solution
Perhaps we can kill two anomalous birds with one hypothetical stone.
Universal One: As we note, from the Americas (Mesoamerica and South America at least); throughout Europe and the Near and Middle East, Egypt and other parts of Africa, even unto Asia and the Pacific region, there are ancient megalithic constructions using stone blocks in the multi mega-ton range. How did the ancients carve, transport, raise and position such massive stone blocks?
Universal Two: Also around the world, there’s a universal theme of giants, from the Cyclopes in Greco-Roman cultures, to Biblical giants to – well you name the culture and I’ll guarantee they will have giants as a core element in their mythologies. For samplers, here’s just a partial list of giants. Well there’s Angrboda (Norse), Argos (Greek), Balor (Irish), Biloko (Zaire), Bungisngis (Philippines), the Cyclopes (Greek), Geryon (Greek), the Gigantes (Greek), Goliath (Biblical), Grendel (Anglo-Saxon), the Hecatonchires (Greek), Hrungnir (Norse), Humbaba (Mesopotamia), the Nephilim (Biblical), Skrymir (Norse), Suttung (Norse), Talos (Greek), the Titans (Greek), and Ymir (Norse). Further, you have all manner of giant trolls and ogres (Scandinavian), various giant apemen like the Yeti and Bigfoot/Sasquatch and numerous others, as well as the Giants of Cornwall (led by Gogmagog).
Well, what’s ‘mission: impossible’ for a young child, is possible for an adult; what’s ‘mission: impossible’ for adult humans might be possible for a giant(s). A giant twice as large as a typical human will have eight times the muscle power, since muscles are 3-D, doubling in length, width and height; and thusly 2 x 2 x 2 = 8.
What Do Our Ancestors Say Revisited?
Ancient Greeks often attributed various massive stone constructions to the Cyclopes, as an example. Such massive structures are termed the Cyclopean walls since the Cyclopes and only the Cyclopes could have built these structures. Perseus had them responsible for building the walls of Mycenae, including the Lion Gate; Proitos attributed them building the walls of Tiryns. The medieval Danish historian Saxo Grammaticus cited the Roman ruins as evidence that giants must once have walked the Earth. And who built the Giant’s Causeway on the Northern Irish Coast?
Is this too far out? I’m open to other suggestions, but at least it doesn’t require high-tech alien assistance, unless of course those worldwide mythological giants, like the Cyclopes, were aliens!
Appendix: A few notable megalithic monuments.
1) Some unfinished in-situ megaliths.
*Baalbek (Lebanon) has two unfinished stones weighing in at 1000 to 1250 tons apiece.
*There’s an unfinished Egyptian obelisk at Assuan that’s all up comes to roughly 1100 tons.
2) Some finished and transported megaliths.
*Stonehenge: some stones are up to 40 tons.
*The Avebury stone circle, England, has as its largest stone one over 40 tons.
*The famous fortress of Mycenae, Greece has stones close to 100 tons in weight.
*The Parthenon in Athens, Greece has some of its largest stones weighing in at 10 tons.
*Those Easter Island (Rapa Nui to the locals) Moai can weigh up to 70, even one up to 86 tons.
*The Colossi of Memnon are two Egyptian statues of Pharaoh Amenhotep III coming in at 700 tons each.
*Ramesses II (Ramesses the Great) was not shy about erecting statues to honour himself. One of his numerous dozens of monumental statues commissioned to image self (at Luxor) – 100 tons worth of stone. But that’s featherweight class.
*Ramesses II was only just getting warmed up. There’s a statue at Thebes, Egypt, part of the Ramessum, the mortuary temple of the pharaoh in question, of 1000 tons. Now that’s heavyweight status.
*Egyptian obelisks weren’t minuscule. There’s one at 227 tons (Luxor); one at 328 tons (Karnak).
*Great Pyramid at Giza, Egypt is well known as overkill when it comes to constructing a tomb. Though the average weight of each stone block is ‘only’ 2.5 tons, the largest slabs comprising the burial chamber, come in at 80 tons.
*Apart from the Great Pyramid, other Egyptian pyramids, in fact most, if not all other, Egyptian pyramids have some monolithic blocks of over 20 tons, including monolithic roof slabs, plugs and burial vaults, some of which weigh in at over 100 tons.
South and Central America
*Those well known but mysterious Olmec heads in Mesoamerica aren’t trivial works when carved down to some 50 tons all up.
*The Inca city of Machu Picchu, Peru has large stones part and parcel of its construction weighing in from 20 to 50 tons apeice.
*There’s a very famous Aztec calendar stone at Tenochtitlan, Mexico that weighs considerably more than the wall calendar you hang up at home. Weight, 24 tons.
*Palenque, Mexico is a famous Mayan site, especially thanks to Erich Von Daniken. The largest stones on site weigh 12 to 15 tons.
Further suggested readings
Childress, David Hatcher; Technology of the Gods: The Incredible Sciences of the Ancients; Adventures Unlimited Press, Kempton, Illinois; 2000:
De Camp, L. Sprague; The Ancient Engineers; Ballantine Books, New York; 1974:
De Camp, L. Sprague & De Camp; Catherine C; Citadels of Mystery; Fontana/Collins, London; 1972:
Hancock, Graham; Fingerprints of the Gods: A Quest for the Beginning and the End; Mandarin, London; 1996:
Hancock, Graham & Faiia, Santha; Heaven’s Mirror: Quest for the Lost Civilization; Penguin Books, London; 1999:
National Geographic Society; Mysteries of Mankind: Earth’s Unexplained Landmarks; National Geographic Society, Washington, D.C.; 1992:
National Geographic Society; Mysteries of the Ancient World; National Geographic Society, Washington, D.C.; 1979:
Von Daniken, Erich; Chariots of the Gods?; Souvenir Press, London; 1969:
Von Daniken, Erich; Gods from Outer Space; Souvenir Press, London; 1970:
NOVA; Secrets of Lost Empires; PBS/WGBH, Boston; 2006:
NOVA; Secrets of Lost Empires II; PBS/WGBH, Boston; 2008:
There’s also been dozens of books/videos written/produced specifically about the archaeological mysteries of Stonehenge, ancient Egyptian monuments including the pyramids, Easter Island, the ruins of Mesoamerica and South America, etc. Consult your local library.