Will Hart

Settling an Old Controversy
"how the ancients built the stone monuments"

A long-standing debate some refer to as a mystery confronts us. How were the Great Pyramid, Tiahaunaco and other monolithic and megalithic monuments in Egypt, Peru and elsewhere constructed, moved and lifted into place? Some people believe that matter has been settled because several teams were able to build and move inexact replicas or demonstrated that it is possible to move a block of stone weighing several tons using primitive methods.

However, those simulations did not prove that the methods modern scholars ascribe to the construction of ancient artifacts could work. In fact, it appears that they actually proved the opposite, as we will see. At any rate, this article will definitively show they could not have been manipulated using primitive methods.

How? A man may be able to lift 350 pounds off the ground, but that doesn't mean he can lift 3,500 pounds. The problem quickly goes from difficult to impossible as you add weight to an object that has to be moved. We could frame it another way. If I claimed that I was the strongest man in the world and I could lift 3,500 lbs. and Ripley's took me up on that boast. Do you think they would include me in the record book for lifting 350 pounds? Of course not and I would be foolish for even trying that kind of trick.

But that is exactly what the academic promoters of the "primitive method" theory have done. Oddly enough, the public seems to have bought into the hoax. In 1994 NOVA sponsored a team of experts that wanted to prove the old theory, dispose of "alternative theories" and lay the debate to rest. As NOVA writers framed it: "In 1995, the NOVA team dared to demonstrate firsthand what has mystified historians for millennia: how to raise an obelisk using only materials and techniques the ancient Egyptians might have used."

The team included an archeologist, a master stonemason and one of Egypt's foremost specialists in moving heavy statues, Aly el Gasab. They chose to quarry, dress and lift a 35-ton obelisk. That was a cheat right away. The largest Egyptian obelisks weigh 400 tons.

The problem is even more complex than people generally suppose. Setting the finished stone in place is only one part of the building process. The first step involves cutting the stones away from the matrix rock at the quarry. Then it has to be dressed into a transportable shape. Next it has to be transported, sometimes great distances, from the quarry to the construction site and then lifted.

With what tools did the ancient Egyptians free the stone from the matrix rock? According to the archeologist they used dolorite hammers. How were the stones transported? Gasab said they would use ropes and wooden sledges. The first problem, and it proved insurmountable, came when they soon realized the dolorite hammers could not do the job. That "ancient method" was quickly abandoned.

The ancients executed considerable engineering feats. We gain a useful perspective by examining a modern day moving attempt. In 1996 The University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archeology found that it needed to renovate an Egyptian burial tomb that was part of its collection. An article from the department's newsletter contains the following sub-heading.

Massive moving effort "…the treated section of the tomb chapel was disassembled, including one block which alone weighs five tons, and moved to the Conserv- ation Technical Associates Connecticut Lab. Due to the massive size and weight of the chapel blocks, special handling equipment was employed for removal from the chapel."

Why is a five-ton lid considered a "massive" size and weight with the modern equipment the movers had? Much larger monolithic stones were "easily" manipulated by the primitive methods used by the ancients according to historians and archeologists. A special block and tackle system and rollers had to be set up to lift the slab and move it out of the chapel. What would they say if they had to move and lift the 2.5 million stones that went into the construction of the Great Pyramid some weighing 50 tons?

Examining how several modern day monuments were built is a fascinating juxtaposition. The Statue of Liberty is a beacon to the world. The actual statue, less the pedestal, stands 151' high from the base to the torch and 305' from the foundation of the pedestal to the top. It was made in Paris. Construction began in 1875 and was completed in 1884. The statue was made of copper. Steel was added to the structure to increase its strength.

Following its completion in France it was shipped to the U.S; broken down into 350 pieces that were packed into 214 crates. Lady Liberty's head is 17'3" from chin to cranium. Her right arm is 42' long. Her sandal is 25 feet, a ladies size 879! It is a stunning piece of work and a profound symbol; it is also massive.

When we look at the total weight of the copper and steel that went into the statue it really puts an edge on the 'ancient construction' problem: 200,000 pounds, or 100 tons, of copper were used then add 250,000 pounds, 150 tons, of steel. That is a combined weight of 250-tons. Two and half million stones went into the Great Pyramid and the estimated weight is 6 million tons! The largest stone blocks in the pyramid weigh about 70 tons. However, there are numerous 40, 100, 200 and a few 400-ton blocks of precisely cut stones in Peru that had to be hauled a considerable distance and then fit into place at various sites.

The Statue of Liberty was assembled in New York using cranes. What did the Maya use to raise Setele E the Quiroga site, which is 35' high and weighs 65-tons? They did not have the benefit of block and tackle let alone cranes and as far as we know they didn't have cables or high strength rope.

After throwing in the towel on the first basic challenge, the NOVA team brought in bulldozers and other modern equipment to quarry and move the 35-ton obelisk. This is a rather stunning fact. The team was comprised of top professionals who had the benefit of 5,000 years of engineering history to draw upon. What did the ancient Egyptians have?

Mount Rushmore yields a different kind of perspective. This amazing monument sits where it was sculpted out of solid rock in the mountains of South Dakota. It is a massive work of art and a wonderful testimony to key figures in American history. The epic sculpture features 60-foot high faces, 500 feet off the ground. How and why was it made?

In 1923 state historian Doane Robinson wanted to memorialize the history of the West by carving some giant statues in the Black Hills. Backers thought it was a great idea that also might attract tourists to the state. A sculptor by the name of Gutzon Borghum was brought in to do the work. In an era when many artists scorned traditional patriotism, Borghum made his name through celebration of things American. He had already achieved a degree of fame by remodeling the torch for the Statue of Liberty.

A crucial change was made when Borghum entered the picture. The master sculptor refused to work on anything that was not of national importance. The committee agreed to his selection of Washington, Jefferson, Roosevelt and Lincoln.

A huge amount of rock had to be removed as the sculptor and his assistants worked. Dynamite was used to remove 90 percent of the unneeded rock, about 450,000 tons of it. It took 14 years from start to finish. The actual carving used up about half of that time. The rest was spent on blasting. He had a crew of 400 skilled men under his supervision working with high-powered drills. Most of the men were experienced hard- rock miners. They were accustomed to strenuous work, harsh conditions and long hours.

Could all the slaves in Egypt really lift and drag millions of tons of stones with rope and wooden sleds? According to the Nova team's experiment, they could not have used the dolorite hammers to quarry the stone that historians claimed were the only tools they had at the time. The Nova team did not even try to move the obelisk. Once the bulldozer had quarried it the piece was hauled to the site by truck. The second cheat; strike two.

The Washington Monument is an elegant testimony to America's first president. It is reminiscent of Egyptian and Roman obelisks. The monument is 555' high, the tallest freestanding stone structure in the world. The cap at the top weighs 300 tons and the weight of the entire structure is 90,859 tons. But the monument is not a single solid piece of stone, it is hollow inside and was built in stages.

The Lincoln Memorial statue is 19' high and weighs 175 tons. It is a fitting testimony to the man who had the misfortune to be president during the civil war. The statue is large and imposing. The weight of it is similar to mid-sized statuary and obelisks in Egypt and there are many comparable artifacts in Peru.

These are examples of modern large-scale stone work and large monuments. But nearly all have been constructed using modern equipment and machinery. This in no way detracts from the artistry, craftsmanship or the spirit embodied in them. Who wouldn't utilize state-of-art tools to accomplish such Herculean tasks? The NOVA team sure did. They reluctantly admitted their failures but they pressed on to at least try to prove they could lift it using the one primitive method they had left.

That brings us back to the main issue. How did the ancient builders cut, dress and move 20 to 200-ton blocks of stone? We've all seen a diesel tractor-trailer with a load of 10 new full-size American automobiles driving down the freeway headed for the new car lot. The combined weight of the vehicles is about 15 tons. If you are getting the idea that the magnitude of the problem is severe, you're right!

We are not saying it is impossible to move the 1 and 2-ton stones using the primitive methods ascribed to the builders of the Great Pyramid. We are saying that it is impossible to move a 200-ton stone using those methods!

If you have ever done any landscaping that involved moving boulders around you know what is involved. It takes a 300 horsepower diesel engine and hydraulic lifter to pick up a 7- ton granite slab. That is a cut and dry fact. The Great Pyramid consists largely of stones weighing 1 to 2 tons, however, there are 20-ton, 40-ton and 60-ton blocks and the largest block at Giza hoisted up several hundred feet. They could not have been moved by the methods that scientists claim they were moved. The NOVA team was just attempting a single rather smallish obelisk that was not going to be lifted upwards as the elevated tiers of the pyramid demanded of those building blocks.

We are back to the principle outlined at the beginning of the article. Because you can lift up and carry 10 sleeping children weighing 30 lbs each from the van to the house, one at a time, doesn't mean you can lift up one 300 lb man and carry him up a flight of stairs.

The ancients did not have jackhammers, dynamite, loaders, tractor-trailers, cranes, hoists, pulleys, dray animals or block and tackle devices. This is the kind of equipment it would take to handle megalithic stones. Part of the difficulty in grasping the engineering problem involved seems to stem from the fact that we don't build with monolithic stones in the modern era. If we routinely saw the kind of equipment that is needed to manage a 50-ton stone the average person might have a better appreciation of the underlying dynamics of this long-standing debate.

When the problem is broken down and compared to every day experiences and how we handle these kinds of challenges in the present, reality and pragmatism start to sink in. The typical boxcar on a train weighs about 25 tons and can handle a payload of around 60 tons. A 48' tandem tractor-trailer has a load capacity of approximately 20 tons.

To be more cogent to the problem at hand we need to examine the latest Caterpillar equipment used in quarry operations. The 973C track loader has a 229 horsepower engine. It has an operating weight of almost 30 tons, a big machine. The bucket is rated at a maximum capacity of 4 yards, which is a little over 4 tons. That means one bucket can pick up 4 tons of rock and dump it into a waiting dump truck.

The 771D off-highway Caterpillar dump truck weighs about 90 tons. It runs on a 518 horsepower diesel engine, a very large dump truck. The payload capacity is 45 tons. It would take the loader 10 trips to fill up the dump truck presumably with rocks and gravel. But the loader cannot lift a single 40-ton megalith. You need a crane for that.

There are a number of cranes on the market that are rated to the 100 and even 300-ton capacity. They could handle the 40 to 300-ton blocks. However, it takes a specially made crane to lift anything above that tonnage. NASA had to make a custom crane with a lifting capacity of 430 tons to lift the shuttle during attachment to the fuel tanks. There is a New York engineering company that also has a specialty crane with a lift capacity of 500 tons that is used to lift other cranes to the top of high-rise construction sites. These are custom pieces of equipment used for specialized operations.

But as huge as the dump truck described above is - it so big that it cannot travel on the highway - we would also need an even bigger truck. Out of luck again. The biggest earthmovers used in large-scale open pit mining operations max out at about the 350-ton carrying capacity. It is preposterous to think that a group of men could do what it takes out largest pieces of machinery to achieve.

The NOVA team tried valiantly to lift the obelisk in place but that too failed. Strike three!

They took a hiatus and came back three years later. This time at the plate they decided to skip the first two steps and concentrate on the visual pay off, lifting it into place in the second attempt. They succeeded in doing it the second time, but what did the two efforts prove? They actually demonstrated that the pyramid could not have been built using the "primitive theory" methods. The Egyptian who owns the rock quarry was asked what he thought about it. He replied that he did not think, "Any attempt below 100 tons proved anything." He is absolutely correct and his point says it all.

The bottom line is that we can barely move a 300-ton megalithic block of granite today; they surely did not do so with primitive means in the distant past. You may as well believe they used teleportation or some other magical means because that is as practical a solution as the old dolorite hammers, wooden sledges and ropes concept. So how did they build the monuments? No one knows. If any scientist or engineer still desires to debate this issue, the author would be happy to oblige in any public forum. I would be even happier to arrange a test of proposed methods.

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