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      Prehistoric Construction Techniques.

Brick-Ties at Puma PunkaCuzco, Peru.Mortise and Tennon - Osireion, Abydoss.OllantaytamboMachu Pichu

The earliest examples of stone masonry in both the 'Old' and 'New' worlds demonstrates a high skill level, something which is often suggested as being a result of the existing knowledge of carpentry at the transition in working from wood to stone. This idea is borne out somewhat in Egypt where for example, the masonry of the ceilings in the temples of 1st dynasty Saqqara were carved to imitate the 'reed-bundle' ceilings of pre-dynastic Egypt. There is however, no evidence of such a transition in the Americas.

Featured Masonry Techniques:

The transport and use of unnecessarily large blocks of stone, the specific selectivity of stone type along with various examples of 'extreme' masonry at numerous sacred and ancient monuments is starting to reveal a reverence for stone itself, an idea which has foundation in mythology, religion and can still be seen today at Jerusalem, Mecca, the 'Lignum' of India and at the crowning of any new king or Queen in UK (i.e. Scottish 'Stone-of-scone', English 'kings-stone') etc.

It is noticeable that there are several specific construction techniques in the masonry of (apparently unrelated) cultures from around the ancient world. The specific similarity in design, technique and engineering skills is, in  certain cases very suggestive of a common source of knowledge, or at the least - of contact between cultures. In response, it has been argued that such similarities are 'co-evolutionary', being the natural result of working with stone.

The following examples demonstrate the sophisticated skills of the prehistoric masons.



   Folded Corners:

Several structures show the blocks cut with an internal angle, so as to 'fold' the stone around corner's. It is suggested that this was incorporated as an earthquake 'preventative'.


Valley-Temple, Ghiza, Egypt. - There are several stones with this design feature in the valley-temple. It is interesting to note that the stones  have been cut so as to continue only a short distance around the corner which hints at the idea that style might have been involved (rather than, or as well as, function).


Luxor, Egypt. (Left), Machu Pichu, Peru (Right).



   Multi Facetted Stones:

It is often suggested that this design feature was incorporated into constructions as an 'earthquake' preventative. The fact that the constructions exist in such good condition after so long, in itself supports this idea.


Multi-faceted stones - Valley-temple, Ghiza, Egypt.

While the Egyptian examples (above), followed a horizontal plane, the South American examples (below), are polygonal, apparently following neither vertical nor horizontal planes, a process which would have required a considerably higher level of technical skill.



The Inca masonry of south America is probably the finest the world has ever seen.


S. America, Cuzco. 'Stone of the twelve Angels'. (2)



Sacsayhuaman - One of the greatest walls of all time.

One of the 300 Ahu Platforms surrounding Easter Island. Made of Basalt and with blocks several tons each, The style of masonry shows a stark similarity to South American masonry examples above.



   Metal Block-Ties:

Another construction feature commonly suggested as an earthquake preventative is the means used to join huge blocks together. It is believed that copper (or silver) was used at Tiahuanaco (below), both of which are soft metals.


Some examples from the 'Old-World' (Namely Egypt, and Cambodia)..

From left to right: Angkor Watt,  Karnak, and Denderra.


And from the 'New-World'.: Tiahuanaco, and  Ollantaytambo.

It has also been suggested that these 'ties' were employed to 'ground' structures properly (often made of conducting Quartzite).



   Quarry-Marks (for splitting stone):

The megalithic builders employed the same method of splitting quartz, at different locations all around the world. This is not unusual, as it is probably the best method, and is still widely used today. By far the easiest way of splitting Quartz stone is to chip a series of holes into the stone, which are then packed with 'wedges and shims' (made of wood). Following the addition of water, the wedges expanded and the stone splits along the line.



Examples from S. America: Left: Machu Pichu (1) and Right: Cuzco.



From Egypt: Menkaure's pyramid, Giza (left), and at Aswan (right).


From Carnac, France, (left), and Castleruddery, Ireland (right).


More examples from Portugal (left), and From Malta (right).

(Click here for more on this subject)



   'Manoeuvring Protuberances' :

These small protuberances are found on the oldest (and arguably most sacred) Egypt and South American constructions. They are generally assumed to have functioned as 'hitching points' for manoeuvring the blocks into place, however there are several examples where they have been left as if to demonstrate some other meaning...

The 'Boss' mark on the stone above the passage entry into the 'King's chamber' in the great pyramid is often suggested as being the remains of one of these protuberances.


They are found on the exterior granite facing-stones of Menkaure's Pyramid at Giza.

It is possible to see how the process of smoothing off of the granite casing stones was started on the Eastern face of Menkaures pyramid. The smoothing process was achieved with the use of Dolerite mauls which were able to pound the softer granite. This process can still be seen today at the Aswan granite quarries, where the granite for Giza originally came from.

abydos masonry

The same marks are also found in the Osireion, at Abydoss. One of the several reasons to support the theory that it was contemporary with the Valley temple at Ghiza.

Similar 'protuberances' can be seen at several Inca sites in South America.


At Ollantaytambo, Peru, the 'protuberances' take on a whole different meaning altogether, as they could almost be classed as stylised over functional.

Although both locations have the same 'protuberances', the Inca block-work was multi-faceted, while at Ghiza, they were laid in even courses.



   Mortise and Tenon Joints:

It is perhaps surprising to find that some of the earliest known examples of masonry exhibit a sophisticated understanding of joinery. This particular construction feature is reasonably explained as having followed the transition from building structures first from wood then stone.


Some examples of the Various 'Mortise and Tenon' joins used in the construction of The Osirion, at Abydoss, in Egypt. This is considered one of the oldest buildings in Egypt, and is quoted as having only one other structure of contemporary design, that being the Valley-Temple at Giza. Both structures used the technique of continuous-lintelled trilithon's, seen also at Stonehenge III.

(Click here for a comparison of the two structures)

Mortise-and-tenon joints had, of course, been used previously in Bronze Age ships in Egypt, as in the construction of the Khufu�s boat at Giza (ca. 2600 B. C.) and Senwosret III�s boats (ca. 1850 B.C.) at Dashur (Lipke 1984, 64; Steffy 1994, 25-27, 32-36, Patch and Haldane 1990).  These early Egyptian examples of mortise-and-tenons, however, were freestanding and not pegged to lock adjacent strakes to one another.  Rather, their primary function was to align the planks during construction, which were then fastened to each other with ligatures.  This tradition of shipbuilding appears to have persisted at least as late as the 5th century B.C. when Herodotus observed nearly identical construction methods still in use in Egypt.  In his oft-cited quotation, Herodotus noted that short planks were joined to each other with long, close-set tenons, which were then bound in the seams from within with papyrus fibers (Haldane & Shelmerdine 1990).  There is no mention of locking the close-set tenons with pegs.  The Egyptians were, however, fully aware of pegged mortise-and-tenon joints at last since the Old Kingdom (Dynasty III: ca. 2700-2600 B. C.) and used them in woodwork requiring this type of fastening (Lucas & Harris 1962, 451), but, as far as we can determine, they did not resort to their use in shipbuilding, unless they restricted their use to seagoing ships only, for which we have surviving examples. (9)


The Stonehenge Sarsen Stones: In its complete form the outermost stone setting would have consisted of a circle of 30 upright sarsen stones, of which 17 still stand, each weighing about 25 tons. The tops of these uprights were linked by a continuous ring of horizontal sarsen lintels, only a small part of which is now still in position. The stones in the sarsen circle were carefully shaped and the horizontal lintels joined not only by means of simple mortise-and-tenon joints, but they were also locked using what is effectively a dovetail joint. The edges were smoothed into a gentle curve which follows the line of the entire circle.

stonehenge trilithon

The sarsen-ring at Stonehenge (whose official inner diameter is 97ft or 1162.8 primitive inches), has a circumference of 3652.4 primitive inches. Note: This is also exactly one �quarter-aroura�, as measured in ancient Egypt (1). Sir Norman Lockyer also detected similarities between the masonry of the Blood/Chalice-well at Glastonbury and that which he had seen in Egypt.

The pictures above illustrate the sophisticated construction techniques applied to the Stonehenge sarsen-stones, which are dated at approximately 2,500 BC, however if we follow Lockyer's lead, and look closer at Egyptian masonry, we find similar features were applied to construction of the the Osirion (above), a temple dated to a far earlier time, and a site suggested by Lockyer to have alignments suggesting an association to the summer-solstice sunrise (2).

(More about Stonehenge)

And finally, from the Indus Valley Culture...

This incredible stone casting is from Harappa in Pakistan (c. 2,500-2,100 BC).



   Prehistoric Drilling:

It was claimed by Petrie that early dynastic Egyptians used drills for some of their constructions. The following images suggest he was right.

Evidence for drilling in ancient Egypt. Marks in the kings-coffer suggest that it too was hollowed by core-drilling.


The Capstones of Pierres Plates in France have what appear to be drill-marks on the top-sides.


The 'Drill-marks' on some stones match those on others, suggesting they were split in half.

(More about Pierres plates)

Surgical Drilling in Prehistory.

Although not directly connected with construction, evidence for drilling goes back several thousand years, as testified by the numerous examples of prehistoric dentistry and Trepanning, both involving drilling procedures.

 Article: MSNBC (2006) - Proving prehistoric man�s ingenuity and ability to withstand and inflict excruciating pain, researchers have found that dental drilling dates back 9,000 years.

Primitive dentists drilled nearly perfect holes into live but undoubtedly unhappy patients between 5500 B.C. and 7000 B.C., an article in Thursday�s issue of the journal Nature reports. Researchers carbon-dated at least nine skulls with 11 drill holes found in a Pakistan graveyard.

(Link to full article:

Trepanation: Skulls with signs of trepanning were found practically in all parts of the world where man has lived. Trepanning is probably the oldest surgical operation known to man: evidence for it goes back as far as in 40,000 year-old Cro-Magnon sites. The Egyptians invented the circular trephine, made by a tube with serrated borders, which cuts much easier by means of rotation, and which was then extensively used in Greece and Rome, and gave origin to the "crown" trephine, used in Europe from the first to the 19th century.

(Link to full article: )

(More about Prehistoric Surgery)

Mnajdra drill marks.

Hundreds of uniformly drilled holes on the stones at Mnajdra, Malta.

(More about Drilling in Prehistory)



   The Use of Concrete in Ancient Structures:

ancient concrete -'The Hair in the Rock', Egypt: Prof. Dr. Joseph Davidovits of the French Geopolymer Institute discovered a hair sticking out of a boulder of the Cheops (Khufu) pyramid of Giza). He concluded that either the hair was older than the rock surrounding it, (meaning the rock formed later), or the boulder is synthetic. Either of which is pretty amazing.

Examination and measurements of the boulders used in building the pyramid show an unusually high moisture content (apparently the kind one would expect to find in concrete).

The photo (right), is from the pavement surrounding the pyramids at Giza. It has been shown that this pavement was  accurately levelled to less than 0.5 inch across the whole site, which makes it a spectacular masonry achievement in its own right. However, of more immediate interest is the thin sliver of limestone that has remained next to the black basalt rock behind it.

The original advocate for this theory was Prof. Dr. Joseph Davidovits, whose original statements in the 1980's were at first ridiculed, but which have now, following rigorous analysis, appear to have been reasonably substantiated. The following scientific treaty was written in 2006 and supports Davidovit's original theory. (Although Egyptologists still adamantly refuse to accept such an idea it is gradually gaining  support).


Article: Science Daily. 2006: Professor Finds Some Pyramid Building Blocks Were Concrete.

In partially solving a mystery that has baffled archaeologists for centuries, a Drexel University professor has determined that the Great Pyramids of Giza were constructed with a combination of not only carved stones but the first blocks of limestone-based concrete cast by any civilization.

The longstanding belief is that the pyramids were constructed with limestone blocks that were cut to shape in nearby quarries using copper tools, transported to the pyramid sites, hauled up ramps and hoisted in place with the help of wedges and levers. Barsoum argues that although indeed the majority of the stones were carved and hoisted into place, crucial parts were not. The ancient builders cast the blocks of the outer and inner casings and, most likely, the upper parts of the pyramids using a limestone concrete, called a geopolymer.

The type of concrete pyramid builders used could reduce pollution and outlast Portland cement, the most common type of modern cement. Portland cement injects a large amount of the world's carbon dioxide into the atmosphere and has a lifespan of about 150 years. If widely used, a geopolymer such as the one used in the construction of the pyramids can reduce that amount of pollution by 90 percent and last much longer. The raw materials used to produce the concrete used in the pyramids -- lime, limestone and diatomaceous earth -- can be found worldwide and is affordable enough to be an important construction material for developing countries.

(Click here for  full article)

As well as the suggestion that the blocks themselves may have been  made of cement, Petrie  himself identified that it was also used between the blocks. The whole of the Great pyramid was originally covered with a coat of polished limestone blocks. The faces of these blocks have butting surfaces cut to within 1/100 of an inch of mathematical perfection. Petrie said this of it:

...'the mean variation of the cutting of the stone from a straight line and from a true square is but 0.1 inch in a length of 75inches up the face, an amount of accuracy equal to the most modern opticians' straight edges of such a length. These joints, with an area of some 35 square feet each, were not only worked as finely as this, but were cemented throughout. Though the stones were brought as close as 1/500 of an inch, or, in fact, into contact, and the mean opening of the join was 1/50 of an inch, yet the builders managed to fill the joint with cement, despite the great area of it, and the weight of the stone to be moved- some 16 tons. To merely place such stones in exact contact at the sides would be careful work, but to do so with cement in the joints seems almost impossible'. (8)

The highly polished limestone casing stones that covered the pyramid were fixed with a 'fine aluminosilicate cement'. The finished pyramid contained approximately 115,000 of these stones, each weighing ten tons or more. These stones were dressed on all six of their sides, not just the side exposed to the visible surface, to tolerances of .01 inch. They were set together so closely that a thin razor blade could not be inserted between the stones.

Egyptologist Petrie expressed his astonishment of this feat by writing: - 'Merely to place such stones in exact contact would be careful work, but to do so with cement in the joint seems almost impossible; it is to be compared to the finest opticians' work on the scale of acres".

Extract from Petrie - The use of plaster by the Egyptians is remarkable; and their skill in cementing joints is hard to understand. How, in the casing of the Great Pyramid, they could fill with cement a vertical joint about 5 X 7 feet in area, and only averaging 1/50 inch thick is a mystery; more especially as the joint could not be thinned by rubbing, owing to its being a vertical joint, and the block weighing about 16 tons. Yet this was the usual work over 13 acres of surface, with tens of thousands of casing stones, none less than a ton in weight.

Extract from Petrie -   From several indications it seems that the masons planned the casing and some at least of the core masonry also, course by course on the ground. For on all the casing, and on the core on which the casing fitted, there are lines drawn on the horizontal surfaces, showing where each stone was to be placed on those below it. If the stones were merely trimmed to fit each other as the building went on, there would be no need to have so carefully marked the place of each block in this particular way; and it shows that they were probably planned and fitted together on the ground below. Another indication of very careful and elaborate planning on the ground is in the topmost space over the King's Chamber; there the roofing-beams were numbered, and marked for the north or south sides; and though it might be thought that it could be of no consequence in what order they were placed, yet all their details were evidently schemed before they were delivered to the builders' hands. This care in arranging all the work agrees strikingly with the great employment of unskilled labourers during two or three months at a time, as they would then raise all the stones which the masons had worked and stored ready for use since the preceding season.    

(Other examples of extreme Egyptian masonry)


Maltese concrete (Torba)

Ggantija, Malta -  The temples on Malta are claimed to be some of the oldest free-standing temples in the world. A. Service (6), mentions the 'contemporary cement of the floor' in the pavement of the Ggantija temple on Gozo, Malta (see left), and although the idea was not accepted for a long time, Maltese archaeologists are now of the opinion that Torba (as it is called on Malta), was formed by compacting crumbled rock and rock dust then adding water (7), creating a tough and durable rock-like material on-par with the best and strongest concrete used today.

The pictures below show how some of the temple floors were paved with huge stones, a process also visible at several Maltese temples (Tarxien, left and Ggantija, right).






(More about the Constructions of Prehistoric Malta)



   The Specific Selection of Stone:

While it is apparent that the megalithic builders showed a preference for certain stone types, the reason for this has yet to be explained satisfactorily. The extra distance and effort required to employ specific stones in ancient structures offers us with a clue as to the possible motivation of the builders.

The immense White-quartz, portal-stones at Castelruddery Henge-Circle in Ireland.


(More about the Specific Selection of Stone in Prehistory)



(Extreme Masonry)

(Prehistoric Drilling)

(Extreme Egyptian Masonry) 



1). David. D. Zink. The Ancient Stones Speak. 1979. Musson Book Co.
2). Cesar Paternosto. The Stone and the Thread. 1989. University of Texas Press.
3). G. Hancock. Heaven's Mirror. 1998. Michael Joseph Publ.
4). J. N .Lockyer. The Dawn of Astronomy. 1964, M.I.T. Press.
6). A. Service & J. Bradbery. Megaliths and their Mysteries. 1979. Macmillan.
7). D. Trump and D. Cilia. Malta: Prehistory and Temples. 2004. Midsea Books.
8). Petrie as quoted by Smyth, Our inheritance in the Great Pyramid, 1890 Ed, pp20.
10). Kalb, Philine, Megalith-building, stone transport and territorial markers; evidence from Vale de Rodrigo, Evora, south Portugal. Antiquity. Sept 1, 1996.
11). C. Morton and C. L. Thomas. The Mystery of the Crystal Skulls. 1997. Thornson's.
13). Reynolds, Ffion. Time and mind. Volume 2, Number 2, July 2009 , pp. 153-166(14).


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