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        Extreme Masonry: (Extreme Feats of Masonry from Around the Ancient World).

Link to Ba'albek, LebanonLink toTiahuanacoLink to StonehengeLink to Abydoss.

The myth of a primitive society of megalithic builders is being gradually dispelled by discoveries from various disciplines. Apart from the self-imposed extremes associated with transporting and fitting stones weighing several hundred tons each in place, the megaliths, pyramids and other prehistoric structures are examples of a human relationship with stone and offer a glimpse into the mind of the builders, through which we can see a common human potential to conceive, engineer, and create the most unique, and majestic structures possible several thousand years in the past.



   Building With Large Stones: (Megaliths).

The word Megalith derives from the Greek 'Mega' meaning large and 'Lithos' and 'stone'. 

One of the most noticeably impressive factors about the megaliths is their sheer size, which has given certain sites an almost 'mythological' status, with local traditions often claiming that they were fashioned by 'giants' or 'gods', For example:

'A story was told by the local Aymara indians to a Spanish traveller who visited Tiahuanaco shortly after the conquest, of the city's original foundation in the age of Chamac Pacha, or First Creation,  long before the coming of the Incas. Its earliest inhabitants, they said,  possessed supernatural powers, for which they were able miraculously to lift stones of off the ground, which "...were carried [from the mountain quarries] through the air to the sound of a trumpet'. (1)

(Other examples of Sonics)

'Numerous tales describe megaliths and single large erratics as stones which giants had thrown or lost, while megaliths in particular are also described as their graves, or houses, or ovens (e.g. Temme 1840: 213; Bartsch 1879: 26–39; Haas 1925: 53–60). The association of giants with megaliths goes back to at least the 13th century, when the oldest references to 'tumuli gigantis' are found in written documents. Interestingly, such stories replaced almost completely for several centuries the references to ancient mounds as graves of earlier people (e.g. 'antiquorum sepulcra', 'tumuli paganorum') which were more frequent in the earlier sources (Lisch 1937: 11–15; Sippel 1980; Thäte 1993: chapter 5.1). Today in Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, megaliths are still generally known as Hünengräber (giants' graves), for example in Forst Everstorf (Lisch 1837: 72)'. (13)

Using large stones is one thing, but when on comes across examples of stones being moved weighing hundreds of tonnes when smaller stones would have been far more ergonomically efficient (such as the three 'foundation' stones at Baalbek), it becomes clear that the size of the stone itself was a consideration in the process of construction. The use of enormous stones such as those seen at Baalbek, Giza, Stonehenge, Carnac, Jerusalem etc etc, reveal a level of organisation and skill that has (naturally) reduced people to debate in the past.


Large Scale Megaliths:

Link to Ba'albek, LebanonBa'albek: One of the largest carved stones ever, weighing over 1000 tons, was left  unfinished by the constructors in the quarry. The technical abilities of the builders of the Ba'albek platform are equally matched by their engineering confidence which required them next to manoeuvre the stones uphill and fit them seamlessly into place. The associated difficulties of such a labour provide an insight into the builders confidence, conviction and ability.

(Click here for more about Ba'albek)

The use of large stones is repeated again and again all over the ancient world, leading one to ask: Why ?

The most common suggestion is that larger stones provide structures with increased stability and durability, which of course is true, but the excessive size of some stones when balanced against the additional time, effort and manpower suggest that other factors may have been involved.

The movement of the larger megaliths are evidence of a 'social enterprise', involving the co-operative skills and labour of large numbers of well organised people. Alexander Thom suggested that the Neolithic people had a society with hierarchy, structure and specialised 'castes'. This idea starts to explains the means whereby such stones may have been transported, but not why...

Mendelssohn (11) suggested that the purpose of building fantastically large structures (such as the early-dynastic pyramids of Egypt) was simply to unite the people through a common purpose, at the same time as reinforcing the social hierarchy of 'Kingship'. Extending this theory, one could say that if the size of the monument reflects the greatness of the builder, then the size (and type) of stone in turn, reflects the greatness of the masons.

(The largest 50-megaliths of all time)


The confidence of the megalithic builders worldwide to work with such unnecessarily large stones is surpassed only by their determination to transport specifically selected stones over vast distances to previously selected sites.



  Long-distance Megaliths: 'Pieces of Places'.

There are some extraordinary accounts of unfeasibly large stones being moved over unnecessarily long distances, suggesting that either the location or the stone itself were considered to have special properties.

  • Stonehenge: Over 80 Bluestones moved over 250 miles from Preseli, Wales.

  • Giza: 50+ ton Granite stones transported over 300 miles from Aswan.

  • Carnac: 300+ ton Lochmariaquer menhirs transported over 25 miles.

  • Ollantaytambo: 50+ ton Porphyry stones transported 7-miles over 6000m high mountains and valleys.
  • Teotihuacán: 90ft² sheets of Mica transported over controversial distance of 2000 Km

But what does this tell us, any more than that they wanted stone from one place to be taken to another ?

In each case there must have been a large and available work-force including skilled and un-skilled labourers, support, organisers, all presumably under the authority of an individual or caste. Such structures can be deemed as 'social constructions', and lend weight to Mendelssohn's theory of large monuments/stones as symbols of 'greatness'. Assuming one of the prerequisites of construction being the use of large stones, why then select to move such large blocks of stone over such long distances when other more local and readily available sources were known - as was the case at Stonehenge ?

Although it is arguably obvious that the granite used in the Egyptian pyramids was structural, the same cannot be said of all sites, noticeably the 90²ft Mica sheets at Teotihuacán which were found sandwiched between stone layers of stone and which served no apparent structural or aesthetic function.

Stones transported over long distances to build megaliths have been described as 'pieces of places' (10)

The logistic difficulties involved with long-distance transportation suggests that the stone itself was considered to have qualities worth transporting it over such extreme distances. However, the very fact that stones were transported so far also suggests that the new location itself must have been of equal importance to the builders.

(More about the Specific Selectivity of stone)


At Vale de Rodruigo, in southern Portugal, geological analysis were carried out at the stones used in four megalithic graves. The results were surprising as the stones had been brought to the site from different locations of up to 10km distance. Geological research suggests that this choice was probably predominantly motivated by functional and practical reasons. As different rocks had different appearances and physical characteristics it is suggested that they were chosen according to a pre-conceived design. In addition, the locations of the sites of origin of the different material represents main celestial directions from the megaliths. This makes it likely that the monuments also represent certain symbolic values associated with the landscape and certain cosmologies. (10)

The transportation of specific stone over long distances suggests one of two things (or both):

  • The type/location of stone was more important than the extra labour incurred transporting it.
  • The location of the monument was more important than extra work required to move the stone.

It is interesting to note that one of common factors of these 'long-haul' megaliths is that they were invariably composed of granite (quartzite), which was the leading choice of stone around the prehistoric world, noticeably in areas such as Neolithic Europe, Early-dynastic Egypt and Pre-Columbian America. This prejudice to quarry, cut and haul one of the hardest family of rocks, in cases over hundreds of miles whilst ignoring more locally available sources is a clear suggestion that the qualities of the granite itself were important to the megalithic builders.

Apart from being a particularly hard stone, granite has several other physical properties which may have been recognised by the ancient masons:

(More about the Electrical Properties of Quartz-crystal)




  Lifting/Moving the Megaliths:

Firstly, a description of the act of raising a large stone, which is a comparatively easy task. In the picture below, a  crib of logs is progressively inserted under the stone as it is raised by levers on either side. When the levers have reached a height that causes difficulty for the operators, provide the operators with a platform on which to work that rises as the stone rises. This method has been tried and tested by archaeologists with success.

The method for raising a large stone.

Having decided upon which stone to work with, it next fell upon the prehistoric masons to move the stone from the quarry to its final resting place. While we know already that stones as heavy as 1000 tons were being moved in prehistory, these are the more exceptional cases. There are however, numerous cases of stones exceeding 100 tones from all around the ancient world and there are several descriptions and images to show us how such stones were moved.

The largest stone ever (recently) recorded to have been moved purely by human power alone is the famous 'Thunder Stone' from Russia, which was moved to St. Petersburg from the gulf of Finland. It was rolled along on small balls placed on a track (Only 100m in length) at a rate of 150m per day.

The Thunder Stone.

The transportation of the 1500 ton 'Thunder-stone' in 1770 proves that human manpower alone can be employed to move such heavy objects.



In Egypt, the moving of large stones has a tradition dating back to the early dynasties. The heaviest known blocks to be brought from Aswan to Giza were the massive granite stones used for the roof of the King's Chamber in the pyramid of Kufu. Each weighed between 50 and 70 tons and several 5th and 6th Dynasty pyramids included gabled roofs with blocks weighing up to 90 tons. There are also examples at Giza (see below) of limestone blocks weighing as much as 200 and 400 tons. In the 18th Dynasty, two colossal statues of Amenhotep III (the "Colossi of Memnon"), each weighing more than 700 tons, were moved an overland distance of 700 km. Fragments of statues in the Ramesseum (built under Ramesses II) suggest an original weight of around 1,000 tons.

Moving a statue in 12th Dynasty Egypt.

Moving large stones over land is a far more involved procedure than on water. Sledges were available in pharaohic times, and workers were in great supply. Friction was the main obstacle. Modern engineers working under primitive conditions have found that, while moving blocks weighing up to 6-tons on a sledge, friction could be reduced to nearly zero by wetting the track with a lubricant (in this case, water). In the relief pictured above, from the tomb of Djehutihotep, a man can be seen on the leading end of the sledge pouring a liquid on the ground in front of it. (12)

(Other Examples of Extreme Egyptian Masonry)

It has been estimated that a ratio of two men per ton would be required for moving loads over flat surfaces; nine men per ton would be required for moving loads up a 9° slope. Practical experiments moving loads on a sledge over a lubricated track have shown that one man could pull one ton (or an oxen, five tons). (12)


An ancient method for moving heavy weights has been revived and demonstrated in the field by Prof. J. Cunningham of Skidmore College, USA. Following a system which relies on little more than long, flexible poles of wood, we are shown how it is possible to move otherwise apparently impossibly sized stones.

Ref: "Techniques of pyramid-building in Egypt"  Nature Vol 332  March 1988.

Pole systems such as the one on the right (From India) illustrate the simple method whereby enough manpower can be employed to move large stones.



Modern-day Experiments to Move large Stones.

Prof. Cunningham. Moving Large Stones.

In the demonstrative model above, Prof. Cunningham's theoretical work on moving large objects shows that in theory, at least, using his pole system, a single person should be capable of moving incredibly heavy stones.

Prof. Cunningham has designed a means of elevating an obelisk using the same process of flexible poles.

View Prof. Cunningham's Facebook entry: like an Egyptian.




   Extreme Egyptian Masonry:

It is not surprising that the occasional eyebrow is raised when we are confidently informed that the Egyptian pyramids, the last remaining 'Seven Wonders' of the ancient world, were constructed by people from the 'Neolithic' period. Apart from the fact that eight largest Early dynastic 'Memphite' pyramids are believed to have all been constructed in under 60 years (11), we are faced with numerous traces of applied mathematics, science and technology within structures that have no apparent precedent in pre-dynastic Egyptian culture.

The Giza Plateau.

Numerous impressive facts are regularly quoted concerning the astonishing engineering challenges involved in the construction of the 'Great pyramid' of Giza, in Egypt, such as the estimated 2 million blocks with an average weight of 2.5 tonnes which were used to build this pyramid alone. However, there are several other masonry feats at Giza that are equally astonishing.

It is often forgotten that before the pyramids were built, the limestone plateau beneath was levelled to an 'optical level of accuracy' (8), over which was placed a platform of carefully cut limestone paving-slabs which can still be seen to protrude from underneath the pyramids base (Photo, left). This platform is around 0.5m thick and despite the passing of time and several earthquakes, remains level to within 0.8 of an inch (21mm) over a distance of over 13 acres (5).

The whole complex was carefully orientated to the cardinal directions. The deviation of the Great Pyramid from true North is: 2′ 28", South – 1′ 58", East – 5′ 30" and West – 2′ 30".


The seamless joins between the basalt and the limestone pavements.


There are several extraordinary sized stones recorded at the Ghiza plateau, with the largest regularly estimated at over 400 tons....


The largest stone at Giza is estimated to weigh as much as 468 tons (5), and can be seen in the wall of the temple east of the second pyramid (Khafre's). Other limestone blocks weighing 200 tons can be seen in the wall of the Valley temple, next to the Sphinx.


Temple East of 'Khafres' Pyramid.

'Largest stone estimated 468 ton block' (11).

 (J. Cook; The Pyramids of Giza; p. 22). - 'Khafre foundation stones > 400 tons'.




Mortuary temple of Menkaure (Mycerinus).   

200 tons - [Edwards, p. 265] -  200 tons

285 tons - - 285 tons

'Reisner estimated that some of the blocks of local stone in the walls of the mortuary temple weighed as much as 220 tons, while the heaviest granite ashlars imported from Aswan weighed more than 30 tons'.



Valley temple.(



The 'Valley Temple' - The Valley temple was built from huge granite blocks in the style of the Osireion at Abydoss. They are estimated at around 50 tons + each. The whole temple in turn was encased in even larger limestone blocks, the largest of which has been (enthusiastically) estimated at around 200 tons.



 The 'Great' pyramid of Khufu - The 'Kings chamber' in the Great pyramid is covered over with several granite stones estimated at 50-70 tons each. The Gable stones over the entrance (left) and several of the stones covering the descending passage are also several cubic metres in size.

Maximum weight of stone in great pyramid:

(Guinness, p. 119). 50 tons

(R. J. Cook; The Pyramids of Giza; p. 22).70 tons

(The Largest Megaliths of all Time)


Concrete at Giza:

As well as claims of whole blocks being composed of concrete, Flinders Petrie noted that:

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 75 inches 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'. (7)

(More about 'Concrete' in Ancient Structures)

(More about the Giza complex)



   Machining in Ancient Egypt: (c. 2,500 BC)

The builders of the Giza pyramids managed to cut granite stones with almost perfect precision to fit side by side with their neighbours (i.e. the Kings chamber). With each stone being of a unique size, it was a remarkable achievement to say the least. It is currently believed that the stones were prepared at ground level, then lifted into position. Fortunately for us, the masons left their marks on some of the stones as the following i mages from Giza demonstrate:

Although no large contemporary tools have been found at Giza, the 'saw' marks above, along with others on the 'King's coffer' leave us with the clear conclusion that the early-dynastic Egyptians were using tools tipped with precious or semi-precious stones. This idea is borne out by numerous discoveries of partially finished stone vases which have been 'core-drilled', also requiring the use of blades tipped with a harder stone.



The use of  core-drilling can be seen on  the largest blocks of stone such as the 'king's coffer' in the 'Great' pyramid at Giza, as first noted by Petrie, down to the  smallest ornamental trinkets (right), and the apparently 'mass-produced' stone vases, frequently carved from hard stones such as granite and obsidian.

The early-dynastic masons were so accomplished at their art that there have been several claims that not only were they 'machining' stone with the use of the lathe and specialised drilling equipment, but that they also had 'high-speed' and 'high-pressure' tools.


(Other Examples of Drilling in Prehistory

(Extreme Egyptian Masonry)



   The Enigma of Puma-Punka, Bolivia:  'Door of the Puma'

The photos below are the remains of an ancient structure nearby Tiahuanaco known as the Puma-Punka, which is littered with giant, precisely shaped blocks, many of which appear machine made.

The port of Tiahuanaco, called Puma Punku or "Door of the Puma," which appears to have once been a wharf with a massive four-part building, is now an area filled with enormous stone blocks scattered around the ground like matchsticks, with several weighing between 100 and 150 tons.  One block still in place is frequently estimated to weigh 440 tons.

The quarry for these blocks was on the western shore of Titicaca,  ten miles distant and the means or purpose of transporting such large stones is still a mystery. It has been suggested that there is evidence of basic machining at Puma-Punka, as the following photo demonstrates:

The regularly spaced drill marks on this rock are suggestive of drilled pilot-holes, which appear to have also been used to assist in splitting the rocks.

One of the most interesting things to have transpired about the site is that many of the immense blocks were built as if from a template, and amazingly appear to interlock as the picture below illustrates. Such a discovery flies directly in the face of all our concepts of the construction skills of the ancients. With no previous examples of masonry at such a sophisticated level, nor on such great scale leaves one to wonder at the confidence and skills of the designers and masons.


(Left) Illustrating the sophisticated way in which the Puma-Punka stones fit together. (Right) A wall of the Akapana pyramid shows the same modular feature. (3)

(More about Puma Punka)



Polished Obsidian Bracelet (7,500 BC):

            Article: (Jan, 2012):   (Link to Full Article)

'Oldest Obsidian Bracelet Reveals Amazing Craftsman's Skills in the Eighth Millennium BC'.

'Researchers have recently analysed the oldest obsidian bracelet ever identified, discovered in the 1990's. Dated to 7,500 BC, the obsidian bracelet is unique. It is not only the earliest evidence of obsidian working, but it has a complex shape and a remarkable central annular ridge, is 10cm in diameter and 3.3cm wide.

The research has revealed that the bracelet was made using highly specialised manufacturing techniques. The analysis carried out showed that the bracelet was almost perfectly regular. The symmetry of the central annular ridge is extremely precise, to the nearest degree and nearest hundred micrometers. The surface of the bracelet (which is very regular, resembling a mirror), required the use of complex polishing techniques capable of obtaining a nanometer-scale surface quality worthy of today's telescope lenses'. (3)

The bracelet is the first object to have been studied among some sixty other polished obsidian (and agate) artefacts from the same period.

(More about Asikli Huyuk, Turkey)


(Drilling in Prehistory)   (Granite 'quarry-marks')

(Prehistoric Construction Techniques)

(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.
9). C. Dunn. The Giza Power Plant. 1998.
10). Kalb, Philine, Megalith-building, stone transport and territorial markers; evidence from Vale de Rodrigo, Evora, south Portugal. Antiquity. Sept 1, 1996.
11). Kurt Mendelssohn. The Riddle of the Pyramids. 1974. Book Club Associates.
12). Ref:



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