Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Who built it and why?

Some years ago while reading through my favorite technical forum I ran across an interesting post. Evidently someone had asked a fellow poster (who had experience working with stone) what it would take to transport and set a stone such as one would find at Stonehenge. As you can imagine the answers ranged form what "Stonehenge" was, to the obvious impossibility even with today's machines. One answer in particular caught my eye and set me to giggling.

The writer had listed numerous examples of the "modern" tools necessary to move and place a stone of that nature. Then went on to say that the machines we have today did not exist thousands of years ago so the only possible explanation would be that "Aliens" built Stonehenge.

I was thinking, Aliens? Seriously? Ya see why I giggled now?

I have no difficulty giving our ancestors credit for accomplishing a task of that magnitude. It proves to me what a bit of imagination, intelligence and persistence can do. But alas it seems that not everyone has the basic understanding of physics needed to use a stick and thus can not fathom an alternative method. Actually moving a huge stone is rather simple. Now keep in mind I said "simple" and in no way am I inferring "easy", it takes a lot of work. That word "work" is why most people today have no idea how to move an object without the help of machinery. It is sad really what so many have forgotten because of the machines that do the work for us.

I am not trying to disprove the existence of "aliens", anyone who thinks we are alone in the cosmos in my opinion has a closed mind. I just don't see the point in traveling all the way here from wherever to stand up a bunch of rocks. If I were to travel to a distant planet I would want to make a lasting impression, something that would prove my existence. I am sure I could come up with a much easier way to show future inhabitants that I visited here and I was NOT of this world.  

So let me build an argument for the persistence and intelligence of our own distant ancestors.

Am I going to prove to you why Stonehenge was built?

No. Unless a stone tablet were found with the layout of Stonehenge and some form of timeline for it's construction we will never know exactly why it was built. But I will point out that like the Eiffel Tower it may have been built just because it seemed like a good idea.

Ask yourself this. If something catastrophic happened to the human race and we were reduced to a handful of survivors on lets say an island in Polynesia. What then would we think of the Eiffel Tower if by some bizarre twist of fate it survived the 5000 years it took for humans to find it again?

That structure was built between 1887 and 1889 as the entrance arch for the "Exposition Universelle", a World's Fair held in France marking the centennial celebration of the French Revolution.

The tower was much criticized by the public when it was built, with many calling it an eyesore. Newspapers of the day were filled with angry letters from the arts community of Paris. One letter in particular is quoted extensively, part of it reads. "And during twenty years we shall see, stretching over the entire city, still thrilling with the genius of so many centuries, we shall see stretching out like a black blot the odious shadow of the odious column built up of riveted iron plates." Thirteen Signers of this letter included Jean-Louis-Ernest Meissonier, Charles Gounod, Charles Garnier, Jean-Léon Gérôme, William-Adolphe Bouguereau, and Alexandre Dumas.

Eiffel had a permit for the tower to stand for 20 years; it was to be dismantled in 1909, when its ownership would revert to the City of Paris. The City had planned to tear it down but as the tower proved valuable for communication purposes, it was allowed to remain after the expiry of the permit. The military used it to dispatch Parisian taxis to the front line during the First Battle of the Marne.

Hence the "twenty year" reference in that letter, but after WWI and II the tower took on a different light. Now tell anyone from France today that the tower needs to be removed and you may have a fight on your hands as it has become their National Icon. So much so that everyone knows what it is and where it is and there is little need to write about it.

Am I going to prove to you who built Stonehenge?

Not exactly but I will try and make a good case for our own ancestors for whatever reason they found important. Who built it is a mystery yes, but we can already prove that we have been around long enough to have been the builders. 

This quote is from a man named Archimedes who lived around "220 BC"

“Give me a place to stand, a lever long enough and I will move the world”

This statement has two meanings and both are true. First, if you could attach a lever to the earth and rest it on a fulcrum, one man can move it. Now granted the logistics of doing so are out of mans realm of accomplishment no matter how much time we had or how motivated we were. But it is possible and can be proven by a simple mathematical formula.

The second meaning is that in 220BC they understood what a lever was for and how to use it effectively. The Greek didn't have the machines and equipment we have today but  it didn't stop them showing off a bit O stone stacking now did it?

That said, I will add that calculating how to move something of a given weight via a certain method using pre calculated building materials and tools will avoid a lot of trial and error and will get the job done quicker. That is how we do things today, but it is not the "only" way.

So my first point is that you do not need math or even the knowledge that it exists to understand that a longer stick makes moving a heavy object much easier.

No one knows "when" Stonehenge was built or even how "long" it took to complete. Was it complete? With no records there is no way of knowing when it was started or by whom or even for what purpose. You can date a stone but you can not date when it was placed.

There are many more examples of structures built by human hands today that do have detailed documentation. The Canterbury Cathedral in England is a well documented example of mans persistence and a good example of how we did things not so long ago.

You may ask why I chose that particular example and the answer would be that I have been there.

In 2001 I toured London and a few places in the English countryside after I got a wild hair and decided I needed a vacation. Yes a "wild hair" the thought occurred to me one afternoon while sitting in traffic reading a travel agency sign that I had never taken a real vacation from work. So I called the number posted on that sign and told the lady I needed a vacation. Fourteen days after I first talked to the agent I was standing in Hyde Park London and it occurred to me that I had traveled to the other side of the planet. I started wondering what the hell got into me but by then it was too late to panic so I decided to have a good time.

In fact I had a blast and on my second day there I got lost in the "Tube". It only set me back a few hours and I popped up on streets all over London like clueless prairie dog wondering where the hell I had gotten to this time. When I figured out what the pretty colours were all about, the maps in the Tube made much more sense and I got back to my hotel thoroughly worn out and five rolls of film exposed. Getting lost in a city you have never been too is not really being lost if you have no where to be, right? ;-)

So snap me back to the point. Upon finding a drop dead beautiful example of pierced stone architecture I wandered in to have a look. I spent a good three hours in Canterbury Cathedral asking questions and growing more awestruck by the moment. I was told by the priest and please forgive me as I am not sure if he is referred to as a priest or? Anyway he told me that the ground was consecrated in 950.

The first thing that crossed my mind was that he had to have missed a digit. Remember I grew up in a society that digs a hole in the ground and six months later a compartment building is standing in it.

I waited patiently for him to correct the error in his information. The smile remained on his face and I imagine as he realized that I was a bit lost it grew even wider. When other parts of my mind had replayed what he had told me a number of times, I came to the conclusion that he was not pulling my leg, and stood there a moment longer blinking. He then pointed to a wall where upon the names of past priests were inscribed in stone. I followed the names through time all the way back to... three digits! Holy Mosses!

That was my first real experience with actual history. Not the word, but the meaning. That church was started around 950 and was largely complete as seen today by around 1500. Five Hundred and Fifty Years! Yikes! That kind of start to finish construction time-line still boggles my mind, but there it is, written in stone.

So do humans have persistence? I would say given the right motivation yes very much so.

I toured Stonehenge during that same ten day vacation and came away with a rough idea of how I would build it. That is if I had five hundred and fifty years to fart around stacking stones. If I spent five years placing one stone I would see Stonehenge finished in that time frame with ease.

Think about it, even today when we do know who built "it", the "why", may not make much sense to us other than "they could" so "they did". Look at the spruce goose, or the empire state building, or the golden gate bridge. I am sure the builders had good reason as far as they were concerned. But to someone else it may seem a mystery or just a waste of time.

One thing that has become clear to me listening to people and reading their ideas, is that most of them do not understand that our methods and speed of building are a direct result of our understanding of math and the construction and use of heavy equipment. If you do not understand math and have no heavy equipment it just takes "longer" to build with stone, it does not mean that you "cannot" build with stone.

Now I am going to say something that a lot of people will not fully understand.

Building Stonehenge is rather easy.

That is my point of view based on my understanding of what it would take to build Stonehenge. I have moved very large objects with nothing more than levers and ropes, it can be done it just takes time. One example are two tires that I loaded onto my military 6X6 to be recycled. Getting them off the rim was a chore in and of itself that spanned four days. Each tire weighed in at 1.4 tons. I know, compared to the standing stones at Stonehenge those are more like door stops but I did it alone, no crane, winch or pulleys. I used a lot of wood blocking and a lever on a tripod about 12 feet long.

From someone else's point of view moving those stones may be impossible. Not because it "is" impossible but simply because they have no idea how, or have not seen it done yet.

This link is for those in the latter category who have no clue or do not believe that one person can move as well as stand on end, something as heavy as two bulldozers. This will give you a working idea of how it can be done with only one person.


end part one