PaleoBabble readers know that ancient astronaut theorists suffer from a fixation on megalithic construction. The “impossibility” of moving stones of great size and tremendous weight appears to them as proof of alien assistance. This argument of course is simply reduced to “since I can’t figure out how it was done, it must have been aliens.” Rather than focus on the absurdity of this logic, I’ve tried to introduce readers to peer-reviewed scholarship on ancient construction and engineering. Egypt’s pyramids have received a lot of attention here in that regard. I want to turn now to Baalbek, specifically the famous trilithon (the three stones at the base of the Roman temple at the site).
There isn’t much written on this that’s available to the non-specialist, and most of what is available isn’t in English. At the risk of directing readers to a source that won’t be much use since it’s in French, I still think it’s useful to demonstrate that scholars have put serious thought into the trilithon, and have come up with workable solutions that have been successful in analogous situations (in this case, something even bigger than the trilithon – yes, ancient alien enthusiasts, the trilithon is NOT the largest object moved without modern machines; keep reading). A very good (and lengthy) scholarly journal article in French about moving the trilithon by ancient mechanical means is available on the web: Jean-Pierre Adam, “A propos du trilithon de Baalbek. Le transport et la mise en oeuvre des megaliths,” Syria 54:1-2 (1977): 31-63 (English translation: “Concerning the trilithon of Baalbek: Transportation and the Implementation of the Megaliths”). Two caveats on the article: (1) It’s very technical. It’s filled with mathematical discussion since its author is quite familiar with analyzing such problems via applied physics; (2) my French stinks. As such, I converted the article to text and used Google Translate, then went through and smoothed things out. I did not do this for the full article (I have better things to do). However, I have given readers important excerpts of this 32 page article. If you read French, then you can check on the translation and send me updates.
On pages 34-37 the author discusses ancient writers who described construction techniques for moving large stone objects. He writes:
“The advantage of this unique publication is exacerbated by the fact that, although written during the reign of Augustus, the treaty made a broad appeal to the art of building Greeks whose author cites the lost works of theorists and the most famous architects. In the context of this brief study, our interest is in the tenth book of Vitruvius, where we find a detailed description of the process and machinery used on construction sites of Greece and Rome and the author mentions at the same time the efficient and widespread job. The transport of megaliths is not forgotten . . .
Vitruvius cites two anecdotes relating to the construction . . . He sank both ends of “column each iron bolts made of Swallow-tailed and are sealed” with lead, having taken the precaution to put in the pieces of wood cross-sectional “dirty iron rings, in which bolts came in as “hubs. In addition, he strengthens his machine by attaching the two “pieces of oak ties, so that when the horse pulling the” bolts turned so easily into the rings, all the “shafts of the columns rolled easily on land to their destination.”
The second transport means for the megaliths described by Vitruvius . . . consisted of wheels twelve feet (approx. 3.60 m) and “locked both ends of the architraves in the middle of the wheels. He put “as bolts and iron rings, so that when the horse” pulling the machine, put the bolts in the iron rings were “turning the wheels. Thus, the architraves, which were in the wheels “as axles, were dragged and taken on the spot.”
He provides the following drawing to illustrate these techniques (Fig 2). Note how the absence of a round shape was no obstacle to moving something like a whole large pillar or obelisk — you simply gave it roundness at the ends to roll it. Very clever.
On page 42 the author introduces what will become for him an analogous point of reference for his proposed solution to moving the trilithon of Baalbek:
“. . . 1,250,000 kilograms . . . is the weight of the great block of granite the Empress Catherine II of Russia (1762-1796) . . . carried to St. Petersburg (now Leningrad) to serve as a colossal base to the equestrian statue of Peter the Great. This is likely the largest stone ever moved by man, one and a half times the weight trilithon blocks [at Baalbek.]”
Hope you caught that — an object 1.5 times the weight of the trilithon was successfully moved in the 18th century — no modern cranes. They did it with manpower, not alien know-how. He mentions other large objects successfully moved by human engineers, but this one gets special attention because it was a larger problem than the trilithon.
The rest of the article is devoted to Baalbek’s trilithon. Throughout pages 52-63, the author discusses the physics and engineering problems and solutions. Some excerpts:
“To appreciate the magnitude of the work, and justify the solution adapted to it, it is necessary to give the figures for to the heavier blocks, namely those of trilithon As its name suggests this set consists of three stones measuring respectively, 19.60 m, 19.30 m and 19.10 m long, 4.34 m high, 3.65 m deep. Their average weight is nearly 800 tons. . . . every stone has nearly 10 m in length for an average weight of 350 tonnes . . . After recalling the experiences of St. Petersburg, Luxor, and Carrara, we can obtain a more lucidly clean solution for this megalithic structure and more particularly to the construction of the trilithon.”
The author discusses using ox power to move the stones, a solution he will reject because of the lack of space on the site for the oxen:
“To solve the problem of Baalbek in the most comprehensive, we will consider the establishment of one of the heaviest blocks, that is to say one of the stones of 800,000 kg constituting the trilithon; the interventions for elements lighter in the deduction will be logical.
So either one of these stones completely detached from the rock and relaxing on logs. The floor beams receiving the convoy has a rolling flat surface to reduce the weight hauled to 66,600 kg. Knowing that an ox can provide a work of 80 kgm per second, continuously for one hour, we deduce there should be 825 of these animals to transport one of trilithon stones on a horizontal floor. Traditionally, it is estimated that an ox can pull a load 1.000 kg placed on a chariot. If we consider the block of 800,000 kg of the trilithon, it follows that 800 oxen are needed to move it.”
The author notes some logistical problems with using oxen before moving to a human solution:
“Certainly the yoke was known to mate the oxen, and in the case normal load, the pole was attached directly to the yoke between two animals, but when it came to transport heavy, each torque cattle was connected to the load by a cable or pole. . . . Xenophon gives us a confirmation on the use of this type coupling in the description he gives us the means employed by Cyrus to ensure the movement of heavy battle rounds . . . Each turn with wheels, was equipped with 8 drawbars which were harnessed eight pairs of oxen pulling front.
Despite the apparent simplicity of this energy source, we prefer to look to the human powered, with which the weakness in muscle is compensated by the extreme technical elaboration of the device multiplier used. In the event of a traction provided by the duration of the capstans, movement is a bit longer, since it multiplies the distance traveled by the load, in favor of the force and must ensure the in place and anchor machinery. The advantage of this method lies in the extremely small number of workers needed and the greater accuracy of the progression, allowing rigorous implementation of blocks the one above and beside the other. . . . Each capstan bar with four men using it would make 24 in total. . . . The force exerted directly by the capstan 24 men and six bar is at 20 kg per man of 480 kg. Taking center force application to 1.70 m from the center of rotation and a radius of drum of 10 cm, this force becomes (by a form winch) 8160 kg. Four cables of hemp, each providing four tons of traction, wind around the drum and by acting on the load through a hoist with two pulleys, generate a power of 16,320 kg of the machine; 13,056 kg reduced power by the coefficient of friction. Six of these machines, involving 144 men and providing traction power of 78,336 kg must allow, with a margin of excess power always useful, the transportation of each block of trilithon.”
Since the above is hard to conceptualize, the author includes a drawing of the simple, yet effective solution to moving the trilithon.
Simple, workable, and human. Once again, the ancient alien theorist’s low view of human intelligence and practical engineering prowess is demonstrated.