The transport of heavy stone blocks with human power in ancient times

TRANSPORT OF THE BAALBEK FOUNDATION STONES, THE TRILITHON
Author:
Henk J. Koens, The Netherlands May 2012

A 1000 tons foundation stone
The people in the picture show the massive size of the stone block

The so called Trilithon composed of three stones each measuring 19 metres long x 4. This had probably to do with the fact that the stones were redressed to a smaller dimension when placed in the wall to achieve a precise alignment. And how was the stone block quarried? .2 metres high x 3. But calculations show us that in this case the total pulling force of about 250 tons will not be large enough to drag the 1000 tons stone on the base foundation. The transportation weight of the foundation stones was even more than 870 tons and went up to 1000 and 1200 tons. Scientists and archaeologists have proposed many methods based on ancient techniques but most of these methods were impractical or unsufficient due to local circumstancies or the enormous weight of the stones. the rollers would have crunched under this heavy burden. weighing 870 tons each.The foundation stones These stones are three collosal stones situated in the wall and the remains of the great acropolis of Baalbek. What is not understood ? It is still an unanswered question how the ancient Romans transported these huge megaliths because the technological ability to accomplish this is far beyond our comprehension. the Temple of Jupiter.6 metres wide. hewn from crystalline limestone. And above all. even in our time. in the Libanon built by the Romans. They were transported from the quarry to the building site 1 km away and have been accurate laid upon a layer of 19 similar blocks weighing between 350 and 400 tons each. The french archaeologist Jean-Pierre Adam suggested in 1977 that the Romans used a set of 14 capstans with 448 laborers combined with 3-disc pulleys and rollers to move the stones.

perhaps with the aid of a ponton system. The question rises if the Romans may have used a waterway to transport these heavy stone blocks. This canal was closed on both ends by a floating ponton (caisson). Running water was coming down from the hills in the Libanon and was at many places available. This waterway started in the quarry and went to the building site of the temple and had a length of about 1000 m. We know that the Romans were very capable designers of watersystems. .9985 N. The fact that these two places were situated at the same level made it possible to construct a canal. When the canal was closed. and the quarry of the Trilithon blocks (33.1988 E).Was there a simple method of transport ? It is possible that the Romans have used a forgotten technology to solve this transport problem. By laying dikes which follow the hill at an altitude of 1140m.2035 E). a canal could be created. The geographical situation and an unique possibility for a canal For the construction of the temple there was a unique situation. canals. The building site of the temple and the quarry were located at the same altitude. The terrain map with altitude lines gives a value of 1140m for these two places]. 36. that could be removed to flood the quarry area or the building site.0068 N. high and long aquaducts. which could carry an extremely heavy load. 36. [Google map coordinates: Jupiter Temple (34. both areas could be emptied by opening the outlets (see next picture).

was installed. the material on the front. Four support blocks were placed under the stone bloc. Therefore they removed the bedrock on one side of the stone block. large enough to accomodate the first ponton. Now the stone block was ready for transport (see next pictures). Then the galery for the second ponton could be made by removing the material on the other side of the stone block. Then they made a deep carve on the top backside of the stone block and placed wedges in the carve. After a procedure of controled hammering on the wedges the stone block splitted and rested on the support blocks. Next a system of beams and ropes. Thereafter two pre-built pontons were positioned on both sides of the stone block. . at the end and underneath. strong enough to carry the heavy load.Outlet Canal is closed by floating pontons Outlet Canal Quarry area 1000m Building area How were the stones quarried and where was the ponton system installed ? The workers started making a galery.

2 nd GALERY 1 st GALERY Quarry Quarrying the foundation stone 2 Pontons 5 x 4 x 24m Quarry Quarry PONTON 2 PONTON 1000 1 TONS The foundation stone and the installed pontons .

By opening the valves in the ponton. In this way it was easy to transport the stone block through the opened watergate over the canal to the flooded building site at the end. A perfect alignment could be reached by afterwards redressing the stone blocks and there were no remains of the used Lewis holes (see next pictures).How was the stone block lifted and transported ? Hereafter the quarry area was flooded by gradually opening the watergate on the quarry side. The ropes were removed and the ponton was returned to the canal. Easy navigation made it possible to reach the destination with great precision. The ponton system was able to lift the uge foundation stone as soon as the water level was high enough and the whole assembly became a floating object. the foundation stone was sunk at the right place and the foundation stone came to rest upon the lower foundation layer. After closing the watergate the building site was emptied by opening the outlet.4 m (16 in) with 6 loops of rope on each side Ponton with stone bloc hanging in ropes 5 cm Iron bar for ropes Waterlevel Floating ponton for transport over the canal . ”Lewis holes” in stone block 15 cm 20 Beams 0.

. as well to build boats and pontons. So there is a good possibility that the Romans have used a canal to transport the foundation stones and perhaps also the other heavy stone blocks. -The work could be done with local available materials and with local laborers.Stone blocks were redressed afterwards Positioning the stone block upon the lower foundation layer by sinking it in the flooded area Conclusions -The unique geographical situation of the same level of the quarry and the building site. -The Romans had the knowledge to build canals and aquaducts. made it possible to construct a canal. -The ponton system could lift extremely heavy loads.

Last word We will probably never know if the former ideas represent the real situation but it is clear that there is no mystery and that there existed technical methods to solve the transport problem. craftmanship and a good management were the components. Simple engineering techniques. there is one special effect. However. The Romans were good architects and engineers and they will not have had too many difficulties to find the right solutions. human power. The Romans used “Lewis holes” to lift heavy stone blocs Stone blocks . The unique geographical situation that the quarry and building site were located on the same level made it possible that the Romans moved the world’s weightiest monoliths.

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