How we built our monuments, especially the more ancient ones, seems absolutely insane to us today. Of course, they would have seemed to be incredible feats even in their day. That kind of is the point of monuments after all.
Our modern-day disbelief in our ancestor's ability has led a plethora of "conspiracy" theories about our past engineering feats, ranging from long-lost highly advanced ancestors to aliens. But is this fair? Why wouldn't they be as "clever" or ingenious as we are today?
Should we feel bad for our "bigotry of low expectation", so to speak?
To our contemporary eyes, many of these sites seem to be impossible given our pre-conceptions of our ancestors. We should probably afford them a bit more respect. After all, we can see the fruits of their labor today.
In the following article, we'll look at a few of the most famous examples. We'll also touch on how we think they might have been built. Hold on tight, we are about to zoom back through time and marvel at our ancestors work...
1. Göbeklitepe - 10,000 BC
Situated in Central Anatolia, Turkey, Göbeklitepe is thought to be the world's first temple. So old is it, in fact, that it pre-dates the pyramids of Egypt by at least 7,000 years. Just think about that, we are closer today to the building of the pyramids than they are to Göbeklitepe!
The site is around 15 km from the Turkish city of Şanlıurfa in south-eastern Turkey. It is believed to have been constructed around 10,000 BC. It is built of a series of oval-shaped structures that are set on the top of a hill.
When excavations began in 1995, it was immediately obvious the site was not for domestic purposes. It appeared to be of some great religious significance. The site actually consists of not one, but several stone age temples. There are also two enormous pillars in the center of each temple.
Each pillar is T-shaped and is ornamented with depictions of animals and other abstract symbols.
Current research seems to show that it was built by a pre-pottery civilization with, apparently, an understanding of stone masonry. The structure is built from massive blocks of stone and the pillars themselves weigh in at about 40-60 tons each!
Just how could an ancient stone-age civilization build such a complex? The answer is we simply don't know. But theories abound, could it have been aliens? No, we don't think so either but it's a fascinating theory...
2. Stonehenge - 3,000 to 1,500 BC
Stonehenge is one of the world's most iconic and famous prehistoric monuments. And for good reason, built around 3500-5000 years ago. Depending on how you age the site of the pyramids, Stonehenge could pre-date it by around 500 years.
Stonehenge is, in fact, one of the later, more monumental of the ancient European habit of building "henges". Some are much older but less well preserved.
The site is actually the accumulation of various phases of construction. The heel stone and low mound are likely to have been built first. This was quickly added to by building the inner and outer banks. Later additions then included the excavation of the Aubrey holes that probably had timber posts stuck in them.
These also appeared to be used for burials. It wasn't until around 2500 BC that the enormous stone pillars were installed. With that, the modern structure was, more or less in place. Further minor alterations did occur after that.
All of this engineering work was conducted by people without any metal tools. It seems they used antler tools for excavation works. It is unclear what they used to shape the stones but they were certainly put into place using a lot of manpower.
There are many theories around exactly how they were shaped, transported and deposited on site. Here is one of them.
The truth is we'll probably never know, but it was clearly an enormous undertaking even by today's standards.
3. Great Pyramid of Giza - 2550 BC
Since we keep mentioned the pyramids of Giza we should probably include them for the sake of fairness.
The Great Pyramid of Giza, aka the Pyramid of Khufu, is one of the world's most recognizable monuments. It is, in fact, one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World and still exists.
Estimates of the pyramid's construction suggest that it is made up of around 2.3 million limestone blocks. Most of this needed to be transported about 800 km from their original quarry site. The entire structure took around 20 years to build and is thought to have been built using mechanical assistance and lots of laborers.
Contrary to popular belief, these workers and masons might not have been slaves. Documentation, well tablets, from the time indicate that the construction staff was very proud of their work. It seems to have been a highly honored role in society and greatly rewarded.
Though we'll never really know how the ancient Egyptians built the pyramids we can make educated guesses.
The final word
Despite the massive variety of theories about how these examples were built, we will never really know. Of course, in the future detailed accounts of their construction could be unearthed but we probably shouldn't bet on that happening. Although that would be amazing.
Who knows, perhaps the plans once existed in the Great Library of Alexandria before it's untimely loss.
When you think about it, it might be better we don't know. Mystery and the unknown are nothing to be feared. It is a "force" that has driven mankind ever forward in our pursuit of discovery and knowledge.
How we built our monuments seems insane now but, at the end of the day, we shouldn't be surprised. Our ancestors were not unlike you today. If history teaches us nothing else it has shown our ingenuity and appetite for innovation and invention. Unless of course, we were helped by aliens.