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by Archaeology Newsroom

Ancient Technology for Surmounting Heavy Weights

The main and independent ways for surmounting weights have always been transporting and hoisting, while the characteristics of the weights to be surmounted, the nature of means and the relation between the original and the final position of the transported or hoisted weights have been critical factors for the achievement of this task. While the ancient and present norms of bodily labor do not differ (force 18-25 kilos per person), rope and discipline were accordingly the most important mean and the most essential human virtue for this accomplishment. The first great achievements in this field, the megalithic monuments of Western Europe, belong to the category of weight transporting along with the unrivalled works of the Egyptians who managed to transport monoliths weighing even 1000 tons! The hoisting of building members by ropes and pulleys, a technology probably inspired by ship hoisting devices, is introduced much later than transporting and becomes particularly popular in ancient Greece. Although the weights surmounted by hoisting can be amazing (up to 50 T), still they do not approach the extreme Egyptian weight magnitudes. In spite of the fact that the technology of hoisting is faster, less expensive and more flexible than that of transporting, it does not manage to replace it fully. In many Greek, Roman or modern works, the age-old Egyptian technology of transporting, using various systems of traction and slide, has remained in use being less expensive or, when the magnitudes are extreme, the only feasible. Examined in particular are the Stonehenge, the “Treasure of Atreus”, the “Treasure of Minyas”, the pulley blocks and winches, the scaffoldings and cranes as well as the petasos of the Colosseum, while reference is made to a great number of Greek monuments of the Archaic, Classical and Hellenistic period and also to some excellent Roman achievements (temples at Baalbek, monolithic dome of Theodoric’s Mausoleum).