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Introduction

6. The Mystery of the Stones at Baalbek (continued)

This is one of the most amazing sights in the ancient world - the three 800-ton blocks of the mighty Trilithon (the lighter-coloured course), situated in a wall of the great acropolis of Baalbek in Lebanon.

Michel Alouf, the former curator of the ruins, once wrote of the Trilithon:

    '... in spite of their immense size, they [the Trilithon stones] are so accurately placed in position and so carefully joined, that it is almost impossible to insert a needle between them. No description will give an exact idea of the bewildering and stupefying effect of these tremendous blocks on the spectator'.[4]

Analysis of the Baalbek Platform

Observe in the above photograph the impressive platform of stones which underpins the Trilithon. Each of these stone blocks (the fifth visible layer of the wall) measures 33 by 14 by 10 feet and thus, according to my calculations, weighs approximately 300 tons. Note the outward tapering of these blocks. In my view this was once the platform's uppermost layer, with the Trilithon being a later addition.

Observe, too, the supporting layers beneath the 300-ton blocks - at least four layers of carefully constructed smaller stones.

Now look closely at the adjoining wall, i.e. the south-eastern wall of the acropolis.

 

Here we see another row of 300-ton megaliths, measuring 33 feet in length and 14 feet in height. This layer of megaliths is quite ill-matched; some blocks are tapered, others are not, and the cut of the tapering does not match, even on adjacent blocks. It is as if this south-eastern side of the platform (perhaps the uppermost layer of the original platform) has at one time sustained serious damage and been subsequently reconstructed.

The significant fact, which is not readily apparent without a visit to Baalbek, is this: the rows of 300-ton blocks in the adjoining south-western and south-eastern walls are at exactly the same level - in other words, the Trilithon layer rises above any of the other megalithic stones and does not form part of a level terrace. This fact has led me to a conclusion which is shared by some conventional researchers - that the Baalbek platform as it stands is incomplete, perhaps being part of an unfinished defensive wall.

Such a conclusion is supported by the Stone of the South, which is still attached to the rocky floor of the quarry. Whilst it is possible that the block was considered faulty, it is perhaps more likely that the Stone of the South was abandoned when the project as a whole was suddenly cancelled.

How was Baalbek built?

This view from the quarry shows that the distance to the Baalbek acropolis is not huge - no more than a third of a mile. Nor is the elevation very different between the two points. Although we do not know the topography of the site at the time the wall was constructed, it does seem feasible that the stones might have been dragged up a ramp to the position where they now lie. Theoretically, then, the lifting of the stones would have been limited only to positional adjustments.

Nevertheless, when we consider the size and weight of the Baalbek stones and the fact that the route to the acropolis is not entirely flat, transportation via non-technological means would have presented the builders with formidable problems.

So, how was the job done? How were three 800-ton stones cut, moved and erected in the Baalbek acropolis?

This is a question which must be tackled with great caution, for it is not at all clear who the builders of Baalbek actually were.

If you ask an archaeologist, he will tell you that the Romans built the temples of Baalbek and he or she might well point out that there are work gang inscriptions which date the construction of the Temple of Jupiter to the 1st century ad, i.e. to the Roman era. The archaeologist might also point out to you that the Romans did know how to move and lift heavy stones; after all, we know that they transported a large number of multi-hundred ton obelisks to Rome from Egypt, and that was no mean feat two thousand years ago.

The archaeologist will thus suppose that the platform of Baalbek, on which the Roman temples stand, must also belong to the Roman era. And he or she will thus explain the construction of the Trilithon by reciting what is known about Roman construction techniques. Thus the explanation involves the erection of the Trilithon by push-and-shove methods, with the Romans probably using nothing more than wooden rollers, ropes, wooden lifting frames and human muscle power.

Archaeologists typically overlook the fact that experiments with stones much lighter than 800 tons have crushed the wooden rollers. And even if such a method was feasible, it would, by one estimate, have required the combined pulling power of 40,000 men to move the Stone of the South.[5] Incredible indeed.

Is there any evidence that the Romans built the platform of Baalbek as well as the temples upon it? One text book assures us that: 'Part of a [Roman] drum or column similar to those found in the Temple of Jupiter was used as a block in the foundation under the Trilithon'.[6] But where is the evidence for this Roman drum? I myself have been to Baalbek and I can show you dozens of photographs of the foundation walls, but I cannot show you the alleged Roman drum. It seems to have vanished into thin air.

A good counter argument lies in the fact that the Baalbek platform is out of all proportion to the temples which stand upon it, being thus suggestive of two different phases in construction.[7] This same observation was made by Professor Daniel Krencker of the German archaeological mission, although it led him to the conclusion that the Temple of Jupiter was originally planned on the same colossal scale as these foundations.[8] In other words, Krencker believed that the Roman builders must have had a change of mind. (How many times have we heard this before? Call me a sceptic but it seems to me that 'a change of mind' is archaeologist-speak for anything which the archaeologist cannot comprehend!)

In the absence of any proof as to who built the platform of Baalbek, it becomes very difficult to draw any firm conclusions as to the construction methods used. What we can do, however, is demonstrate the scale of the job by explaining how the Trilithon would be erected using today's technology.

The Baldwins Challenge

In 1996, I posed the problem of the Baalbek stones to Baldwins Industrial Services - one of the leading crane hire companies in Britain. I asked them how they might attempt to move the 1,000-ton Stone of the South and place it at the same height as the Trilithon.

Although it is sometimes claimed that modern cranes cannot lift stones as heavy as 800-tons,[9] this is actually incorrect. Bob MacGrain, the Technical Director of Baldwins, confirmed that there were several mobile cranes that could lift and place the 1,000-ton stone on a support structure 20 feet high. Baldwins themselves operate a 1,200 ton capacity Gottwald AK912 strut jib crane,[10] whilst other companies operate cranes which can lift 2,000 tons. Unfortunately, however, these cranes do not have the capability to actually move whilst carrying such heavy loads.

How, then, might we transport the Stone of the South to the Baalbek acropolis?

Baldwins suggested two possibilities. The first would use a 1,000-ton capacity crane fitted with crawler tracks. The disadvantage of this method would be the need for massive ground preparation works - to provide a solid, level roadway for the crane to move.

The alternative to a crane would be a series of modular hydraulic trailers, combined to create a massive load carrying platform. These trailers raise and lower their loads using hydraulic cylinders built into their suspension. The initial lift at the quarry would be achieved by the use of a cut-out section beneath the stone, which the trailer would drive into. The final positioning in the wall, at a height of 20 feet, would be achieved by using an earth ramp.

This is all very interesting, and gives us some feel for the scale of the engineering challenge, but there is, of course, one slight problem with the Baldwins scenario, namely that none of this twentieth century technology was supposedly available when Baalbek was built.

The Puzzle of Baalbek

Here is a fascinating question. Why did the builders of the Trilithon struggle with 800-ton weights when it would have been far easier to split the giant monoliths into smaller blocks? Why not use 4 x 200-ton stones rather than a cumbersome 800-tonner?

According to my engineer-friends, it was very risky to use 800-ton blocks in the way seen at Baalbek. This is because any vertical defects running lengthwise through the stone might have led to a critical structural weakness. In contrast, a similar fault in a smaller block would not have affected the overall construction. Either the builder was incompetent and just plain lucky or he was competent and supremely confident in his materials.

Whichever way we look at it, however, it makes no sense to imagine tens of thousands of men struggling to move and erect three of these monstrous 800-ton stones.

So the question is "why did they not split the stones?".

One possible answer to this puzzle is that the builders moved the stones in huge sizes simply because they could. In other words, it might have been the case that, with a high technology available, the builders found it more expeditious to cut and move one large stone rather than several smaller ones. This presupposes the kind of high-tech 'lost civilisation' which has been mooted by writers such as Bauval, Hancock and West, or the more plausible 'lost race' as advocated by myself in 'The Phoenix Solution' (1998).[11]

The Megalomaniac Theory

What possible motive could there have been for the Romans to drag three shapeless stone blocks, weighing 800-tons each, and place them into the wall of a structure in a remote region of the Roman empire?

Here is a possible scenario. Let us imagine that the distant Roman empire wished to stamp its authority on one of the most sacred sites of the Near East. Let's say an instruction was issued from the central bureaucracy to erect the world's largest temple. An over-zealous Roman governor at Baalbek then conceived a temple plan on an unimaginable scale and ordered the local people to comply. Thousands of workers were drafted in from all around the Bekaa Valley. Then, as the platform neared completion, even bigger stones were dragged to the site. The workers became exhausted, time and resources became a problem, and the megalithic layer was abandoned. A new official then arrived and blew the whistle, stopped the brutality and brought a sense of realism to the enterprise; the order was thus given for a massive down-grading of the yet-to-be-built temples.

This is a purely hypothetical and imaginative scenario, and there is a problem with it, because there is no historical evidence for it. Where, for example, is the record of a megalomaniac Roman governor at Baalbek? Surely such a man would have been notorious for one of the greatest acts of folly ever witnessed. And yet we find no recollection of this mad dictator among the Romans and no recollection where we would most expect to find it - in the legends of the local people...

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