If you’ve ever wondered how they constructed Stonehenge, moved the Moai sculptures on Easter Island, or how many people it took to make still-standing diamonds, we’ve put together a list of the most amazing ancient engineering accomplishments. You might be surprised by the following entries, but each one is a wonder of technical skill, outstanding invention, and an incredible amount of physical effort.
Stonehenge, Wiltshire, England, UK
Experts are still perplexed by the massive circle of stones that rises from the Salisbury Plain. The puzzle of how (and why) the massive sarsen stones and smaller bluestones were brought all the way from Pembrokeshire has captivated people for ages. The monument was built in the late Neolithic period. Evidence shows that a portion of the well-known stone circle was initially constructed close to the Pembrokeshire Coast before being disassembled and reconstructed in Wiltshire. It is amazing to think that this engineering marvel was made using just basic tools and methods.
The sacred Incan structure that formerly stood here was made of enormous rocks that could weigh up to 125 tonnes each. Check at the enormous size of the bottom wall stones. The tower walls are built of dry stones arranged in a zigzag pattern, and they are so perfectly aligned that not even a piece of paper can fit in between them. How the stones were moved over two miles (3 km) from the quarry to the location continues to elude historians. How did they manage to achieve it?
Machu Picchu, Peru
This exquisitely designed royal residence was built by the ancient Incan Empire among landslide-prone slopes and a lot of rain. Their ingenuity focuses around water; after a stone canal and effective water drainage system were put in place, the 170 or so structures almost put themselves together. They utilised ashlar in place of cement to join cut granite stones together and metal and stone in place of tools made of steel or iron. Additionally, ramps and levers are said to have been employed to move the 15-ton stones into position. It’s interesting to note that up to 60% of development is reportedly underground.
Underground churches of Lalibela, Ethiopia
The 11 mediaeval structures that make up Lalibela’s rock-hewn churches are cut out of solid rock. Along with a complex network of drainage ditches, ceremonial tunnels, and tombs, their monolithic scale is characterised by chiselled doorways, windows, and columns. Inside are mural paintings and old royal apartments that descend between 131 and 164 feet (40 and 50 metres) into the earth. The reign of King Lalibela (AD 1181–1221) is generally accepted to represent the time period for these astounding architectural achievements.
The biggest Buddhist temple in the world is called Borobudur, and it was hidden from view until 1835 behind layers of volcanic ash and jungle foliage. However, there is still a lack of information on its construction and original intent, leaving historians to examine the hundreds of carved reliefs in search of hints. It is thought to have taken 75 years to construct using andesite (grey volcanic rocks), which were cut, hauled, and set without cement, from nearby quarries.