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Analysis > Friday, 19 November 2010 03:00:35 EST

The Evidence For Ancient Stone Cutting

Keywords: aliens, ancient alien theory, conspiracy, historical

My analysis of the Ancient Aliens television show so far has garnered the most attention of anything that I've written.  My thanks to everybody who's written in to encourage me in my efforts, and even to the people who've challenged me in the comment sections.  I love all the feedback, even when it doesn't feed my ravenous dumbass ego.

I figured that it was high time that I rolled up my sleeves and tackled the next segment of the Ancient Aliens evidence show.  This is my fifth article sequentially analyzing the show itself, and I've written several other related articles.  If you're interested in seeing everything I've written on the subject, click on the "ancient alien theory" keyword above.  Click here to watch the show, and you can decide for yourself whether I'm being fair in my analysis.

In this segment, we'll be talking about the art of ancient stone cutting, and the claims made by proponents of Ancient Aliens.

Ancient Aliens Logo

I would like to give special thanks to Yannis Deliyannis, a historian who has spent over a decade looking at Ancient Alien claims.  I've mentioned Yannis' blog before, Chronicon Mirabilium, where he looks at ancient anomalous celestial phenomena and mysterious history.  Yannis was nice enough to take the time to answer some of my questions and point me to some great resources that really helped me put this article together more quickly than would have otherwise been possible.

I would also like to thank Susan Johnston, archaeologist and anthropologist at George Washington University.  Professor Johnston is the lecturer in a lecture series called "Myths and Mysteries in Archaeology", check out
this podcast episode from Modern Scholar where she discusses archaeology and her new course.  She was nice enough to take the time to talk with me over email and help me to consider different perspectives from which to tackle the claims that I've been looking at.

But now let's get into the meat of the matter.

First I would like to illustrate a point about evidence and how we draw conclusions. Over 2,200 years ago in China, a tributary of the Yangtze called the Minjiang River was causing no end of problems because of it's frequent flooding.  The most obvious solution would have been to dam the river, but government officials wanted to keep the waterways open for transportation purposes.  A man by the name of Li Bing came up with the solution: a massive irrigation project that would control the water flow and provide farmers and citizens with greater access to water resources.

The Dujiangyan Irrigation System created by Li Bing is still in service, and irrigates over 5,300 square kilometers of land.  It's considered to be one of the great marvels of ancient construction, and in China it's known as the "Treasure of Sichuan".  It's a very impressive accomplishment, one that required the ancient Chinese workers to gouge a 20 m wide channel through the Yulei Mountain.

Here's the problem: the Chinese technology at the time wasn't up to the task.  Gunpowder hadn't been invented yet, and they had no tools that could cut through the hard rock of the Yulei Mountain.  If you were assigned to perform this task, do you think that you would be able to do it?  Can you think of any method by which you'd get that channel dug?

If I told you that there's no way that the ancient Chinese could have built this channel, and that they must have had help from an advanced civilization from another planet, would you be swayed by that argument?

If you can think of a workable method to accomplish this task without extra terrestrial help, give yourself a pat on the back.  I certainly don't think that I'd have been able to figure it out.  But Li Bing did figure it out, and luckily, he left records of exactly how he did it.  Basically, he lit fires over the rock, allowed them to get really hot, then doused them quickly with cold water.  This caused the rock to become brittle and crack, making them easy to break up and move out of the way.

But what if we didn't have any records of how Li Bing did this, what would you think of this massive man made channel that seemingly couldn't have been dug using the technology they had available at the time?  Would you have concluded that aliens must have been involved?

If so, then you would have been wrong, but that's almost beside the point here.  More important is the reason why you were wrong, which is because you used poor reasoning to come to your conclusion.  The fact is that you can't solve one unknown by attributing it to another unknown.

It doesn't matter what the unknown is, you could just as easily replace "aliens from another planet" with "a technologically advanced species of subterranean mole men" and it would make very little difference to the narrative.  We don't have any evidence for either scenario, or any knowledge of either alleged interlopers.  All we've got is wild speculation, and nothing else.

If the evidence fits the subterranean mole men hypothesis equally as well as the ancient aliens hypothesis, then what reason is there to believe that either of them represent what actually happened?  It could just as easily be a third scenario, such as beings from another dimension, or a fourth, that they did it through powerful psychokinesis. 

This point is important for me to hammer home up front here because it's the main flaw in the arguments in this next section.  To some extent it plays into many of the other claims the show has made so far as well, but much more so here.  So I felt that it was important that I explain to you exactly why this kind of logic is flawed before continuing. 

We start off with the following voiceover by the narrator:

Palm Springs, California.  Master stone mason and sculptor Roger Hopkins uses a variety of advanced tools to cut and shape hard stones.   Powered implements, such as diamond tipped wires and polishers enable him to fashion works of art out of huge granite blocks obtained from nearby quarries.  Yet even with these high tech tools, Hopkins cannot replicate what ancient civilizations accomplished thousands of years ago.  Could these advanced engineering methods be the smoking gun that proves humans had help from alien beings?

A master stone mason and sculptor is completely unable to duplicate the stone work of some ancient people?  That does sound like an impressive claim.  This narration is followed by a quote from Hopkins himself, let's see what he has to say:

The precision on some of the work I've seen is just incredible.  It's possible to do by hand, but it'd take an incredible amount of time, plus you'd have to have years of experience to be able to pull it off.

.... Did anybody else notice that Hopkins isn't backing up what the narrator said?

The narrator was just talking about feats of stone workmanship that would be impossible to accomplish even with today's technology.  Yet in the very next sentence, when their expert gets his chance to speak, all he has to say is basically "It's possible to do it by hand... just difficult."  I assume that means that it would be much easier to do with his advanced machinery.

Where is this notion coming from that we can't replicate what our ancient ancestors did?  Here's our friend Giorgio Tsoukalos, publisher of Legendary Times Magazine.  Maybe he'll clue us in to what they're talking about:

In my opinion the most tangible pieces of evidence that we have regarding possible extra terrestrial technology is when we look at the ancient stonecutting techniques.  Because in some instances, we ourselves today could not replicate what our ancestors allegedly accomplished with stonemasonry.

I would very much love to see these instances of stonemasonry that we are unable to duplicate.  Maybe they'll get around to that. 

In any case, this is quite encouraging.  Tsoukalos says that this evidence is the "most tangible" of all the evidence for ancient aliens.  Excellent!  I'm not doing this analysis because it's easy, you know.  I want to tackle the best evidence that the ancient alien theorists can throw at me!  Who knows, maybe I'll find some actual valid evidence!

So the narrator moves on to talk about a pre-Columbian site in Bolivia called Pumapunku, dated to around 200 BC.  These people, precursors of the Inca, had no written language or the wheel.  Tsoukalos confidently tells us that:

The ruins we find at Pumapunku are simply extraordinary.  Pumapunku defies logic.

To explain exactly how Pumapunku "defies logic", the show brings in the author and investigative journalist Philip Coppens:

The interest of Pumapunku is not so much that the individual stones molded together perfectly, but the fact that the stones, as such, are of such tremendous design that it requires concepts of mathematics which are far beyond anything we are actually using right now. Yet somehow in the past, somebody has made that for a specific purpose, and in a way which even computer programs today would kind of go "how is this possible?"

There's an obvious question here that should pop into your mind when reading something like this: "What the <EXPLETIVE DELETED> is Philip Coppens talking about??"

Designs that require concepts of mathematics that are beyond what we can do today?  What does that even mean?  And if these concepts are so far beyond us, how do we even know enough to recognize them?

Let's have a look at these complex mathematical designs:

H Shaped Rocks From Puma Punku

Skilled Stone Cutting Example From Puma Punku

That second one is pretty cool... it's a shape within a shape within a shape, kind of like one of those Russian nesting dolls.  Is this the kind of design that shows such incredibly advanced mathematics?

Philip Coppens, if you're reading this (I'm certain that you check my small time blog at every opportunity), I have a hand towel that will absolutely blow your mind!

Hand Towel Pattern

Pretty trippy, right?  I'm certain that if you look you'll find that this pattern represents some sort of advanced mathematical concepts that are beyond our current understanding.  I'm certain this means that aliens have infiltrated our home accessories market.  I don't know how deep this goes... but you might want to consider checking into Martha Stewart's background a little.  Something about her seems just a little bit.... off.

In all seriousness though, this reminds me of the claims of people who find advanced mathematical significance in crop circles that supposedly couldn't have been figured out by humans.  They seem to have the idea that if it takes complex mathematics to describe something, that must mean that those complex mathematics are required in order to create it.  But that's just not the case.

Even just the concept of a circle requires some understanding of modern geometry and mathematics in order to describe it accurately, yet any dumbass with a stick and a string can draw a perfect circle without any consideration of mathematics whatsoever.

Anyway, this is the first and last time we hear that claim in this section.  From here, the show moves on to a conversation between Tsoukalos and Hopkins.  Tsoukalos is showing Hopkins a number of images from Pumapunku, and Hopkins is suitably impressed by the workmanship.  Tsoukalos seems to be making every attempt to extract from Hopkins an admission that modern technology couldn't duplicate these ancient feats.

If that was, indeed, Tsoukalos' goal, then he failed at it.  The closest he got during the conversation was when Hopkins said:

It would be difficult for us with our equipment to get that kind of precision

The word he used was "difficult", not "impossible".   Yet earlier in this segment, "impossible" was exactly the claim that Tsoukalos made. As far as I can see, the expert in stonemasonry that they're using on the show simply doesn't agree with the show's conclusion that ancient people performed feats of stoneworking that modern stonemasons are unable to duplicate.

I think that Tsoukalos just doesn't care whether he gets his facts exactly right.  If he can find some justification that's "close enough", that's good enough for him, and he just assumes that most people won't notice.  And of course, for the most part he's right about that.

We're next treated to a quote by mining engineer Michael Dunn:

When I saw these blocks, I didn't really think that they were cut.  The first thing really that I thought of was "this appears very similar to Frank Lloyd Wright's textile block system of construction which he used in his California houses in the early 1920's.  Now what he did was he took concrete, poured it into molds.

This is our first taste of what will become the dominant theory for the rest of this segment to explain how these stone structures were created.  Tsoukalos provides the next sound bite:

There actually are ancient Incan legends that suggest that they had the capability of softening the stone.  At Saqsaywaman, for example, we find these gigantic stone blocks, gigantic stone walls, where it looks as if those stones were molten , put into place, and then the stone hardened again.

Here's the stones that Tsoukalos is talking about:

Were These Stones Molten?

I suppose it's a matter of opinion... but those stones look nothing like they were molten and poured into molds to me.  They're all different shapes and sizes, and I don't know about you, but those edges give me the distinct impression of being cut, not melted into being.

It certainly doesn't look like any form of concrete-from-molds construction that I've ever seen.  And to my understanding, these are still separate blocks.  If they were melted then put together, wouldn't they have fused to some extent?

And what's this Incan legend that Tsoukalos is talking about?  Yannis Deliyannis actually located that for me, the man's a fountain of knowledge.  He shared with me a quote from the 1911 book "Across South America" by Hiram Bingham:

The modern Peruvians are very fond of speculating as to the method which the Incas employed to make their stones fit so perfectly. One of the favorite stories is that the Incas knew of a plant whose juices rendered the surface of a block so soft that the marvellous fitting was accomplished by rubbing the stones together for a few moments with this magical plant juice!

As usual, Tsoukalos thinks that it's perfectly acceptable to interpret stories by accepting only the parts that agree with what he wants to say, and dismissing everything else as unimportant.  I've already talked about why it's important to take stories in their own context.  You shouldn't read details into the story that aren't there, but it's also important not to just dismiss details because they don't work with your argument.

The claim in this story was that these stones were softened by the use of some magical plant juice.  Tsoukalos wants to just edit out the words "magical plant juice" and replace them with "advanced alien technology".  The problem is that no matter how finely you slice it, that's just not what the story says!

The show now moves on to look at an Incan site from the 15th century known as Machu Picchu.  Michael Dunn gives us our next talking head quote:

I can't help but think that whoever was behind this thought the process through from beginning to end.  They didn't quarry the rock and then decide "how the heck are we going to transport this?'"  They knew, from beginning to end what needed to be done with whatever techniques and technology they were going to use

Well thank the heavens you were here Captain Obvious!  I don't know what we would have done without you!

I wonder who Mr. Dunn thinks he's arguing against.  Does he believe there are some naysayers out there saying "Nahhh... I think you're wrong about that Dunn!  The ancient Incans were totally just winging it right off the top of their heads!"

Mr. Dunn continues:

In industry today there's an adage: "Keep It Simple, Stupid".

Ah, the KISS principle!  I'm a fan!  I had a college professor that hammered that in to me.

Anyway, the narrator explains further:

Based on his experience, Mike Dunn believes the simplest way to build the great walls of Machu Picchu would have been to transport small rocks to the site, then melt them and use molds to fashion the exact size and shape needed.

Sure, that may be simpler for the quarrying and transportation - but melting granite is not a simple proposition.  In fact, I would argue that the suggestion that they melted the granite so over complicates this theory that's not in line with the KISS principle by any means.

I've got to admit though, that many of the blocks at Machu Picchu do seem to be more regular in size than those that we've seen so far:

Machu Picchu Stone Bricks 1

Machu Picchu Stone Bricks 2

It's pretty impressive construction, and it was accomplished without the aid of modern machinery, or even any mortar to bind the stones together.  So of course, we've got to ask ourselves: how is it possible for a civilization without modern machinery to cut these granite blocks so precisely that they can be built in this way?

I mean, just take a look at this workmanship:

Aqueduct Of Segovia

Those granite blocks could easily be mistaken for poured concrete bricks!  I mean.....

..... hold on a second, let me check my notes on something here.....

I'm sorry folks, I just realized that I kind of messed up.  That last image wasn't from Machu Picchu.  What you're looking at there is the Aqueduct of Segovia, built somewhere between the first and second centuries AD by the Romans, who also used granite blocks and no mortar for their construction.

I'm sure you understand how I could make that mistake.  But you know, this brings up an interesting point: the ancient Romans didn't have modern machinery any more than did the ancient Incans.  Does that mean that the ancient Romans had help from aliens as well?

As opposed to the Incans, we have a heck of a lot of writing from the ancient Romans.  You'd think somewhere along the way one of those ancient Romans would have commented on their subterranean mole men.... err... I mean alien visitations or their stone melting technology.  Something along the lines of "That Galactic Overlord Glorp sure has helped make construction easier for us!" would have been nice.  Strange that they're so quiet about it... and that none of the Ancient Alien proponents are even mentioning the Aqueduct of Segovia as proof of alien visitation.

But let's get back to the show where we've got a quote from Hopkins about the feasibility of melting granite:

Melting the rocks and then pouring them into place would take an incredible amount of heat ... I have a stone torch which I use for sometimes shaping granite, and it generates a temperature of in excess of three thousand degrees.  Three thousand degrees!  That's a lot!

It certainly is.  Hopkins, you have quite the talent for understatements!

Michael Dunn, put your finishing touches on this argument!

When we look back at the ancients and we see a technology that they couldn't possibly know, there's only two possibilities to that: either God did it, which we really don't think happened, or some high tech civilization from another planet came and showed them how to do it, then took their material and tools and went back home.

Don't you love how he just went from speculating about how these constructions were built, to assuming that there's no other possible explanation in order to try and back any dissenters into an uncomfortable corner?

Even if you accept his premise, though, his reasoning still doesn't work out.  Saying "Aliens did it!" is exactly as poorly reasoned as saying "God did it!" or "Subterranean Mole Men did it!" or whatever have you.  Any one of those assertions is an appeal to some unknown entity, and like I've already pointed out, you can't solve an unknown with another unknown!

There's no reason for the statement "Aliens did it!" to be considered any more plausible than "God did it!".  Dunn seems to accept that the aliens theory is more plausible, but he's failed to provide a single reason for that.

And the thing is that archaeologists have actually been to the quarries that the Incas used, and they've found these granite blocks in various stages of preparation.  What are we to make of these blocks if we believe that they actually transported smaller stones to the construction site for melting?  If that's the case, what exactly were they doing cutting up these concrete blocks in the quarries?

But there are still some unanswered questions about exactly how certain aspects of Incan construction were done, and I won't try to pretend like we've got everything solved here.  But that doesn't mean that the only possible explanation is that the Incans must have had help from aliens.  It just means that there are things that we don't know, and that's just the way it often goes with the study of history.  We can't attribute everything we don't know to some unknown force like aliens just because we want to.

So Tsoukalos' best evidence for Ancient Aliens pretty much evaporates into nothingness when we look at it critically.  It doesn't give me much hope for any of the evidence in the rest of the show, which by his own admission is bound to be even weaker and more insubstantial.  But I'm having fun with this, and I'm planning to keep plugging away at this show until I complete this episode and tackle all the evidence they can throw at me regarding ancient aliens.

Comments and questions are always welcome.  Let me know how much you enjoyed my analysis, or just write in to tell me how wrong I am about something.  Either way, I appreciate the feedback!


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