Ancient Impossible (2014) s01e03 Episode Script

Monster Monuments

How did the Egyptians carve the world's largest monument thousands of years before mount rushmore? That is absolutely extraordinary! How did the romans build a dome bigger than the dome on the U.
capitol building? This is just under 2,000 years old.
It is incredible that it is still standing.
And how were the massive stones of stonehenge moved hundreds of miles across rugged terrain? Monuments more colossal than our own, ancient super weapons as mighty as today's, technology so precise it defies reinvention.
The ancient world was not primitive.
Their marvels were so advanced, we still use them.
Travel to a world closer than we imagine, an ancient age where nothing was impossible.
Over 3,000 years ago, one of Egypt's greatest pharaohs created this impossibly vast monument to himself at abu simbel, an imposing location on the nile river.
To this day, it is still the largest temple ever carved out of solid rock.
This colossal monster monument was built in an age before modern machinery, before there were even iron tools.
But how did they do it? To understand what they were up against, we look at a monster monument being built right now crazy horse monument, South Dakota.
This project is so vast that Dr.
Derek muller needs a helicopter to appreciate it.
This is absolutely amazing.
I am coming up close and personal with one of America's native American leaders, crazy horse, who led the native Americans to victory in the battle of little big horn.
This sculpture is just mind blowingly big.
It is the whole mountain.
The statue of this great native American hero on horseback will be 563 feet high when completed.
Just the horse's nostril alone will be big enough to hold ten full size cars.
This impossible monument is so massive and time consuming that the task has been handed down from father to son.
My dad got a letter from Henry standing bear asking him to carve a mountain to the native American Indian.
And in 1948, he started it.
Crazy horse will be the largest carving of any kind in the world as far as mountain carvings go, and I think it's the tallest memorial built by man.
But until crazy horse monument is complete, the title for the world's largest monument remains with Abu Simbel, in Egypt.
In a boundless and barren desert, this monument stands, carved out of a single mountain just like crazy horse.
But it took the Egyptians just 20 years to build.
How was this possible so long ago? Look at that.
That is absolutely extraordinary.
Oh, wow.
In terms of the scale of the achievement, the size of the building, and the fact that this is cut directly into a mountain, the great temple at Abu Simbel is as close as there is to an ancient impossible mega build.
Well, standing in front of Abu Simbel right now, I am incredibly impressed by this structure.
You really only get a sense of scale when you're right up against it.
It is just so amazing.
I don't even come up to his feet.
Monuments like these were built on the orders of the pharaohs, absolute rulers of Egypt, who ruthlessly used every resource they could muster to celebrate their rule.
But one pharaoh outbuilt all the other pharaohs.
N a massive fit of pride, Egyptian pharaoh ramses ii decorated the outside of the temple with four massive statues of himself.
Ramses ii was an ego maniac.
He was the greatest, powerful, celebrated pharaoh of all time.
He probably reigned from the age of 24 to 90 years old.
And he built huge monuments to celebrate himself.
He even changed inscriptions on existing monuments to celebrate himself.
He was the ancient monument builder of the ancient world, if you like.
It's a grand statement of power and capability.
You didn't need to be able to read.
You didn't need to be able to meet the man to know what he was capable of.
This was a visual statement that I am as powerful as any man, almost as powerful as a God.
Ramses ii was buried in the valley of thkings and is now on display in a museum.
And even though he died over 3,000 years ago, everyone still remembers him, which I am sure pleases him enormously.
The vast interior of Abu Simbel is a great testament to the phenomenal ability and craftsmanship of the ancient builders.
Can you believe that? Look at how amazing this temple is.
You know, as a modern engineer, I wouldn't believe that this was possible if someone had told me they could build a structure this big and detailed and just beautifully constructed.
I wouldn't think it's possible.
Despite its tremendous size, the temple of Abu Simbel was built with pinpoint precision, an example of not only advanced engineering but that the Egyptians also had an extraordinary knowledge of astronomy.
On exactly two days of the year, February the 21st and October the 21st, possibly the king's birthday and the king's coronation, the light falls inside the temple and shines on the back wall and lights up the holy statues The question remains how did the ancient Egyptians build this impossible temple? Now we're still trying to work out what sort of techniques they could have used to construct it.
It's from another time, and that doesn't make sense.
Some clues might lie in another modern mega monument mount rushmore, South Dakota.
It's been called the eighth wonder of the world.
Many believe mount rushmore would not exist if it were not for the work of the ancient builders at Abu Simbel.
We are going to see the modern Abu Simbel, mount rushmore.
But the best way to see it is from a chopper.
I can't wait.
Let's do this.
These faces of presidents Washington, Jefferson, Roosevelt and Lincoln are 60 feet high, taller than a 5 story building wow.
That is truly something special.
You look at the size of that thing, the scale.
You know, its 60 foot high faces.
If those were made into men, they would stand 465 foot tall.
You think about Abu Simbel and what they were able to achieve there, the statues of ramses were actually larger than each of those faces.
Can the construction of mount rushmore help us to understand what it took to create Abu Simbel? Rushmore was carved with explosives.
The people who built mount rushmore had dynamite.
They had pneumatic drills.
They had all of this very impressive modern technology.
The result is truly an engineering marvel, but consider this 3,000 years ago at Abu Simbel, there was no dynamite or power drills.
All the workers had was this, a small hand chisel as a modern engineer, I would not believe that something like that was capable of being built thousands of years ago with a technology as simple as this, a simple copper chisel.
It gives me a whole new respect for the ancient Egyptians and what they were capable of.
The statues of ramses alone are seven feet higher than the faces on mount rushmore.
Could the Egyptians really have built this massive temple with little more than copper chisels? This is a block of sandstone, the very same material that the temple at Abu Simbel was carved out of, and here I have a reconstructed tool, the same type of copper chisel that they would have used to build the temple.
What I want to find out is just how difficult it is to work with this tool on this rock.
It seems impossible to believe that Abu Simbel was carved with copper chisels, but it's the only metal that the Egyptians could get large quantities of.
Now today, our tools are made of hardened steel.
And copper isn't even half as hard as that, which makes abu simbel one of the most amazing feats of engineering ever.
We're talking about hundreds, possibly thousands of men hacking away skillfully over a long period of time.
It's the only way you could've covered this amount of sheer rock.
After just a few minutes' work, there's a problem.
Looking at my tool after a few hits, I can see that it's already started to wear away.
It is estimated that three or more chisels a day could have been used by each man as they pounded the rock face, far less effective than a pneumatic drill, let alone explosives.
How could the Egyptians have done it? If you're going through three copper chisels in a day and you've got 1,000 stone carvers working for about 20 years, you arrive at something like 20 million chisels.
The scale is just hard to believe.
But they did it, and Abu Simbel is still standing, a constant reminder of the power of pharaoh ramses ii.
But what's even more impossible is that thousands of years after it was built, the entire temple had to be cut into thousands of pieces and moved.
It seems impossible that this temple was carved out of a mountainside in Southern Egypt 3,000 years ago.
This monster monument is larger than mount rushmore and was created with nothing more than simple copper chisels imagine what it would've been like to be here around 3,000 years ago and watch thousands of men as they worked on this rock in 110 degree heat.
To create a monument like this demanded a highly motivated and organized labor force.
Most experts agree that this could not be built using mostly slaves.
Well, the workers at abu simbel were not actually slaves, they were skilled craftsmen, and to be working for the pharaoh would have been a privilege and an honor, and how they got paid? Well, in bread and about 8 pints of beer a day.
While the builders were able to harness enough manpower to accomplish this seemingly impossible task.
How were they able to work at such great heights? Today we take scaffolding for granted, but Abu Simbel might have been one of the first times that scaffolding was ever used on a large scale.
There are some theories that show they did have some scaffolding that would lift them up the rock so you'd have hundreds of workers working on different levels at the same time.
Another theory is even more remarkable.
Could they have used the mountain itself as a building platform? Imagine that you're carving from top to bottom and you're filling up the whole area with sand so as you produce, as you carve the statue, you're taking away amounts of sand, your platform from which you're working.
But there are many questions that need to be answered.
How would they figure out the exact size and proportions if the mountain was covered in sand? The answer might be found at mount rushmore.
The builders of mount rushmore first made a clay model.
They scaled up the dimensions using giant protractors with a boom and a dangling plum Bob.
Using these measurements they carved out each presidential face what's interesting to me is that some of the techniques they used to map out where they're gonna carve may have been the very same that they used at Abu Simbel.
There's a technique called pointing where essentially, you measure out from the top and then drop a plum Bob down to indicate where on the rock you need to cut back.
I mean, it's very difficult to carve everything just by hand.
You need to also know the mathematics and the appropriate engineering to make that work.
It's incredible that techniques used today may have been the same used on abu simbel 3,000 years ago.
When I think about the techniques that must have been invented in order to produce such an incredible temple, I think about the vast advances that humans made here to such a point that if people hadn't figured out how to make this, they may never have figured out how to make mount rushmore.
But there is an important difference between the two monuments.
Ramses the second ordered his monument to be painted in bright colors.
We see them only as they exist now, where earthquakes have shaken off some of the face, and they're left a dusty sort of brown color.
In their original state, they would've been brightly colored, painted whites and blues and reds, gilded with gold.
That is truly how these sculptures should be viewed.
The pharaoh wanted to be sure everyone travelling the nile river saw his monument.
He wanted them to know who he was and be in awe of his power.
But Abu Simbel's prominent position on the banks of the river nile put it under threat.
Over 3,000 years after it was built, Abu Simbel was nearly lost forever.
What I find truly extraordinary is that the abu simbel temple actually used to be 200 feet below the surface of the nile here.
In 1964 they built a dam at aswan which flooded this whole region.
So they had to move the whole temple up 200 feet, and they set it back 700 feet in its current position.
To me, that is amazing, that centuries after this mega build, they made a mega move.
So a team of expert engineers and contractors took Abu Simbel block by block, 20 to 30 ton blocks and moved it onto a higher position.
They created a concrete dome to help support its structure and then piece by piece like a giant Jigsaw put it all back together again.
And what really amazes me is that they still realigned the temple so that twice a year, on the king's birthday and the king's coronation, the sunlight still hits the back of that temple wall and lights up the holy statues of ramses.
Today, the great temple of abu simbel looks like it's always been here.
It is a great testament to the ancient builders that constructed it and to the modern engineers that moved it the ancient Egyptians used a massive workforce for 20 years to create Abu Simbel.
Their tools were simple, but multiplying simple tools and techniques with thousands of workers achieved the impossible to think about the techniques that they invented, to think about their ingenuity and their manpower, their organization, I just think it's extraordinary.
If I hadn't seen it for my own eyes, I wouldn't believe that it's possible.
But is it possible that ancients working thousands of years before Abu Simbel may have employed even more advanced techniques? Thousands of miles and a continent away from the great structures of Egypt lie the remains of an ancient impossible monument built by a people long ago.
To this day, there are many theories as to why they built it, but one thing is sure.
It is a structure years ahead of its time.
Stonehenge is a massive and mysterious stone circle built 4,500 years ago.
Visiting stonehenge literally takes your breath away.
You stand there in absolute awe.
It's a very iconic, very spiritual place, and it's a real testament to what people can achieve when they work together.
Stonehenge in Southern england.
Like the pyramids, it is one of the most famous ancient sites in the world.
Now irrigation and sunshine in Egypt created a real rich powerful agricultural economy, which then in turn gave power and wealth to create monster monuments.
At the same time in Southern england, agriculture was on a fairly basic scale.
So how small farming communities got together and moved and built something like this is absolutely incredible.
Sometimes when you stand inside stonehenge with these massive stones towering above you, it's almost impossible to work out how our ancient ancestors might have built something like this, just the sheer scale of it.
These massive stone archways weigh nearly 100 tons.
Can these ruins give us a clue as to how this monument was built? Originally it looked quite different because today, it's a ruin because its 4,500 years old.
Quite a lot of stones are missing, but if we look at that part of the outer circle, that gives you an idea of what carried all the way round here.
With no quarries on site or nearby, it seems impossible to think this enormous mega structure was built in ancient times, but it was.
Stonehenge was built by the stone age and bronze age inhabitants of britain.
And what they brought here to build it were two different sorts of stones.
These huge ones are sarsens, which is a hard sandstone, and that comes from about 20 miles away to the north.
These things weigh up to 40.
Tons, and the smaller ones, they only weigh up to about five tons.
They come all the way from wales, about 150 miles in that direction.
This is the site in wales where the inner circle bluestones from stonehenge come from.
Stonemason selwyn Jones believes the answers lie in this quarry.
It's incredible to think that these stones from this quarry were transported well over 100 miles by people who had never done anything like this before, and probably would never do anything like it again.
Even today, the scale of choosing one of these stones, moving it down the valley by sled, out to the coast, onto the water, across the channel.
It's amazing, absolutely amazing.
Today, it takes a few hours to travel 150 miles.
5,000 years ago, it took over a week, and that's without a 4 ton stone.
There were no roads, no Bridges and no boats big enough.
How did they get the bluestones here? James Dean uses advanced holographic technology to help solve the ancient mystery.
One theory as to how they might have done it is they could have wrapped the stones in wicker and then rolled them to their destination.
Now this seems like it's going to be very hard work when you're going uphill and potentially lethal when you're going downhill.
Some of the route to stonehenge is over water, but no one has any idea about this because there's no evidence that there were suitable boats that could have moved these stones.
So this one remains impossible.
Unless, could they have used the wicker to float a 3 ton stone? It's possible, but you're going to need a lot of wood to displace this much weight.
But the bluestones are the smallest at stonehenge.
It seems impossible to have moved them here, but how could the ancients possibly transport the heavier stones? The sarsens are very different from the bluestones.
They're much, much bigger.
These massive stones weigh about 40 tons, and they've got a 10 ton stone perched on top of them.
And they also came from 20 miles away to the north.
So quite how prehistoric people dragged these enormous stones across the downs, we honestly don't know.
For thousands of years, the sophisticated society of Egypt built impossible, massive monuments.
But a mysterious culture in Southern england was not to be outdone.
The secrets behind the mega build at stonehenge have remained a mystery for 5,000 years.
How could these 40 ton stones have been moved over 20 miles without modern machinery or roads? We've got 20 to 50 tons of granite hard sandstone here.
And it's a 25 mile journey to stonehenge.
We can't drag it, and in fact even trying to drag it on sleds seems like hard work.
We could try stone rowing.
So we have two teams of people on either side of the rock with big levers, and as they lift the rock, they shuffle it a tiny amount forwards, but it's incredibly slow, and the whole idea of moving a 40 odd ton stone 25 miles without transport or roads seems totally impossible.
But we're not out of ideas yet.
We've seen that the ancient Egyptians could move massive stones.
But what technology was available to a stone age culture? These rollers could work, but ground in Southern england can get very muddy and they'll get stuck.
This is a better option, build a stone age rail road.
We either do it as a continuous length of track or we re lay it as we go.
Either way it's going to take a huge number of people.
Is it possible that stonehenge was built with technology thousands of years ahead of its time? Loads of these balls have been found near neolithic monuments in Scotland, and they're all three inches in diameter.
They could be stone age ball bearings.
These ball bearings could be laid between two "u" sections cut from hard oak to make a roller platform.
This is amazing, but we've no proof that this is what they did.
With a mobile trackway like this you could move the sarsen stones with far fewer people.
Despite the theories, how the stones got here is still a mystery.
But look at their perfectly smooth sides.
It's not difficult to do this today.
But how was it done 4,500 years ago? The only thing they had to do that with were stone tools.
Hammers of stone, everything from the size of footballs that you'd have to pound away at the stones with, and then when you got to a finer surface you'd need a smaller handheld stone like this, but can you imagine just sitting here and pounding away for hours and days and weeks and months to create these smooth surfaces and the joints that fit the stones together? Even with the stones on hand and ready to go, the problems for these ancient mega builders were only just beginning.
So they've got the stones here, they've shaped them.
Then they've got to get them upright.
That in itself is not easy with a stone of this size.
We think that they must have known how to use levers to actually lever the end of the stone up.
Stone age societies had no metal tools.
They had to improvise.
To get this stone vertical.
, you dig a hole with a vertical side and a diagonal side using antler picks.
First the stone goes in off this ramp.
And then it's hauled in whilst the hole is backfilled.
It would work, but it'd take an incredible number of people to achieve it.
The people who built stonehenge might have been able to mobilize enough workers.
But there is still the question of how they got the final stones in place.
So you've got the upright stones up, then you've got to get the lintel on the top, and that really we don't know in all honesty how they actually got these stones up.
It's one of the great mysteries of stonehenge.
There are plenty of theories but still no solid answers.
You can haul the lintel up an earth ramp to get it into position, but it's very costly in terms of time and manpower.
As another possibility, you can lever up alternate sides and build supporting timber underneath until you lever it sideways on to the stones.
Another idea is that the lintel was lifted on a sturdy wooden wheel.
Stonehenge comes from a time before written records.
There's no evidence as to how or why it was built, but it remains today a testament to the impossible.
I think one of the things that we need to understand is that these people were incredibly ingenious, incredibly skilled.
They were mathematicians.
They were engineers.
They were astronomers.
They had a lot of skills.
We mustn't think of them as being primitive in any way.
They were unbelievably skilled people because they built stonehenge, and it's still here for us to see 4,500 years later.
Stonehenge remains one of the greatest mysteries of the ancient world.
But the romans weren't to be outdone in monster monumental impossibilities.
Our world is full of amazing buildings, but 2,000 years ago, the romans built advanced structures that still have not been outdone today.
One of these is a 2,000 year old concrete dome found in the centre of Rome.
It's called the pantheon, built as a temple to all the gods of ancient Rome.
The pantheon is usually ascribed to emperor hadrian, but it's actually said to have been begun by his predecessor, emperor trajan.
These towering grey granite columns came from Egypt, 3,000 miles from Rome.
They were quarried in aswan these were first transported up the river nile, then across the mediterranean, and then by barge up the river tiber and then finally dragged through the streets to the pantheon.
The sight must have been incredible.
The stone floor was made up of granite and marble from Egypt, north Africa and Turkey, the edges of Rome's vast empire.
But the truly impossible feature of the pantheon is its dome of unreinforced concrete.
After 2,000 years, its sheer scale has never been matched.
The dome's diameter, that's what's not superseded, ever.
So picture, you don't just have this amazing dome but the width, the diameter is the same as the height, so you could fit in that cylinder a perfect sphere.
Incredibly, the space inside the pantheon could hold 9 million gallons of water.
It is an amazing structure.
If we compare the pantheon dome to say a modern dome such as the capitol building in Washington DC.
Now the pantheon dome has a diameter of 142 feet.
Now the capitol building has a diameter of 96 feet.
The last time the pantheon dome was repaired was in 202 ad after an earthquake.
The capitol dome was finished in 1866 and has already undergone two extensive restorations.
How was the pantheon built? The secret lies hidden in the concrete.
Modern concrete buildings rarely last 50 years, let alone 2,000 years.
To uncover this secret, we're going to one of the world's most dangerous places.
Oh, my God.
It's like being on the moon.
Darius Arya has come to solfatara volcano in Italy.
This hellish inferno is the key to the mystery of the pantheon dome.
We think of concrete as a modern invention.
We think about it building our modern mega cities.
But it was invented here in Roman times.
Encased in this bubbling cauldron is the secret ingredient, this volcanic material, called pozzolana ash or sand.
The magic ingredient in cement is the pozzolana sand, and what it has is volcanic material, including aluminates and silicates.
And this creates a really important chemical bond with the lime and with the water.
The bond created by volcanic ash when combined with other ingredients makes a solid material, unlike modern concrete which lets water in.
The volcanic ash makes the concrete weatherproof and resistant to decay.
This simple ingredient makes Roman concrete a mega build super material more durable than any concrete made today.
A modern equivalent of the Roman concrete recipe was amazingly used in the hoover dam.
Fly ash, a by product of the coal fire process, was used in the hoover dam concrete, and it works in a similar kind of way to the volcanic ash of the Roman age.
We've found the secret of Roman concrete.
And we've come to Texas to put it to the test.
Concrete expert mark whaling has always been fascinated by Roman concrete.
He's even visited the pantheon in Rome to study its design.
Mark has made one ton blocks of Roman and modern concrete to test their strengths.
How will they face up to a true Texas test, a Winchester 73? We have a showdown between Roman concrete 2,000 year old technology and modern concrete, and we're going to see which one is stronger.
Can sharpshooter Kirsten weiss make a big impact on modern concrete? Some light damage, penetrated about half an inch, not much more than that.
Held up pretty well.
Will the Roman concrete be equal to the test? It's fared every bit as well as the modern concrete did.
The thing with the Roman concrete is that it gets stronger and stronger as it ages, and that is one of the reasons why the pantheon is still standing today.
If you take something like the pantheon dome, it's actually stronger now than when it was built 2,000 years ago.
I'm in complete awe of the engineering and the skill of the monument builders of the ancient world.
The romans formulated the ultimate building material and built the impossible.
In 2,000 years it's never been matched.
But another ancient monument stood 2,500 years before the pantheon was built and is still standing today.
This is the great pyramid of giza.
We like to think that humans have never been more advanced than they are today, but we're wrong.
As far back as 5,000 years, ancient engineers erected buildings that have stood the test of time and might outlast anything we build today.
The temple of Abu Simbel in Egypt is still the world's biggest monument carved out of a mountainside, but one Egyptian monster monument even dwarfs Abu Simbel the great pyramid, built in the 26th century bc.
At a height of over 480 feet, it reigned as the tallest manmade structure in the world for over 4,000 years.
The building of the great pyramid is a staggering feat when you consider the sheer size.
This is an almost impossible achievement.
The Egyptians built more than 100 pyramids across their kingdom.
It is believed that all were constructed as tombs.
In terms of size, precision and construction time, no mega build in the world beats the great pyramid of giza.
It is the only wonder of the seven wonders of the ancient world still standing.
It was constructed as a tomb for Khufu, second pharaoh of the fourth dynasty, 4,500 years ago.
How did the Egyptians build on such a scale thousands of years ahead of their time? I think, undisputedly, the ancient Egyptians were the mega builders of the ancient world.
The mind boggles to think how they did it.
When we think of big, we think of buildings like the Pentagon, and while it does have greater ground coverage, the Pentagon is just a lightweight when it comes to the sheer volume of the great pyramid.
These are manmade mountains, structures of a size that we failed to replicate up until, say, the 20th century.
That just gives you some idea of the scope, the scale, the monumental achievement that this represents.
The great pyramid weighs over 6 million tons.
That's more than seven Pentagon buildings.
The number of stone blocks it contains is simply staggering.
You know, each one of these pyramids contains about 2 million huge stones.
And you think about how far they had to bring those stones, it just it boggles the mind.
How was that even possible? The blocks used at the base of the great pyramid weigh two and a half tons.
The largest single blocks in the pyramid weigh as much as 20 tons each.
You think about how long Khufu's reign was and we think it was between 23 and 25 years, you divide that time by the number of blocks, you're looking at putting one of those humungous blocks into place every couple of minutes.
That in itself is a staggering achievement.
And if you think with enough rope, enough men, enough force, you can move anything, and the great pyramid is the proof of that.
Even more incredible is the precision with which the great pyramid was built long before computers and modern surveying equipment were invented in addition to its phenomenal size, the pyramid is an incredible feat of precision building as well.
So the base on to which it's built is absolutely level.
There's less than a single inch worth of deviation from that absolutely perfect level, and all of the four sides of the pyramid at the base are of identical length.
The difference between the shortest and the longest is less than two inches.
This is an absolutely incredible feat.
Originally the pyramids were covered with highly polished white limestone and possibly capped with gold.
Only the pyramid of khafre, the second pyramid, still has some of its limestone cladding left.
The casing stones that were used to face the pyramid are cut with incredible accuracy.
So at the corners of the pyramid, they are cut to a 90 degree angle that is so close to perfect, it's within 100th of an inch.
Modern builders would find it a challenge to match such precision on a monster scale.
The Egyptians proved that you can achieve the impossible with little more than.
String, a plumb line, and a set square.
It is a testament to their mega monument building.
For me as an engineer, this is the most impressive manmade feat on the planet.
I mean, it represents impossible ancient engineering.
The world's greatest mega build is yet to be surpassed after 4,500 years, and many believe it will remain long after anything we build today.
The construction of the pyramid as a whole is so well done that we expect the pyramid will still be standing in 100,000 years time.
Mega builders of the ancient world made unbelievable structures impossible to match even today, from history's most immense monument to the largest concrete dome and the world's most massive building, proving that the ancients were to achieve the impossible, creating monster monuments that still remain unmatched after thousands of years.