Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Still No Aliens!

With the exception of television programs like Ancient Aliens, which I'm convinced many people watch simply to see how weird that Centauri guy can be, the hypothesis that space aliens were involved in the building of ancient monuments is on the decline. The whole idea is kind of insulting to ancient people, who from a biological standpoint were no less intelligent than we are today. They had a different knowledge base with respect to technology, but that's about it.

Not only that, some portions of that knowledge base have still not been worked out by modern scientists. It's not because there's anything mysterious about it, but rather because those solutions were arrived at in such a different cultural context. For years nobody knew how the Egyptians got their saws to run so fast without melting, until a clever engineer figured out that you could fix that problem by running the saw through water. We now use a modern version of the same technology to cut stone, and it works better than our previous methods.

Along those same lines, archaeologists are now claiming to have solved the mystery of how the gigantic stones used to build Stonehenge were transported long distances. They discovered that by loading the stones onto a simple sledge constructed out of logs, and then running the sledge over other logs laid out on the ground, the stones were much easier to move than the group expected.

In fact the one tonne stone whizzed along the make-shift silver birch track when pulled by just 10 people, moving at around 10 feet every five seconds – which works out faster than one mile per hour if pulled continually, rather than in the short bursts of the experiment.

The Preseli stones from Stonehenge are approximately double the weight as the experimental block, but it is possible that one huge stone could have been brought by a group of just 20 people. The community living in the area during the Neolithic would have numbered several thousand so the absence of just a few dozen people was unlikely to cause any hardship.

Doctoral student Barney Harris, who conducted the trial in Gordon Square, London, a stone’s throw from UCL’s Institute of Archaeology, said he was surprised that so few people had been required to move the block. “We were expecting to need at least 15 people to move the stone so to find we could do it with 10 was quite interesting,” said Mr Harris.

Experts have proposed for years that the stones may have been dragged along tracks made from timbers, but even then the friction would have been high enough to require more people than seemed feasible. But the addition of the sledge reduces the friction a lot, and according to this experiment allows the stones to be moved by reasonably-sized groups of people.

I imagine it's kind of like that science museum demo where you take a crushed car weighing almost two tons and put it on a compressed air lift that elevates it a tiny fraction of an inch off the ground. Even though the car weighs almost as much as the stones used to build Stonehenge, one person can push it pretty easily once the friction is no longer an issue.

The sledge doesn't work nearly that well, but apparently it works well enough that alien help is probably off the table for good. That's a positive thing, because we do ourselves no favors when we assume ancient people were any less intelligent than we are today. Clearly they were smart enough to work with the resources they had and get the job done.

Technorati Digg This Stumble Stumble

No comments: