HomeLatest ThreadsGreatest ThreadsForums & GroupsMy SubscriptionsMy Posts
DU Home » Latest Threads » Forums & Groups » Topics » Science » Anthropology (Group) » The Myth of the Megalith

Fri Dec 19, 2014, 09:23 PM

The Myth of the Megalith

BY ELIF BATUMAN




Baalbek, Lebanon, is the site of one of the most mysterious ruins of the Roman Empire, a monumental two-thousand-year-old temple to Jupiter that sits atop three thousand-ton stone blocks. (The pillars of Stonehenge weigh about a fortieth of that.) The blocks originated in a nearby limestone quarry, where a team from the German Archaeological Institute, in partnership with Jeanine Abdul Massih, of Lebanese University, recently discovered what they are calling the largest stone block from antiquity, weighing one thousand six hundred and fifty tons and matching those that support the temple. Its provenance is more shadowy than one might expect of a three-million-pound megalith. Nobody seems to know on whose orders it was cut, or why, or how it came to be abandoned.

Baalbek is named for Baal, the Phoenician deity, although the Romans knew the site by its Greek name, Heliopolis. The historian Dell Upton has noted the unusual lack of documentation regarding who might have commissioned, paid for, or designed the temple. For Upton, the site is a metaphor for the role of imaginative distortion in architectural history. In the absence of concrete information, he writes, Baalbek has become “a very accommodating screen upon which to project strikingly varied stories.” There are many local legends about the origin of the temple: Cain built it to hide from the wrath of God; giants built it, at Nimrod’s command, and it came to be called the Tower of Babel; Solomon built it, with djinns’ assistance, as a palace for the Queen of Sheba. (It is said that the reason some blocks were left in the quarry is that the djinns went on strike.)

Testimony to Baalbek’s flummoxing properties can be found in the 1860 diary of the Scottish traveller David Urquhart, whose mental capacities were “paralyzed” by “the impossibility of any solution.” Urquhart devotes several pages to the “riddles” posed by the giant stones—“so enormous, as to shut out every other thought, and yet to fill the mind only with trouble.” What, for example, was the point of cutting such enormous rocks? And why do it out there in the middle of nowhere, instead of in a capital or a port? Why were there no other sites that looked like Baalbek? And why had the work been abandoned midway? Urquhart concludes that the temple must have been built by contemporaries of Noah, using the same technological prowess that enabled the construction of the ark. Work was halted because of the flood, which swept away all the similar sites, leaving the enigma of Baalbek alone on the face of the earth.

Scholars today like to laugh at Urquhart, particularly at his alleged belief that mastodons transported the stones. (I didn’t see any reference to mastodons in his diary.) But archaeologists are still trying to solve the riddles that he posed. Margarete van Ess, a professor from the German Archaeological Institute, told me that the purpose of the investigation that turned up the new stone block was precisely to ascertain how the three temple blocks were transported, and why two others like them were left in the quarry. (One of these previously discovered megaliths, known as the Hajjar al-Hibla, or Stone of the Pregnant Woman, turned out to have a crack that would have impeded its transport.)

more

http://www.newyorker.com/tech/elements/baalbek-myth-megalith

0 replies, 983 views

Reply to this thread

Back to top Alert abuse

Reply to this thread