Contrary to popular belief, some ancient civilizations were highly advanced and capable of spectacular engineering accomplishments. Many of these ancient societies built architectural wonders using construction expertise that has stumped civil engineers and historians until recent years. From the underground church marvels in Ethiopia to the Teotihuacan pyramids of Mexico, these seven remarkable engineering achievements from the ancient world will certainly surprise you. View the infographic below to learn more.
Underground churches in Ethiopia
The underground churches of Lalibela in Ethiopia are engineering marvels that historians reckon were completed sometime during the 12th and 13th centuries. All the 11 underground churches at Lalibela were carved from a single rock to accommodate Ethiopian Orthodox Church worshippers and pilgrims. Amazingly, the people who carved these rock churches also tapped natural aquifers located deep underground without modern drilling and underground water detection tools. Moreover, the Lalibela churches are connected via an extensive network of underground tunnels and drainage systems. This is impressive considering that construction work was done from the top down. It is estimated that the site attracts anywhere from 80,000 to 100,000 visitors annually.
Mohenjo Daro in Pakistan
Mohenjo Daro is a lost city located in Sindh, Pakistan. This city was one of the most prominent urban centers during the Indus Valley civilization. Historians reckon that it was completed around 2,500 BCE, which means its inhabitants experienced the transition from the Stone Age era to the Bronze Age. At its peak, the city had 35,000 inhabitants who had access to advanced water and sewerage systems. Almost every house had a bathing area and drainage system that was supported by water wells dug throughout the city. The city’s “Great Bath” measures 180 ft. north-to-south and 108 ft. east-to-west. After its collapse, the Indus Valley civilization remained unknown to the outside world until 1921.
Leshan Giant Buddha in China
Carved entirely out of stone by monk Hai Tong with the aim of appeasing water spirits that were thought to be responsible for boat accidents, the Leshan Buddha is by far the largest Buddha statute in the world. It is located east of Leshan City in the Chinese province of Sichuan and sits at the point where the Dadu River, Qingyi River, and Min River converge. Measuring 232 feet tall with 92-foot wide shoulders, this Buddha statute was completed in 803 CE and it is quite imposing even by today’s standards. The statue features 1,021 intricately coiled buns that have been carefully integrated into its head that act as a hidden drainage system that allows rainwater to flow to the ground without damaging the statute. The drainage system also runs through other parts of the statue including its ears and arms.
Saksaywaman in Peru
Located outside Cusco, Peru the Saksaywaman stone structure was completed in the 16th century. It consists of three stone boulder walls that interweave in a puzzle-like pattern. The skill required to build this structure is impressive even by today’s standards because the stone boulders are so precisely interconnected that it is virtually impossible to push even something as thin as a piece of paper between them. What’s more, the stone boulders were excavated from a quarry located three kilometers away and moved to their current location using an unknown transportation system/technology. While this is not impressive in itself, the boulders are huge and heavy with the largest tipping the scales at about 120 tons. The ancient civilization responsible for such construction work also built an aqueduct and road system linking Saksaywaman and Lake Cochapata. It is worth noting that Cusco was the capital of the Incan empire.
Teotihuacan in Mexico
Besides Egypt, Teotihuacan, which is located northeast of Mexico City, is home to some of the largest pyramid-like structures in the world. These structures are built on a site that was first inhabited around 100 BCE by an ancient civilization that reached its peak in 450 CE before declining around the 8th and 9th centuries. Teotihuacan’s pyramids once formed an urban metropolis that spanned 22 miles and was home to approximately 200,000 inhabitants. Amazingly, the city was built such that its grid aligned properly with key geographic, geodetic, and celestial points that were considered important at the time. For instance, the city’s east-west axis aligned with a sunset point in the horizon that coincided with the beginning of the Mesoamerican calendar. In addition, the city’s north-south axis was aligned with the Temple of Quetzalcoatl, as well as the Sun and Moon pyramids.
Chand Baori in India
Situated on the edge of the Thar Desert and constructed around the 10th century to provide water to local inhabitants, the Chand Baori is one of the deepest stepwells in the world. To draw water from the well, one has to navigate through 3,500 zigzag steps that descend the equivalent of 13 stories or 100 feet below the ground. Visitors can see a functional temple dedicated to the Hindu goddess Harsiddhi located on one side of the well. In general, stepwells or baori are rainwater collection and storage structures carved out of stone. Without this stepwell, it would have been impossible for ancient communities to survive in such an arid and hot region.
El Mirador, Guatemala
El Mirador is the largest pyramidal structure in the world by volume and the largest of five Pre-Classical Mayan cities identified to date. It is located inside the Mirador-Rio Azul National Park and it was completed in 300 BCE. Archeologists and historians who have studied the site reckon that the architectural design and culture proves that the Mayan civilization dates back 1,000 years earlier than thought. The entire site spans 500,000 acres and consists of a 10 square mile civic center and 35 triadic pyramids. Out of these pyramids, the largest — La Danta — is 230 feet tall and it has a volume of 2,800,000 cubic meters. The site also has remains of an elaborate transport network that is billed to have been the world’s first highway system. It is estimated that 15 million man-days went into building La Danta alone.
Ancient civilizations were more sophisticated societies than what has been portrayed in some mainstream Hollywood films. In fact, some past civilizations left behind structural marvels that have stumped modern mechanical and civil engineering experts up-to present day.
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