Hot Air


Ancient Wonders

Technology for dummies, or
building massive monuments and surviving the coming social Deluge

by Michael Bradley
P.O. Box 79651
1995 Weston Road,
Toronto, Ontario

For my wife, friend and companion, Joelle Lauriol.


Part I: My Introduction to Low Technology

  1. Monuments, Mysteries and Myths
  2. Monumental Methodology
  3. My Mundane Methodology
  4. Some Technological ABCs  (Andean Balsa Concepts)
  5. Becoming a low-tech junkie
  6. Having a yin for it…
  7. …and getting the yang of it

Part II.  Hot Air and Western Aid

  8. Diana of the Hunt (for intelligence)
  9. Candu Caribbean Curraghs
10. Stonehenge and Curraghs
11. Curraghs and Chicanery

Part III. Hot Air and Ancient Wonders

12. Quarries
13. Inflicta  DARE
14. Hot Air, Birdpersons and Balloons
15. The End of Atlantis
16. Civilization of the Goddess


Part I.

My Introduction to Low Technology

Chapter 1. Monuments, Mysteries and Myths

I want to assure readers, with sincerity and modesty, that I have the best possible credentials for writing this book: I am not an accredited conventional expert, a professional engineer or a New Age devotee.

Aside from these purely negative qualifications, I am a designer and hands-on builder of practical low-technology, low-cost products and processes intended for use in the so-called "Third World". I have worked in association with the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) and CanTraid Export Limited with forty-four developing nations in one way or another – in Africa, Asia, Central America and South America.  I have worked on projects that were sponsored or co-sponsored by Britain's ODA -- the Overseas Development Agency.

This perspective forged in the crucible of practical low-tech “engineering” has sometimes inspired much amusement at professional engineers’ attempts to re-create the construction of ancient wonders.

The latest major attempt to replicate the construction of an ancient wonder was an official and  well-publicized British "Millennium Project" scheduled for April-June 2000. It provides an excellent example of the theme of this book.

A Welsh rural reclamation group, Menter Preseli, tried to move a Stonehenge-type bluestone from the Preseli Mountains of Wales, where the original Stonehenge bluestones had been quarried around 2400 BC, to the Stonehenge site in Wiltshire, England. The Menter Preseli organizers were assisted by engineering experts from a university in Cardiff and by many enthusiastic "neo-slaves" – two hundred and fifty of them – in the form of university students and New Age megalith buffs.

The surviving remnants of the huge "Sarsen" circle and "trilithons" are Stonehenge's major attraction, while the original circle of about seventy much smaller bluestones is presently barely discernable.  However, the gigantic and stark Sarsen stones, which weigh as much as thirty-five tons, came from the  Wiltshire downs where the monument is located.  It has just been assumed that Britain's Neolithic and megalithic people could have moved these Sarsen blocks the necessary few miles somehow.  Therefore, the smaller bluestones have generated more interest and speculation because they were quarried across the Bristol Channel in Wales.

1. Stonehenge. Photo by author.

Engineers had decreed the supposed megalithic moving technique. The replicated dining room table-sized bluestone, about three metric tonnes in weight or 6600 pounds, would be hauled from the Preseli quarries on a wooden sledge by the neo-slaves down to the Welsh shore of the Bristol Channel. From there, the stone would then be floated across the forty-to-seventy miles of water on a log raft made by megalithic methods, and then would again be land-hauled the remaining distance to Stonehenge, about sixty miles.

This combination of hauling on sledges and rafting has been the usual engineering prescription for bluestone transport.  I believe that the megalithic methods and the probable much longer-than-airline meandering distance and gentle grade route were first worked out in theoretical detail by the American engineer, E.J. Pawlicki, back in 1976.  The details and the exactly surveyed route have since been refined by subsequent experts and planners.

No bluestone has ever been moved very quickly or very far by such methods, and Britain's Y2K "Millennium Project" fared no better. After a week, the stone had been dragged slightly less than a mile. There were about two hundred miles left to go, and not enough weeks remaining at that rate to complete the project within Year 2000. On April 15, 2000 a spokesman, Peter Bowen, called for more volunteers to augment the 250 no longer very enthusiastic neo-slaves. The stone was finally moved to the Bristol Channel, but it then slid off the raft and was lost.

This failure confirmed some New Agers in their belief that only UFOs could have moved the seventy-odd bluestones to Stonehenge. This theory of UFO transport was most recently suggested by Mary Bennett and David Percy in their 1999 Dark Moon, but the idea has been a New Age favourite for years.

Entertained by this ongoing bluestone Britcom, I wrote an article for Canada’s National Post newspaper, a major Canadian daily based in Toronto ("Did megalithic movers use boats and canals?" April 22, 2000, page B6). I suggested that the bluestones had been moved mainly by curraghs.  It was also possible that megalithic canals had contributed to the transport of bluestones from Wales to England.

2. "Did megalithic movers use boats and canals?" headline and photo.

Curraghs are a primitive kind of vessel having a flexible waterproofed hull of some sort – traditionally of sewn leather hides, but in more recent centuries of thick canvas – that can be stretched over a boat-shaped framework and secured over the gunwale by rope or leather lashings.  For thousands of years, the wood framework was formed of lashed-together saplings, usually ash, but modern curraghs have used plastic or aluminum tubing.

Believed to have evolved from paddled Paleolithic hunters' skin boats dating from 50,000 years ago or more, by Neolithic and megalithic times about 10,000-2000 BC curraghs had been refined into lightweight, strong and very nimble sailing craft in Northwest Europe.  The famous Canadian writer, Farley Mowat, has called these curraghs “farfarers” and in his book The Farfarers (1998), Mowat presented archaeological evidence that Northwestern European curraghs had crossed the Atlantic from Ireland and Scotland to the Gulf of St. Lawrence by at least 500 BC… if not much, much earlier.

Very advanced medieval Irish curraghs of about AD 500 sometimes incorporated woven wicker-work panels lashed between the main ash frames in order to smooth out the leather hulls against the pressure of water. Canadian-made plastic snow fencing has sometimes been used as a modern substitute for this later curragh refinement.

A distinctive feature of curraghs is that their flexible hulls can be rolled down over the framework so that a bluestone, for example, did not have to be lifted aboard.  It could be shoved aboard between the frames and onto the narrow deck above the keel by using a temporary log ramp.  Once the flexible curragh hull was rolled up again and re-lashed to the framework, then the boat could be bailed out and the next tide would float the curragh's hull with the bluestone inside.

Neolithic-megalithic curraghs up to 60 feet long and 15-20 feet wide existed as early as about 7000 BC, according to some Irish and Scandinavian authorities.  We have no direct archaeological evidence for this assertion because curraghs’ organic components would have bio-degraded within a few decades or centuries, but we have some indirect archaeological evidence that is very persuasive.  All around the “Atlantic Rim” from northern Europe to Canada (including the Orkney Isles, the Faroe Islands, Iceland and Greenland), researchers have discovered boat-shaped foundation walls of piled stones or turf.  For instance, there’s a boat-shaped turf foundation shape within a few hundred yards of Stonehenge.  They are all double-ended or canoe-shaped – that is, pointed at each end – and the largest average size of these curious foundations statistically clusters at about 60 feet in length and about 15 feet wide.  Another, smaller cluster occurs at about 30 feet in length and 7-8 feet wide.

Mowat discovered a few of these boat-shaped walled foundations in Newfoundland and on mainland Labrador and he suggested that they were supports for upturned “farfarers”.  During the winter, upturned curraghs roped down to and supported by such a boat-shaped foundation would have made snug quarters for a curragh’s crew.   Mowat gives a photo illustration of a modern boat-roofed house on the Orkney Islands of Scotland showing that the tradition of boat-roofed houses survived into the Twentieth Century.  There are boat-roofed shaped houses among the ruins on Mallorca in the Mediterranean Sea, too.  This shows that curragh-making was not confined to people on Europe’s Atlantic Coast, but also that the first Neolithic and megalithic people who colonized the Mediterranean coasts and islands were curragh-makers and curragh sailors.  The archaeological evidence of humble curragh foundations has huge repercussions for the spread of Western civilization.  Did much of Western culture actually come from the Atlantic in megalithic and Neolithic times about 10,000 BC and not from the Middle East?  It seems so, and this will occupy us in later pages.

Curraghs about 60 feet in length and about 15 feet in beam (wide) could have carried about six to ten tons of generalized cargo. However, considering the very concentrated weight of a typical bluestone within the relatively fragile vessel, probably only one bluestone at a time would have been carried on voyages to Stonehenge.

A curragh's hull of leather or canvas can be punctured, of course, and this is psychologically offputting for most landlubbers.  A deck of fore-and-aft saplings lashed above the keel formed a fairly narrow walkway for the curragh sailors and prevented cargo stowed along the length of this deck from chafing or puncturing the flexible hull to either side. Against this one great disadvantage of hull puncture, however, a well-made curragh will bounce away from collisions that would crack a wood-planked hull and a curragh’s flexible hull is relatively easy to repair with a leather (or canvas) patch and a needle-and-thread.  An application of warmed-up pitch or tree resin rendered hull seams or patches waterproof.

In addition to these advantages, a curragh hull itself is so light in weight that even a heavily-laden curragh will draw very little water.  For example, a Neolithic curragh 60 feet long and 15 feet in beam carrying a typical Stonehenge bluestone and a crew of seven would float in only 18 inches of water.  Because of the lightweight nature of the curragh concept, they are very swift sailing vessels and rise easily to oceanic waves.  They are also somewhat flexible and curragh hulls manage to “go with the flow” of oceanic waves – much like a living sea creature.  For this reason, many fishermen on Ireland's stormy western Atlantic coast still prefer curraghs to modern aluminum, fiberglass or wooden-planked boats.  In 1976-1977, a replica ash-framed and leather-hulled curragh made by British adventurer, Tim Severin, crossed the North Atlantic from Ireland to Newfoundland.  Farley Mowat didn’t even mention Severin’s exploit – The Brendan Voyage – even though, when he was writing The Farfarers more than twenty years later, Mowat must surely have known about Severin’s best selling book and successful film.

Assuming that the bluestone could have been loaded and unloaded with extra helpers, a curragh’s normal crew of only about five to ten people could have sailed a bluestone from Wales around Land’s End to the Stonehenge site in about ten to twelve days using the present southern Avon River. The trip would have been even quicker and shorter using the northern Avon River, but then seven miles of shallow canals would be needed to reach Stonehenge by water.

3. From Wales to Stonehenge,
courtesy of the National Post newspaper, Toronto.

Strange ditches are known to exist in this part of England, like "Offa’s Dyke" and "Wansdyke".  They are not deep enough to have been either defensive works or canals for heavy wood-planked barges.  Some researchers have previously suggested that these shallow ditches must be the remains of Neolithic-megalithic canals once intended, 4500-8000 years ago, for lightweight curraghs.  But few conventional experts have endorsed this very obvious idea, and so people still try to move bluestones by land-hauling and rafting across the Bristol Channel.

Curraghs are fine, but what about the land haulage to get bluestones to and from the water?

This, admittedly, would have been hard work – but much less work if we forget about the engineers’ wooden sledges. Why not lay a narrow "road" or strip of cobblestones? We grease these cobbles with Neolithic domestic animal fat or Neolithic butter whenever we want to move a bluestone. Neolithic rawhide ropes are attached directly around the bluestone and the stone-movers pull along both sides of the narrow cobbled and greasy way. Some stone-movers can push to help guide the stone as necessary. Sturdy wooden levers would have been helpful for this work. Given Welsh topography from the Preseli quarry down to the tidewater at the Bristol Channel, the major problem would have been braking the bluestone, not hauling it, for most of the necessary ten kilometers.  At Stonehenge, the bluestone would have only needed to be hauled two hundred yards.

Using Dalhousie University students in Nova Scotia back in October 1981, we laid a one kilometre strip of cobbles in two days. This was tiring work, but not too brutal because each individual rock was not very heavy. In real megalithic life, this work was actually saving much labour because the cobbled path could be used for many successive bluestones, and over seventy bluestones were eventually moved to Stonehenge from the same quarry in Wales.  These cobbles would gradually sink into the ground under pressure and more must be added continually.  But if some care is taken to choose the most rounded  beach rocks available, and if they are liberally greased, then a cobbled strip of virtual megalithic ball bearings is the inevitable result.  We didn't wait for this development.

The very next weekend, a gang of just forty-seven young men and women moved a three and a half ton Nova Scotia "bluestone" (a naturally "squared" boulder of granite) that one kilometre in just five hours and forty-two minutes over the slippery cobbles. The ground was not level, but gently undulated over this distance. It was hard work uphill, and we sometimes had to resort to pushing it just a few inches at a time with levers.  But the "pseudo bluestone" was moved at five times the speed with less than one-fifth the "manpower" (the Dalhousie students were about equally men and women) compared with the British Y2K Millennium Project replication.  And, for that matter and before I forget, greased cobbled roadways were undoubtedly also used when megalithic Britons moved the giant Sarsen blocks from nearby places on the Wiltshire downs to the Stonehenge site.

 Here are two illustrations of a 1974-1979 Aid Biz “neo-curragh” design using epoxy tube frames and a thick plasticized canvas hull.

4. Modern aid program neo-curraghs.

Since, at that time, Gifford Technology was the official wind-and-wave-power engineering consultant to the British government, and a complete report about bluestone-moving by curragh was submitted in several copies to the proper Crown authorities, I don't know who approved this highly entertaining Preseli-to-Stonehenge Y2K Millennium Project.

And since my own company, CanTraid Export Limited, built ten 32-foot neo-curraghs in association with CIDA (the Canadian International Development Agency) for test purposes and then manufactured almost 300 for use in the Caribbean and Pacific, I know exactly what curraghs can and cannot do.
I have already moved a Nova Scotia "pseudo bluestone" boulder the required Preseli-to-Stonehenge distance in Canada's Bay of Fundy, and I am prepared to do the same thing in Britain if anyone wants to pay for replicating a megalithic curragh to my specifications.

But as ancient wonders go, the challenge of moving a two or three-ton bluestone from Wales to Stonehenge is a pretty pallid example of the mysteries left to us by ancient engineers.

Hot Air and Ancient Wonders is presently being re-written from the first draft completed in September 2000. It is envisioned that the new text will be reduced to about 100,000 words and 120-160 illustrations. The new text can be available to publishers and/or agents within 30 days.
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