How did the stones of Stonehenge reach their destination, some 180 miles away from their origins in the Preseli hills of West Wales?
It’s a conundrum that’s puzzled us for generations. But a Welsh carpet fitter may just have figured out exactly how it was done. By building a scaled down contraption that can be used to move heavy loads, he’s demonstrated one possible method for carrying huge stones over great distances.
Using his estimates, it’s thought that the machine would have been able to travel 1.5 miles (2.4km) each day, which means the stones could have been moved from A to B within a few short months.
Originally, Steven Tasker set out to figure out how the ancient Egyptians had moved the stones they used to construct the Pyramids of Giza. But the machine he came up could also have been used to move the stones needed to construct the Neolithic stone circle on Salisbury Plain.
It’s a challenge to explain exactly how it works, but essentially the contraption Mr Tasker has built is a circular board balanced on planks, that sits on rockers and wooden feet.
He has managed to lift a third of a tonne with the machine, and in theory it could lift and move any weight.
Mr Tasker first thought about solving this problem in 2004 and soon after he created his prototype. He likens the way the machine works to clown’s feet. The key is to keep the load’s centre of mass over the “feet”. A clown can lean over, and as long as their weight remains over the shoes, they won’t fall over. The machine works in a similar way.
The prototype had been left abandoned, until Mr Tasker went on a tour with Egyptology curator, Dr Campbell Price, in 2018. Dr Price, who is responsible for one of the UK’s largest collections of Egyptian artefacts – at Manchester Museum – was impressed enough to invite him to give a talk, which reignited his enthusiasm for the project.
The easiest way to make sense of the machine is to watch this demonstration on YouTube.
It shows Mr Tasker moving a wooden sleeper and other loads across his garden, and it’s clear how a scaled up version of this could have been involved in moving the materials for all manner of ancient structures. Skip to 9 minutes in to see his machine in action.
Experts have concluded that Mr Tasker’s machine is one of the most credible explanations ever given for how ancient peoples moved stones over large distances.
Now, you may not be planning a structure to rival Stonehenge, but if you need expert assistance with the structural elements of an upcoming project, please do get in touch. Like Steven Tasker, we always look for clever ways of solving engineering problems.