Engineering feats that dazzled the world | Life
Marvels. And no, I don’t mean Dubai’s “showoff-y” tallest building. These are true engineering feats of incredible ability — exciting things done by humans in the past, rather than all the sad things (ie climate change) we hear of nowadays.
The Egyptian pyramids
The ancient Geek historian, Herodotus, wrote that it took 20 years and 100,000 men to build the pyramids. He was half right; Later evidence showed the workforce to be considerably smaller, more like 20,000 (which is quite a lot in itself).
These magnificent tombs were built when Egypt was one of the richest and most powerful civilizations in the world, somewhere around 2,000 BC Four thousand years later, they still retain great majesty.
Viewers of the pyramids always wondered why they had such smooth, angled sides. These symbolized the rays of the sun and were designed that way to help the current king’s soul ascend to heaven and join the sun god Ra.
Who actually designed the pyramids? Many people think aliens were behind these designs. However, Graham Hancock, noted British journalist, said: “Many people say I believe aliens built the pyramids. I don’t. I think a lost human civilization is a much better explanation….”
Ancient Egyptians believed that when a king died, part of his spirit, called “ka,” remained with his body. The corpse was then mummified to care for this spirit, and everything the king supposedly would need in the afterlife was buried with him, including a lot of gold and furniture.
The oldest known pyramid in Egypt was built around 2630 BC for King Djoser. Known as the “Step Pyramid,” named for all its steps, its architect was Imhotep, who was a priest and healer.
Djoser’s reign lasted nearly 20 years and during that time, the pyramid builders assembled layers of stone that reached a height of 204 feet, the tallest building of that time (maybe Dubai builders heard of that one).
The earliest tomb constructed as a true smooth-sided, not stepped, pyramid was the Red Pyramid at Dahshur, one of three structures built for Snerferu, the first king of the fourth dynasty, 2613 to 2589 BC Why called “Red”? That was the color of the limestone blocks used to build its core.
Dr. Ben Carson, retired neurosurgeon and 17th secretary of Housing and Urban Development, commented that the pyramids were built to store grain and used for this purpose by the biblical Joseph. But Ken Ham, president of Answers in Genesis, disagrees, stating that the pyramids were built in accordance with Egyptian religious beliefs and were tombs for the royal dead.
Not too surprisingly, both Christians and non-Christians have different interpretations. But isn’t that the way of almost everything?
The Hoover Dam
Does anyone really appreciate the marvel of the Hoover Dam? Built by more than 21,000 workers, the dam stands 60-stories tall. It forms Lake Mead and generates 4 billion kilowatt hours each year. When it was dedicated in 1935, it was the world’s largest concrete structure.
Wikipedia locates it in the Black Canyon of the Colorado River, on the border of Nevada and Arizona. The main architects of this 726-foot structure were Henry Kaiser and Gordon Kaufman. It was built during the Great Depression between 1931 and 1936 and was dedicated in 1935 by then-President Franklin Delano Roosevelt.
A consortium of six companies won the right to build the arched dam at what was a staggering cost in the early 1930s of $49 million. A lot of people thought it couldn’t be done and that the contractors would go bust.
Warren Bechtel and his son Steve, founder of the Bechtel Company and key leaders in the six-company consortium, contributed greatly to the project with a blueprint of how this huge undertaking should be approached.
The six company consortium, aptly named Six Companies, completed the dam in five years, two years ahead of schedule and also, amazingly under budget.
Steve Bechtel Jr. rightfully boasts “there’s no question that it was a stepping stone for us. The Hoover Dam project and our role in it was a major platform for advancing to other bigger projects since then.”
Warren Bechtel claimed it was a symbol of the human spirit when the country most needed spirit. Steven Bechtel recalled its role as a beacon by explaining “there weren’t many jobs around at the time; people just wanted to come…from all over the world.”
Many hopeful laborers descended on Las Vegas, setting up camps in the desert, for a chance to work on the project. Those who were hired eventually moved to Boulder City, six miles from the work site, which was a community specifically built to house all the employees.
Owned by the US Bureau of Reclamation, the dam is a top tourist attraction and one of the wonders of the modern industrial world.
In 1985, the Hoover Dam was designated a National Historic Landmark and a modern Civil Engineering wonder.
The Great Wall of China
Who hasn’t heard of this spectacular feat? The National Geographic Society refers to it as “notorious,” and explains that the wall stretches more than 4,000 kilometers or 2,500 miles. Its height varies, according to location, from 7.8 meters or 25.6 feet to 14 meters or 46 feet.
It’s been said that it is the only man-made structure visible from space, a statement which NASA denies. The statement really isn’t true anyway, since the wall looks a lot like the stone and soil surrounding it.
The National Geographic Society tells a tale of how for millennia Chinese leaders built walls to protect the country from northern nomadic invaders. For centuries, before China was unified into one nation, such walls were the only defense of the borders.
China was united around 220 BC by Qin Shi Huang, who was also its first Emperor. He had the brilliant idea of uniting all the existing walls into one great structure, which, of course, was easier said than done.
Many Emperors after Qin Si Huang took turns continually bringing the wall up to date as building techniques advanced.
In 1368, Zhu Yuanzhang took power as an Emperor and founded the Ming Dynasty, famous for its achievements in ceramics and painting. The Ming emperors then continued to improve the wall with watchtowers and platforms. Depending on how the wall is measured, it now stretches somewhere between 4,000 and 5,500 kilometers or 2,500 and 3,400 miles.
Mrinal Sharma, a real estate agent from Plymouth, Michigan, who took a trip to China to see the wall, explains that all the different sections were built by local residents so they are different in many ways, but, she said, “There is only one Great Wall.” It doesn’t matter which section you get to see.”
The Manchu emperors of the 17th century regarded the wall to be less important as a defense and more important as a symbol of Chinese identity. Countless visitors view the wall every year. It may not be clearly visible from space, but here on earth, as Sharma no doubt would agree, it is considered an absolute masterpiece.
Author’s note: If you enjoyed this article, let the editor know and there can be a Part II and maybe even a Part III.
Sources: National Geographic Society, History.com, Herodotus, Graham Hancock, Dr. Ben Carson, Ken Ham, president of “Answers in Genesis,” Wikipedia, Mrinal Sharma and Steven Bechtel.