Thursday, September 15, 2016

The Genius of Nephite Building – Part II

Continuing from the last post on how the Lord taught Nephi who taught his people to construct buildings, walls and foundations that could withstand high magnitude earthquakes. There seems little doubt that those who built Cuzco, Sacsahuaman, Ollantaytambo, Pisac, and the many other outstanding sites in the Andes did so with an ability far beyond their B.C. heritage at the time. 
The ancient city of Pisaq (P’isaq, P’isaqa, Pisac) is situated at the Willkanuta River in the Sacred Valley not far from Cuzco

    Whether or not one wants to lay that advanced knowledge at the feet of the Lord or not, there is no question that the Lord taught Nephi to build a ship far beyond his ability, and far beyond the ability of man of the 6th century B.C.—so far beyond, that it took more than 1500 years before man could build a ship capable of sailing to another body of land beyond their own continental homes across a deep sea.
    In construction, the Nephites faced an area frequented by earthquakes, storms, and tornadoes, that the Lord, no doubt taught Nephi the value of the trapezoidal shape, for it has proven to be an extremely stable design for doorways and windows in seismic zonal areas. In fact, this trapezoidal form is found all over these ancient structures of fine-cut stonework, trapezoid shapes, and purposely positioned portals.
Trapezoidal doorways and arches are common throughout Peru and one of the reasons this magnificent construction has lasted through hundreds of severe earthquakes in the region

    The trapeziod form is found throughout Peru, but is even more common in the north and center of the Peruvian region. One of its optical effects is to make walls seem higher and thicker than they actually are. The trapezoid motif was repeated in doorways, windows and interior wall niches. Doorways and windows often also have double jambs and the former are usually topped with a large single stone lintel.
    Architecture in the structures at Cuzco and the many buildings dotted throughout the Andes were remarkably similar in their design to other more mundane structures. They were, of course, often much larger in scale and the quality of their stonework was much higher. They could also be more ambitious in design by employing curved walls and they could be decorated more lavishly, for example, with gold sheeting as at the Qorincha (Coricancha) precinct at Cuzco whose curved wall section survives in part today. This duality of lower and higher class buildings being the same yet different was very much a trait of the ancient Peruvian culture in general.
Interior walls slanting inward, which allows extra support in time of earthquakes since the walls lean into one another at the corners and other interior joining walls

    One of the unique features of ancient Peruvian architecture is the earthquake-proof slanting of exterior walls, which commonly sloped inwards as they rose (typically around 5 degrees), giving the building a distinctive trapezoid form. Most of the walls of these ancient Nephite buildings were slightly inclined inside and the corners were rounded, providing a combination with masonry thoroughness, led their constructions to have a peerless seismic resistance thanks to high static and dynamic steadiness, absence of resonant frequencies and stress concentration points. During an earthquake with a small or moderate magnitude, masonry was stable, and during a strong earthquake stone blocks were “ dancing ” near their normal positions and lay down exactly in right order after an earthquake.

    This remarkable construction, used on both walls of buildings and defensive walls of resistance, provided the Nephites with security against the ravages of severe earthquakes that frequented the region and also a unique manner of construction basically unknown elsewhere at the time.
Exterior walls slanting inward so they are secured at the corners by the adjoining walls

    In addition, the walls were carved into odd angles to fit perfectly, without mortar, so that not even a knife blade could inserted between the stones. These angles, oddly shaped, some straight, some angled, some curved, with some stones have multiple cuts and angles (as many as 12 to 14), ensured the tight fit and that when the stones stopped “dancing” during a severe high-magnitude earthquake, they returned to their original tightly-carved angles.
Not eh angles shown inside the yellow circles. In the image at the lower right, not the multiple cuts and angles of several stones 

    This method used to match precisely the shape of a stone with the adjacent stones has been the focus of much speculation and debate. Various theories have been suggested but, John McCauley, retired Architect and Construction Manager, who has been engaged in research on ancient construction techniques for over 40 years, has a different hypothesis, and it lies simply in the ingenuity and wisdom of ancient people.
    McCauley wrote in a paper to Antient-Origins recently, “We have to remind ourselves that the steady rise in mankind’s mastery of technology has taken place over thousands of years of trial and error; mastery of a successful technique in moving heavy stones, or in carving them, has only occurred because of the knowledge passed on through the failure and success of countless ancient engineers who were willing to experiment with a new thought, and have at their disposal a seemingly endless field of labor to execute their ideas.”
    McCauley has carried out an extensive investigation of the Sacsahuaman site in Peru, reviewing many possible methods for transporting the 25-200 tonne stones and has concluded that the lighter stones were dragged over carefully prepared natural soil beds, while the heavier stones were transported on timber sleds. Model testing on various roadbed constructions resulted in the estimation that the heaviest stones could have been moved by no more than 1,000 men.
    Once at the site, McCauley says the stones were shaped using very heavy “pounders” and countless hours of labor to create the magnificent megalithic walls that can still be seen to this day.  Each blow of a diorite boulder, he explained, would remove a small amount of stone until the final shape was attained, “This would take days and weeks, if not months of toil depending on how much material had to be removed.”  He explained that another technique, called “trial and error”, was used with much lighter stones. With this method, the stones were shaped with "pounders" and, as the work progressed, “one stone was mated with another stone until the two finally fitted well.”
    The point is, however, we do not know how this was accomplished, yet the manner is not as important as the knowledge that was behind the unique fashioning of the stones and the purpose of their various angles and fitting to withstand high-magnitude earthquakes that have proven to crumble and topple almolst all modern construction buildings since the rise of the skyscraper.
    One fact, however, seems certain. The Lord conveyed to Nephi, as he did in building the ship, a manner of building with stone that was unknown to man in 600 B.C., and that manner resulted in a series of accomplishments that cause awe even in modern building experts.
Left: Yellow Arrows show the single cut on a large multi-ton stone cut to fit three other large stones, which provides exceptional support when the earth moves below, or even some of the stones move around it; Right: The red arrows show the several cuts on multiple stones that secure the curvature of the wall edge wrap arounds 

    How much the Lord taught Nephi in building his ship and how much Nephi figured out as he developed in ability is not known, nor do we know how much the Lord taught Nephi about building in general, and what might have been involved in “the Lore showed unto me great things” (1 Nephi 18:3) when upon the mounts during his tutelage as a ship builder.
    Whatever it was, all or a portion of what the Lord taught Nephi he taught his people once they separated from his brothers (2 Nephi 5:15). But we do know that Nephi taught his people “how to build buildings”, and since this was not Nephi’s profession living at Jerusalem, we can only assume that he received this knowledge from the Lord in the building of his ship.


  1. This is quite interesting. They didn't have diamonds to cut the stone but they would have had the technology to make steel. I wonder if it is possible they made some crude machinery to help shape the stones. Otherwise it would have taken them many years to build such exquisite structures.

  2. Actually, modern masons have shown that using the right hardened stone as "pounders" they could have shaped the stones in a relatively short time--not a job I'd want, though.