We’ve been in debt to the Greeks even longer than we thought.
It’s hard to overestimate the influence of ancient Greek society on architecture. Buildings like the Parthenon of Athens, the Temple of Artemis at Ephesus, and the Temple of Poseidon at Sounion have astonished visitors for thousands of years. The Greeks were able to build these column-packed wonders and more with the help of one of their most useful inventions: the crane. Now a new study says the Greeks developed the crane even earlier than historians had suspected.
It’s been widely accepted that the crane was developed as a tool in 515 B.C. While Egyptians had already built lever mechanisms for irrigation, Greek sites are the first to show signs of lifting heavy objects with tongs, referred to as “Lewis tongs.” But the new research from Alessandro Pierattini, an assistant professor of architecture at the University of Notre Dame, shows that these tongs had working forerunners as far back as 700-650 B.C.
“The foremost discovery of the Greeks in building technology is the crane,” Pierattini says in a press statement. “No previous civilizations are known to have used it, and it has remained central to building construction without remarkable changes for nearly 25 centuries—because it was perfect.”
Pierattini has a special focus on the ruins at Isthmia and Corinth, a skinny land bridge that connects the tiny peninsula of Peloponnese in southern Greece with the rest of the country’s mainland. The ashlar blocks that made up temples there, which are laid out layer by layer horizontally and each weigh 190 to 400 kilograms, have an odd feature that historians have debated for years: twin grooves running parallel along the bottom and turning up on one end.
These grooves, Pierattini believes, were meant for cranes.
There’s some history to back him up. At the time, the ancient Corinthians were master shipbuilders. Corinthians developed and perfected the speedy and powerful trireme warship, which saw battle during the historic Battle of Salamis in 480 B.C, among other battles. Pierattini believes that Corinthian architects were inspired by the region’s ships and sought to design a way to redirect force, a regular ability of seafaring vessels at the time.
“While examining the blocks, I found evidence that after being lifted, the blocks were maneuvered into place with a method anticipating the Classical period’s sophisticated lever technique,” Pierattini says. “The placement involved a combination of levers and ropes that allowed for lowering each block tight up against its neighbor already in place in the wall. This is the earliest documented use of the lever in Greek construction in historical times.”
Ancient stone structures have a way of fascinating the modern world. The structures in England that became known as Stonehenge, which might share a heritage with the Carnac stones of France, offer more proof that ancient builders were looking for inspiration from wherever they could find it.
This article was written by David Grossman and was published by Popular Mechanics on 27/08/2019