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Two Penn’orth



Stonehenge is one of the most famous, and most ancient monuments in the world.

Why it was built and how it was used are long forgotten. But equally perplexing is the question of how it was built.

Even by modern standards, these are massive stones. And some of them were apparently brought from as much as 250 miles away. Are we to believe that this was done by our primitive ancestors thousands of years ago who had not even invented the wheel?

How many historians does it take to move a ten ton block?

I’m not being mean to historians. They are clever, and highly educated, people. My point is that they do what they do. And I have no doubt that they do it well. But it doesn’t normally involve moving large lumps of rock.

For the most part, historians study records to try to work out what happened in the past and how. For recent history some of these records may be written. But the ability to write beyond a basic level was, until recently, not a very widespread skill. A considerable part of historical study consists, therefore, of studying the physical remains of what happened - archaeology.

In either case, much of the task involves comparing different sources of information, or artefacts from different sources. But experiment is also important.

I find the experimental side particularly fascinating. And the success of various television series which take modern people and place them in an historical setting suggests that I am not alone. The best, in my view, are those produced by Ruth Goodman and her crew. As a historian, and with some experience of these experiments, she has a head start when dropped into an historical setting, where many other programmes take volunteers off the street who have little idea what they have let themselves in for.

The greatest challenge in these programmes, even for Ruth Goodman sometimes, seems to be in doing things that would have been second nature to our ancestors. And perhaps equally in giving up those things which we take for granted. Both seem to come as a real shock to the system. The moment you take somebody away from their natural environment and place them in a strange one, they will struggle with things that somebody who had lived their life in that environment would take for granted.

And just as it is with time, so it is with occupations. The plumber knows the tricks of his trade, the fisherman knows the tricks of his. And each will almost certainly have learned his trade as apprentice to someone with years experience. I do not propose that either is less capable, but if you take a plumber who has never been to sea, and place him on a fishing boat, he will not naturally do the things that would be obvious to a fisherman.

Returning then to moving ten ton blocks of stone. This is not a natural part of the activities of an historian. And even the archaeologist, who undertakes excavations on a perhaps large scale, is seldom called upon to move large objects.

No. The person who does such work is a builder.

How many builders does it take to move a ten ton block?

It’s a sensible question because this is the kind of problem builders face in the normal course of their business. And necessity, so we’re told, is the mother of invention.

Wally Wallington is a retired builder. He first became interested in moving large heavy objects in the course of his work, when he had to remove some large concrete blocks from a floor. Access was a problem. He couldn’t get any machinery to some of the blocks. So the obvious answer would have been to smash the blocks up into rubble using a sledgehammer and then move the rubble using a wheelbarrow.

Thinking this rather a lot of work, he improvised a way of moving these blocks just a short distance to where the machines could reach them using only the basic tools he had to hand.

Since he retired, Wally Wallington has been experimenting with the techniques he developed during his career as a builder. He thinks similar techniques could have been used to build monuments such as Stonehenge. And to test the theory, he’s building his own Stonehenge right in his own backyard.

And how many people does it take?

Wally Wallington works alone. In this video he’s standing a ten ton block upright… On his own. And using no modern lifting equipment.

You can learn more about how he does it at his own website:


The Moai of Easter Island

Another fascinating story of a society supposedly more primitive than our own moving colossal stone blocks can be found on Easter Island - or Rapa Nui as it is known to the locals. Here, hundreds of giant stone heads have been carefully carved and moved to strategic locations around the island.

Although the famous stone heads of Easter Island are much more recent than most other megalithic monuments, they present the same enigma. How was this done by people who did not have the benefit of modern machinery?