Meet the Supermassive—16,300 ton—unfinished stele of ancient China

A massive—16,300-ton—stele sits in an ancient Chinese Quarry. Composed out of three parts, their total weight is believed to be around 31,300 TONS.

There are things out there that we simply cannot understand. All around the world we have evidence that in the distant past, ancient civilizations were capable of great deeds. The unfinished stele of the Yangshan Quarry—with a weight of around 16,300 tons is definitely one such example.

Ancient Precision at its best.

Located near Nanjing modern-day China we find the Yangshan Quarry which was used for centuries as the main source for buildings and temples on Nanjiang and the surrounding area. Preserved today as an important historic site, the quarry is famous for its MASSIVE unfinished stele with a staggering approximate weight of 16,300 tons. Yup, 16,300… TONS.

The quarry has been worked for up to six dynasties as the local limestone was used in a number of construction projects including buildings, walls, and statues in and around Nanjing.

The massive stele of Yangshan is one of the many examples of incredible engineering and stonemasons skills in ancient times.

The story behind the stele goes like this.

In 1405, the Yongle Emperor, ordered the cutting of a MASSIVE stele in the Yangshan Quarry, to be used in the Ming Xiaoling Mausoleum of his deceased father. He wanted to create something worthy and decided that the massive stele—with a staggering weight of around 16,300 tons was about it.

Workers set out and cut three separate pieces of the stele.

The rectangular stele base (pedestal), the stele body, and the stele head (crown, to be decorated with a dragon design).

No one thought much about the size of the stele until the cutting process was nearly finished. Then, when it was time to think about moving the massive stone problems occurred. The ancient Chinese couldn’t figure out how to move the supermassive stone.

The stele base, with a hiker next to it for scale. Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons

They concluded that it was impossible to move the three pieces from the quarry to the Ming Xiaoling and install them in a proper way.

Eventually, the entire project was abandoned and the massive stele remains to this day at the Yangshan Quarry.

The dimensions and characteristics of the stele are out of this world.

According to reports, the stele base is around 30 meters long, 13 meters thick and has a height of 16 meters. It weighs 16,300 tons.

The body is nearly 50 meters long, 10.7 meters wide, and 4.4 meters thick. It has a weight of nearly 9,000 tons.

The stele’s head is a bit smaller. It is almost 11 meters tall, 20.3 meters wide and around 8 meters thick. It weighs around 6,000 tons.

The Monument Body (right) and the Monument Head (left), in Yangshan Quarry, Nanjing. Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Authors  Yang & Lu conclude in their book Ming and Qing architecture of Nanjing had the stele been finished, transported and installed properly, it would have stood 73 meters tall.

The Yangshan stele is one of the many examples of incredible engineering projects that were undertaken all around the world.

Another fascinating example of massive cut stones is the unfinished obelisk located in Aswan, Egypt. It is nearly one-third larger than any ancient Egyptian obelisk ever erected. If finished it would have measured around 42 m (approximately 137 feet) and would have weighed nearly 1,200 tons which is the weight equal to about 200 African elephants. (Source)

The unfinished obelisk is the largest known ancient obelisk. Image credit: Wikimedia commons

The obelisk’s creators began to carve it directly out of bedrock, but cracks appeared in the granite and the project was abandoned.

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