Each year for the last decade, TED, the non-profit organization famous for their TEDtalks that bring together technology, entertainment, and design, has added a handful of people to their TED Fellows programme. Their fellows, now more than 450-strong, work in an array of fields doing various things to raise awareness, solve problems, and create a better environment. This year, one of their inductees is part of a group that may have added another piece to the Stonehenge puzzle.
Brandon Clifford of Matter Design Studio in Massachusetts is an ancient technology architect and assistant professor at MIT who co-founded Matter Design, which aims to solve today’s problems using ancient techniques. Enter Walking Assembly: a project created by Matter Design and CEMEX, a materials manufacturer, that began in 2014 and was unveiled at the 2019 TED conference in Vancouver.
Walking Assembly consists of a number of massive concrete structures that bring together science and art. Each monolith, despite being thousands of pounds, is walked into place relatively easily by one or sometimes two people. The purpose? To offer an explanation as to how ancient societies were able to erect megalithic structures without the use of cranes or vehicles. ‘By using variable density concrete, the center of mass of the object is calibrated precisely to control the stable, but easy motion of the elements,’ says Matter Design of their project. ‘This ensures that these massive elements successfully walk and assemble into place, creating the possibility for a crane-less tilt up construction method and turning our building sites into spectacles of play.’
Their findings could shed light on one of today’s biggest mysteries: Stonehenge. The Neolithic period rock formation has baffled people for centuries. No one has ever really known why the earthwork was created or how given that the rock was quarried about 150 miles from where it stands today. Dating back to between 3,000 and 2,000 BC, how its creators were able to stand the monoliths, let alone put one on top of others to create an arch without any help of a crane has alluded researchers. The mystery of Stonehenge has garnered lore that includes giants and extraterrestrial beings. However, through the research and theories of Matter Design, it is in fact possible to move a monolith, even one that weighs tonnes, without much man power at all.
Of course, this might not be the exact way in which Stonehenge was erected and moving such large blocks of rock so far across grassy hills and fields would be far more difficult, Walking Assembly represents the possibility.
In addition to adding clues that could help solve the mystery of Stonehenge, Walking Assembly offers an ancient tool to today’s building kit. What Matter Design has realized is that structures could be built in this way and require the work of only a few men with a durable material that could last years.