Biblical Archaeology Review 41:6, November/December 2015

How Many?

How many tons does the largest ancient stone block weigh?

Answer: 1,650

From a limestone quarry in Baalbek, Lebanon, archaeologists have uncovered a stone block that weighs 1,650 tons—as much as 220 adult male elephants.1 Measuring 64 feet by 19.6 feet by 18 feet, this boulder is the largest carved stone ever found.

The ancient city of Baalbek was renamed Heliopolis, “the city of the sun,” when Alexander the Great conquered the Near East in 334 B.C. Under the Roman Empire, the city boasted impressive temples to Jupiter, Bacchus and Venus.

The stone block—found in June 2014 by a team from the German Archaeological Institute—has been dated to c. 27 B.C. It is probable that this stone was carved to be part of the base of the temple of Jupiter, the podium of which contained massive 64-foot-long blocks. Three of the limestone blocks of the temple’s base—called the Trilithon—each weighs 1,000 tons. For comparison, the largest ashlar in the wall of the Temple Mount weighs 415 tons and measures 46 feet by 10 feet by 10 feet.

Archaeologists from the German Archaeological Institute believe that the reason the 1,650-ton boulder was not used in the temple of Jupiter—but rather left in the quarry—was because it was unsuitable for transportation. It may have cracked, as was the case of a 1,000-ton megalith at the quarry. Archaeologists determined that the stone quality at one edge of this latter boulder was poor; it likely would have cracked while being moved if it had been transported in antiquity.

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