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The enduring flexibility and ingenuity of manpower and intelligence

Posted in Architecture, Historical articles, History, Industry on Friday, 30 March 2012

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This edited article about human strength originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 680 published on 25 January 1975.

Building Stonehenge, picture, image, illustration

The building of Stonehenge by Arthur Ranson

Today, we take so many of our modern marvels such as machines, factories and speedy means of transport for granted. It must seem to young people that these things have been with us for ever. But to go back a couple of centuries, the day-to-day life of ordinary people appeared to jog-trot along for years in much the same humdrum fashion. Then came the steam engine which gave an added urgency and impetus to the world.

The mighty wheels of the Industrial Revolution had begun to turn, bringing changes in their wake like prisoners harnessed to a chariot. Railroads were built, employing thousands of people. Factories sprang up and cities were erected near the factories.

But “manpower” in the purely physical sense, was still present. For instance, the miners or “colliers” were often called the “aristocrats of labour” not only because of their value in digging coal, but because of their inborn qualities of strength, courage and comradeship.

At first, man used muscle in the form of slave power to build cities, palaces and temples which were composed either of quarried stones or brick for permanence. Then one thing led to another. People learned about levering and took it a step further in the development of the pulley block.

Originally, sleds were used to haul huge stones from quarries to building sites which might be many back-breaking miles away. Later, man found out how to ease this transport problem by using the lubrication of animal fats or grease.

The architects of the great Egyptian Pyramids used these methods when they erected the most famous monuments in the world. The stones were quarried with copper saws and chisels, wedges and wooden mallets.

Stonehenge, another great feat of manpower, was started in the Stone Age as a circle of sacred stones which were brought from Wales. About 1500 B.C., another circle of larger stones was set up, each weighing about 26 tonnes each. From enterprises such as these, man learned to cut grooves in rollers which eventually evolved into wheels.

Another example of the power of human muscle is to store it and release it, hence the gradual development of the bow and arrow. Javelin throwing, boomerang throwing, plus the building of boats and oars to be paddled by man, came later.

Man discovered how to harness other forms of power in the shape of animals, wind, water, etc. But nowadays, although we can harness various gases to propel us to the moon, in the final analysis, we are dependent on our own muscles for running, jumping, carrying our own parcels and even on our eye muscles in order to read this article!

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