MIT via Vimeo
MIT via Vimeo

This 2000-Pound Sculpture Can Be Moved With a Fingertip

MIT via Vimeo
MIT via Vimeo

The greatest mystery of Easter Island’s iconic Moai statues is how they were transported from one end of the island to the other without the use of modern technology. The natives insisted to Dutch explorers that the stone behemoths walked themselves, and while this may sound like silly superstition, some clever physics can show how it was possible.

The McKnelly Megalith, erected on MIT’s front lawn last spring by students of the university’s Megalithic Robotics class, demonstrates how massive objects can be moved using minimum force. The structure was built over the course of a few weeks using fiber-glass enforced concrete and a soft foam core. At 2000 pounds, it’s considerably lighter than the 82-ton Moai of Easter Island, but the fact that it can be adjusted with just the push of a finger is still an extraordinary feat. 

Megaliths like MIT’s structure and the Easter Island statues are specially designed to be rolled or shimmied across long distances using carefully calculated movements. As long as the center of the object’s mass is positioned in just the right place, it should be able to be moved with relative ease regardless of its weight.

The way this method could have been used on Easter Island close to 1000 years ago is detailed on MIT Architecture’s website: "In a similar manner to how one might shimmy a refrigerator into place, the Moai were pulled back and forth by ropes, employing momentum to transport these unwieldy megaliths. This (re)discovery brings new meaning to the folklore that the statues 'walked themselves.'"

MIT’s megalith was erected in a similar fashion. At a rate of about 300 feet per hour, a small team teetered the piece to its final position and then hoisted it upright using a rope.

Constructing a full-sized megalith for the university was never intended to be part of the class curriculum. In the spring semester, teaching assistant Carrie Lee McKnelly lost both her parents to a fire, and the students decided to build the structure in their honor. Megaliths are traditionally made to commemorate deceased ancestors, so the project is both a touching tribute and a clever demonstration of ancient architecture.

[h/t: Fast Co. Design]

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NASA, Getty Images
Watch Apollo 11 Launch
Vice President Spiro Agnew and former President Lyndon Johnson view the liftoff of Apollo 11
Vice President Spiro Agnew and former President Lyndon Johnson view the liftoff of Apollo 11
NASA, Getty Images

Apollo 11 launched on July 16, 1969, on its way to the moon. In the video below, Mark Gray shows slow-motion footage of the launch (a Saturn V rocket) and explains in glorious detail what's going on from a technical perspective—the launch is very complex, and lots of stuff has to happen just right in order to get a safe launch. The video is mesmerizing, the narration is informative. Prepare to geek out about rockets! (Did you know the hold-down arms actually catch on fire after the rocket lifts off?)

Apollo 11 Saturn V Launch (HD) Camera E-8 from Spacecraft Films on Vimeo.

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Romano D’Agostini, Giorgio Cargnel, Soprintendenza Speciale di Roma
Utility Workers May Have Found One of Rome’s First Churches
Romano D’Agostini, Giorgio Cargnel, Soprintendenza Speciale di Roma
Romano D’Agostini, Giorgio Cargnel, Soprintendenza Speciale di Roma

The remains of what may have been one of Rome’s earliest Christian churches were accidentally discovered along the Tiber River during construction, The Local reports. The four-room structure, which could have been built as early as the 1st century CE, was unearthed by electrical technicians who were laying cables along the Ponte Milvio.

The newly discovered structure next to the river
Romano D’Agostini, Giorgio Cargnel, Soprintendenza Speciale di Roma

No one is sure what to make of this “archaeological enigma shrouded in mystery,” in the words of Rome’s Archaeological Superintendency. Although there’s no definitive theory as of yet, experts have a few ideas.

The use of colorful African marble for the floors and walls has led archaeologists to believe that the building probably served a prestigious—or perhaps holy—function as the villa of a noble family or as a Christian place of worship. Its proximity to an early cemetery spawned the latter theory, since it's common for churches to have mausoleums attached to them. Several tombs were found in that cemetery, including one containing the intact skeleton of a Roman man.

Marble flooring
Romano D’Agostini, Giorgio Cargnel, Soprintendenza Speciale di Roma

A tomb
Romano D’Agostini, Giorgio Cargnel, Soprintendenza Speciale di Roma1

The walls are made of brick, and the red, green, and beige marble had been imported from Sparta (Greece), Egypt, and present-day Tunisia, The Telegraph reports.

As The Local points out, it’s not all that unusual in Rome for archaeological discoveries to be made by unsuspecting people going about their day. Rome’s oldest aqueduct was found by Metro workers, and an ancient bath house and tombs were found during construction on a new church.

[h/t The Local]

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