The engineering capabilities of ancient civilizations is mind-blowing when you consider the lack of available mechanized devices. Societies in South and East Asia, Africa, South America, and Central America were especially adept at creating sophisticated structures that compete with modern construction.
The oldest wonder on today’s infographic is the lost city of Mohenjo Daro, which is a nearly 5,000-year-old ruin in Sindh, Pakistan that was discovered in 1920. The Bronze Age city, translated as “mound of the dead,” has a street grid and an advanced drainage system that includes flushing toilets. From 2500 to 1900 B.C., the modest and clean Indus community existed before it mysteriously disappeared.
In China, the 232-foot tall Leshan Giant Buddha was finished in the 9th Century during the Tang Dynasty. A local monk named Hai Tong hoped that that the Buddha would calm turbulent waters that dismantled vessels traveling down the junction of the Min and Dadu River, where the stature sits above.
Archaeologists estimate that it took 90 years to carve the structure out of a red sandstone cliff face. Hidden within the Buddha is a drainage system complete with gutters and channels on the head, arms, and clothes that displaces rainwater and keeps the inner wood dry, which ultimately protects the ancient creation from decay.
Why aren’t the Egyptian pyramids on the list? Besides being well-known to the world, they don’t compare to the mass of the El Mirador temple complex, which has a volume of 2,800,000 cubic meters, making it the largest pyramid in the world. For comparison, Egypt’s Great Pyramid of Giza and Khufu are 200,000 cubic meters smaller.
With the El Tigre temple as the centerpiece, the area was home to 200,000 citizens in 300 B.C., but the complex society of connected settlements was abandoned 2,000 years ago. Amazingly, every roof in the city was designed to usher rainwater into reservoirs, and a sculptural panel that depicts the Mayan creation story decorates the wall of a channel that funnels rain through the city’s central administrative area.
These ancient engineering wonders that also include the cities of Saksaywaman, Peru, Chand Baori, India, Teotihuacan, Mexico, as well as the underground churches of Lalibela, Ethiopia, compete with many of modern society’s sleek skyscrapers, suspension bridges, and underground tunnel systems.
Our ancient ancestors were precise and consistent when it comes to civil engineering.