There was a certain solitude in the site. Teri felt it penetrate her like the cold. The mound held many questions for her, and not only for her, but for all who had visited it—in the recent past as well as in ancient times. Who built the mound? How? Why? When? But then she heard the news about the discovery of the tablets. Now there was some real hope for a revelation as to how the mound was constructed and to the multitude of other questions surrounding the earthen mound before her.
The mound was unremarkable in its proportions and construction. A simple pile of earth. But when you consider that it involved constructing a mound 65 feet high and 100 feet square with simple tools and baskets, moving and placing several hundred thousand cubic feet of soil, it became intriguing. That would take many thousands of workers over a period of, well, years. Understanding how they did it held a certain intrigue for her and fit right in with her interest in construction.
What had started out as exploring a nearby state park around an ancient mound on her first real vacation in years, and as a rare opportunity to get away from the ever-present pressures of the construction project, was yielding a really interesting story.
Discovery of the tablets held forth hope that the questions revolving around construction of the mound would finally receive, if not some solid answers, at least some attention. But initial interpretation of the language of the tablets, matching no heretofore known language, offered only more questions. For the tablets had been undecipherable until the Department of Energy had been convinced to allow use of the Cray supercomputer at Oak Ridge National Laboratory. Researchers at the University of Tennessee had spun their wheels for quite a while until Jaguar (the Cray) finally began to find some pattern to the language of the tablets.
Now their analysis was yielding some positive results, but no one was able to believe what the researchers were saying. The scientists were saying that the tablets convey a message that had until now only been the subject of conjecture—that alien civilizations had aided the Mound Builders in advising them about construction techniques. And, what was even more unbelievable, that the aliens are still among us. Not physically: They had never been here on earth physically. As a matter of fact, the tablets indicated that the aliens don’t exist physically,but only in a metaphysical sense. However, that metaphysical sense was as real as if they had had a physical presence. That had just fed more conjecture: Perhaps these aliens assisted other ancient cultures with their construction—the builders of the pyramids in Egypt and Central and South America, Machu Picchu in Peru, Stonehenge in England, among others.
Back to the case at hand, the tablets held evidence that the aliens had become known to the Mound Builders in their worship ceremonies. The Mound Builders, like most ancient civilizations, had lives that revolved around worship of deities that they believed brought them success in battle, in raising crops, and in all aspects of life—or didn’t, as the case might be.
The aliens possessed extraordinary skills in receiving and understanding the thoughts and talk of the Mound Builders. They became aware of the Mound Builders’ desire to become closer to their heavenly benefactors by erecting an elevated platform from which to conduct their worship.
After a time, the aliens chose to make themselves apparent to the Mound Builders and to share their suggestions as to how to accomplish the construction of the platform. Since the aliens had no physical presence, they were unable to assist in any physical manner, but they provided advice and consultation to the Mound Builders to develop advanced tools and techniques via a process akin to ESP.
The Mound Builders had not yet advanced to the point where they had even rudimentary stone tools or other implements. But the aliens planted in their collective consciousness the ability to fashion primitive shovels, hoes, and other tools with which to work the soil. The aliens helped them understand that they could put the baskets they had previously used only for food and household goods as tools for earthmoving. Unfortunately, the aliens stopped short of the wheel or a wheelbarrow; never was a primitive stone wheel being found in the vicinity of the Mound Builders’ villages.
“Are there any other known characteristics of the mound?” Teri asked the mound park ranger. “Oh yes,” he replied. “The major axes of the mound align quite closely to the cardinal directions.” That’s consistent with what I’ve heard about the Egyptian pyramids and Stonehenge, Teri thought to herself. She asked the ranger, “Has there been any discussion of how they managed that without modern compasses or surveying instruments?”
The ranger said, “I need to introduce you to John Ferguson. He’s in charge of the team that broke the code of the tablets.”
As a construction project manager, seeing the mound and hearing that it had been constructed about 1100 A.D. piqued Teri’s interest. She wondered what motivated an ancient culture to undertake such a project and how they moved that quantity of earth. She wondered how long it must have taken and how they managed an epic project such as that.
When she met with John Ferguson, she said, “I work for a construction company and can’t fathom how they moved that much earth … and why.”
“The Mound Builders had quite a detailed religion,” Ferguson said. “One tenet of their religion was that when they prayed to their gods, they should do it from a mountaintop for effectiveness. But the nearest mountaintop is miles away. They built the mound to fill their need for a ‘mountaintop’ that was more convenient to their lodges and to their people. A raised altar of sorts, I suppose. You’re familiar with the story of the tablets?” John asked.
“Yes,” Teri said, “but it’s a tough story to believe about the extraterrestrials, or whatever you call them.”
“It’s been corroborated by scientists,” said John.
“I know,” said Teri. “I didn’t say I don’t believe it, just that it’s hard to believe.”
“You’re going to find the rest of it more difficult to believe,” said John. But since you’re a construction person, you’ll also find it pretty interesting when you find out that the aliens consulted with the Mound Builders about construction techniques, specifically how to go about moving the fill to the mound. The aliens brought robots specifically built to move dirt.”
“But I thought the aliens didn’t exist physically,” said Teri.
“I didn’t say they did, but they were able to provide physical manifestations of equipment to accomplish their intent. They also provided robots to assist the ancient Egyptians in moving the giant granite blocks and limestone sheathing of their pyramids; and how do you think the people who built Stonehenge erected those stones?”
“If some alien culture assisted the Mound Builders in placing the fill, why haven’t any remnants of their robots ever been found?” Teri asked.
“It appears that the aliens were very careful about ‘leaving tracks’ and didn’t want any evidence of their visit left behind,” John replied.
“So,” continued Teri, “did they leave the tablets, or was that someone else’s doing?”
“That is the $64,000 question that everybody’s working on. Lots of theories, but no hard facts,” said John. “It appears as though the aliens were trying to cover their tracks, erase any evidence of their having been involved, perhaps to minimize the likelihood that future generations would find out about their existence and attempt to track them down.”
“How did they align the mound without modern sophisticated surveying equipment? ”Teri asked. “That’s another of the unknowns, something there has been a lot of conjecture about but no solid explanations,” John replied. “They’re assuming that the aliens helped them with some archeo-astronomy, but there’s no hard proof.”
It was clear to Teri that there were no hard answers to her questions. In the days following her conversation with John, she pestered the ranger incessantly, with no solid answers forthcoming. As she left Georgia, headed back to work, she was thinking that she had a new hobby, if not a career change coming.
Bill Kraus is a 42-year veteran of construction project management and estimating. He currently is estimating manager at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport. He is a civil engineer, a licensed PE and a member and fellow of the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors. He is a Certified Cost Professional, former member and two-term president of the Council of Engineering and Scientific Specialty Boards (CESB), and a member, former president, and fellow of AACE International (formerly the Association for the Advancement of Cost Engineering.) He was awarded an honorary life membership by AACE International in July, 2013.
To see all of the stories in ENR's Imagining Construction's Future science fiction collection, click here.