Wednesday, July 5, 2017

‘A monumental catastrophe,’ he thought. 'Like a nuclear submarine trapped in polar ice.'

The Unfinished Obelisk

The unfinished obelisk lay trapped in the stone in an ancient quarry.

There was something both lethal and impotent about its appearance, like a nuclear submarine stuck in the polar ice.

A solitary man walked on its surface, swaying as if on a deck in a storm. Swirling grains of dust whipped up by winds buffeted him.

‘A monumental catastrophe,’ he thought. ‘Literally.’

Two thousand tonnes of smoothly shaped, elongated stone, its bottom side still lying attached to the red granite bedrock.

One day, thousands of years ago, something had gone wrong at this quarry, a site of patient, human-borne erosion of the stone by stonemasons cutting out and shaping a colossal block, not with the aid of machines, powered jackhammers and diamond carbide saws, but balls of dolerite, a stone harder than granite, expending only the energy of their hands, muscles, sinews and their sweat as they rained blow after endless blow into the deepening grooves around the stone until it sounded to the workers’ deafened ears that the thuds were the heartbeats of mother earth herself.

Then an overseer gave a cry. Trembling, he pointed at the stone. It was a finger of doom.

Disaster!

A crack had rivered through the sublime monolith being fashioned for Queen Hatshepsut.

News spread in a buzz through the site. From the throats of the workers there arose a sound of swarming, like a giant hive of bees mourning the death of a queen.

The workers downed tools and the heartbeat of their labours ceased.

Had they ever raised its head into the heavens, the single, tapering, four-sided stone would have been the tallest obelisk in history - at least a third higher - rising to the height of a thirteen-storey building. Instead, they left the granite monster in a gouged out quarry site in Aswan.