Surely the Kaimanawa Wall story was one of the great beat-ups of all time. Here was a natural rock outcrop, which experts immediately told us was of a kind common in the area, raised to status of “great mystery” and worthy of the other “X Files puzzles” of Easter Island, South America and so on.

The few scientists who were allowed to have their say were presented as churlish spoil-sports who seemed determined to let boring facts get in the way of an exciting story.

On the other hand television gave the short gnomish man, who called himself an archaeologist, the full “personal profile” treatment. He swaggered up the road, swinging his stick, finally gazing in awe at his great mystical discovery. The problem was that he lost his credentials when, on the Kim Hill show, he said that this pile of rocks was:

Typical of so many ancient walls, such as those at Easter Island and the Egyptian Pyramids, which have been made with precision which we cannot understand or comprehend. [Paraphrased]

Actually, anyone with a passing interest in archaeology knows exactly how the statues at Easter Island were erected. There are photographs of contemporary islanders showing how their ancestors did it.

Anyone with a passing interest in architecture and archaeology knows exactly how stones can be cut and stacked with such precision that you cannot slide a knife blade into the slots. The rocks are cut with a bevelled back bottom face so that the front edge presents a knife edge to the rock below. You fill the gap with rubble, slide the rock back and forth a few times and you have the mysterious “perfect” joint.

Anyone with a passing interest in archaeology and architecture can tell you exactly how the pyramids are built on a base which is level to an accuracy which is unobtainable with an optical theodolite. The Egyptians dug a square trench using a 3,4,5, measure and filled it with water. Not surprisingly the water is remarkably flat. Many of still use water levels within a plastic hose to level our building platforms. They are more accurate than a theodolite over a long distance, but the theodolite is much more convenient — and does other jobs as well.

The ancients were just as intelligent as we moderns and applied that intelligence to stone building with the same vigour and imagination that we apply to making silicon chips. No one says we must have had help from aliens from outer space to make silicon chips, and yet some are so arrogant as to suggest that aliens must have helped the Egyptians and Easter Islanders. It’s a curious form of “ancientism racism evolutionism.” Give credit where credit is due. Those ancient folk were smart stone builders.

But how the story survived even five minutes is the great mystery. After all, New Zealand has its fair share of masons and block layers. We were being told that this wall was the product of some great ancient civilisation. And yet the vertical joins were not staggered. Now a child soon learns that if you build a wall with blocks you must stagger the vertical joints; otherwise the wall has no resistance to horizontal shear — it will fall over, possibly on the builder. So how come these masters got to the stage where they built with ten tonne boulders without learning the first lesson of building with blocks?

Surely some block layer would have telephoned TV news or Radio New Zealand or their local newspaper to explain this simple fact of life.

If my experience is anything to go by they probably did — and were ignored. Within a few hours of the claims being made I faxed radio and television, as the editor of this magazine, setting out the story outlined above. I received no response and the beat-up carried on for another week or so.

I suspect that block-layers and stone-masons rushed to give their evidence but were quietly ignored.

I suspect the scientists were given air time because they are always suitably cautious and diffident while they wait for the evidence to come to hand. On the other hand the block layers might have been uncomfortably forthright in their assessment of the skills of this stupid “ancient civilisation”.

The sad thing is that the people of genuine ancient civilisations were genuinely smart. They had no need of aliens to create their great monuments. Our great arrogance is to place a junior reporter in front of something old, and if they cannot figure out how it was done in five minutes, then it must be a mystery, because it is obviously beyond the intellectual power of mere mortals. Do they ever wonder how well the same junior reporter would succeed in understanding the workings of a silicon chip?

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