Gigantic Unfinished Stele Abandoned in Chinese Quarry

Thought to be the largest monolith in the world, Stele Base an unfinished construction from the Ming Empire, located near Nanjing, China. It’s estimated weight is approximately 16,300 tons.

Gigantic Unfinished Stele Abandoned in Chinese Quarry

Gigantic unfinished stele abandoned in an ancient Chinese quarry could provide the answer to the question how other megalithic stone blocks were made in other parts of the world…

The Yangshan Quarry  is an ancient stone quarry near Nanjing, China. Used during many centuries as a source of stone for buildings and monuments of Nanjing, it is presently preserved as a historic site. The quarry is famous for the gigantic unfinished stele that was abandoned there during the reign of the Yongle Emperor in the early 15th century. In scope and ambition, the stele project is compared to other public works projects of Yongle era, which included the launching of the Treasure Fleet for the Zheng He expeditions and the construction of the Forbidden City in Beijing. 


The stele base, partly separated from the body of the mountain


The unfinished base of the giant stele, with a hiker next to it for scale, located at the NE end of the southwestern pit of the Yangshan Quarry. One can see in the photos how the giant piece of rock has been parially separated from the mountain by digging under it.


The Monument Body (right) and the Monument Head (left), in Yangshan Quarry, Nanjing.

According to a legend, workers who failed to produce the daily quota of crushed rock of at least 33 sheng would be executed on the spot. In memory of the workers who died on the construction site—including those who died from overwork and disease—a nearby village became known as Fentou  or “Grave Mound”. Ann Paludan translates the place name as “Death’s Head Valley”. 


The Yangshan Quarry is situated on the Yangshan Mountain (elevation 140 m), also known as Yanmen Shan, northwest of Tangshan Town. The Yangshan is the main peak of the Kongshan Mountain Range. The site is located 15-20 km to the east from the eastern part of Nanjing City Wall and the Ming Xiaoling Mausoleum. Administratively, the area is in the Jiangning District of Nanjing City, Jiangsu Province.


An overall view of the quarry site from a walking trail. The stele base, center left; the stele body, and the stele head in front of it, near the horizon, a bit right of center 


The Yangshan Quarry has been worked from the time of the Six Dynasties, the local limestone being used for construction of buildings, walls, and statues in and around Nanjing.

After Zhu Yuanzhang (the Hongwu Emperor) founded the Ming Dynasty in 1368, the city of Nanjing became the capital city of his empire. The Yangshan quarry became the main source of stone for the major construction projects that changed the face of Nanjing. In 1405, Hongwu’s son, the Yongle Emperor, ordered the cutting of a giant stele in this quarry, for use in the Ming Xiaoling Mausoleum of his deceased father.

In accordance with the usual design of a Chinese memorial stele, three separate pieces were being cut: the rectangular stele base (pedestal), the stele body, and the stele head (crown, to be decorated with a dragon design).

After most of the stone-cutting work had been done, the architects realized that moving stones that big from Yangshan to Ming Xiaoling, let alone installing them there in a proper way, would not be physically possible. As a result, the project was abandoned.

In place of the stele, a much smaller tablet (still, the largest in the Nanjing area), known as the Shengong Shengde (“Divine Merits and Godly Virtues”) Stele was installed in Ming Xiaoling’s “Square Pavilion” (Sifangcheng) in 1413.

The three unfinished stele components remain in Yangshan Quarry to this day, only partially separated from the living rock of the mountain. The present dimensions and the usual weight estimates of the steles are as follows:

  • The Stele Base (32°04?03?N 119°00?00?E), 30.35 m long, 13 m thick, 16 m tall, 16,250 metric tons.
  • The Stele Body (32°04?07?N 119°00?02?E), 49.4 m long (this would be the height, if the stele were to be properly installed), 10.7 m wide, 4.4 m thick, 8,799 tons.
  • The Stele Head (32°04?06?N 119°00?02?E), 10.7 m tall, 20.3 m wide, 8.4 m thick, 6,118 tons.

According to experts, if the stele had been finished and put together, by installing the stele body installed vertically on the base, and topping with the stele head, then it would have stood 73 meters tall.
For comparison, the Shengong Shengde Stele actually installed in Ming Xiaoling is 8.78 m tall (6.7 m body + crown, on top of a 2.8 m tall tortoise pedestal).
The Song-Dynasty (early 12th century) Wan Ren Chou (“Ten Thousand Men’s Sorrow”) Stele in Qufu, which is thought to be one of the tallest in China, is 16.95 m tall, 3.75 m wide, 1.14 m thick. 

Cultural References

In the centuries since the giant stele project was abandoned, a number of Ming, Qing, and modern authors visited the site and left accounts of it. The poet Yuan Mei (1716 – 1797) expressed his feelings in “The Song of Hongwu’s Great Stone Tablet”, which concludes with “ten thousand camels could not move it!” . The poem is published in his collection Xiao Cangshan Fang Wenji.

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Article Source: Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

PS Size Matters

Monoliths are categorized by being stone structures, usually man-crafted and weighing at least ten tons. Many monoliths remaining today puzzle archaeologists as to how they were shaped, moved, and the purpose they served


As the title suggests, Unfinished Obelisk is an incomplete work, located in Aswan, Egypt. Discovered in 2005, If completed it would have been the largest Egyptian obelisk ever finished. It is carved from bedrock with an estimated weight of 1,200 tons.   If finished, this obelisk would have measured around 42 m (approximately 137 feet).


At the southern entrance of Baalbeck is a quarry where the stones used in the temples were cut. A huge block, considered the largest hewn stone in the world, still sits where it was cut almost 2,000 years ago. Called the “Stone of the Pregnant Woman”, it is 21.5m x 4.8m x 4.2meters in size and weighs an estimated 1,000 tons.


Giant walls of Sacsayhuaman

There are three parallel walls built in different levels with lime-stones of enormous sizes.  Zigzagging walls are made of boulders used for the first or lower levels are the biggest; there is one that is 8.5 m high (28 ft.) and weights about 140 metric tons. Those boulders classify the walls as being of cyclopean or megalithic architecture.  There are no other walls like these. They are different from Stonehenge, different from the Pyramids of the Egyptians and the Maya, different from any of the other ancient monolithic stone-works.  Scientists are not certain how these huge stones were transported and processed to fit so perfectly that no blade of grass or steel can slide between them. There is no mortar.  The stones often join in complex and irregular surfaces that would appear to be a nightmare for the stonemason.   Read more >>   [subject related:  Evidence of Vitrified Stonework in the Inca Vestiges of Peru ]

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  1. Horace says

    As an afterthought, the stone age supposedly lasted for tens of thousands of years. Is it not conceivable that our ancestors, who were genetically identical to modern man, didn’t learn a thing or two about the properties of their leading technology (stone) during this vast period of time, things that later, as more material science became known, were lost or forgotten?
    I for one, get tired of hearing the ancient alien hypothesis. For intelligent people to suggest that man was aided by a benevolent, spacefaring race, who seem to have forgotten to show mankind true arch construction, relying solely on lintels or corbeled openings, whilst only utilizing primitive stone. seems a little backward for a civilization that could cross the enormous expanse of space.

  2. Horace says

    The aerial photo of the Egyptian obelisk clearly shows the “stone” of the obelisk is a different colour to the surrounding bedrock. The whole thing looks more like a giant mould for the pouring of a geo-polymer.
    Imohtep, the Egyptian high priest claimed to have rediscovered the technique of the ancients for creating geo-polymer concrete. the geo-polymer institute have a wealth of evidence proving that the Great pyramid, is beyond doubt, constructed by moulding and pouring the blocks for the pyramids construction.
    As for transporting these enormous edifices, check out the video on youtube of the builder who shows how to move huge concrete blocks by inserting rounded pebbles underneath then attaching a wooden yoke over the block. Not only does this ingenious “ordinary” man move the blocks alone and unaided by any other means, he has also posted a video showing how, once again unaided, he manages to erect said blocks just by using counter weights and a fulcrum

  3. will hart says

    absolutely absurd to claim the ancient people could lift anything over 200 tons…let alone 1,000 and beyond. That means that humanity went backward for thousands of years since the largest crane ever made could only 440 tons when the Space Shuttle had to be moved. Do not be brainwashed and stupid. We could not life 16,0000 tons today! In fact, no where near half that much….

  4. says

    What about the monolith at Sacsahuaman that has been westimated to weigh up to 20,000 tonnes. It had also been turned upside down. I am surprised that no-one has mentioned this massive block of cut stone. These huge blocks of cut stone were moved about with suche ase that it was easy for the constructors. They must have been able to neutralise gravity. What i would really like to ascertain is what actually went on behind these massive walls?

  5. Bear Peterson says

    A monolith is simply a single (mono) stone (lith) and can be any size, go to any cemetery and you can see thousands of monoliths, megaliths are the “stone structures, usually man-crafted and weighing at least ten tons” you are referring to here.

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