Along the side of Yanmen Shan mountain, located twenty kilometers to the east of Nanjing, China, the legendary Yangshan quarry can be found. Although it is believed to have been in use from at least the time of the Six Dynasties (220 – 589 AD), the majority of the work at Yangshan is still attributed to the wave of construction that took place after the Ming dynasty was founded in 1368 AD, when the new emperor, Zhu Yuanzhang, chose nearby Nanjing to become his capital city.
As the story goes, the Emperor’s son ordered the construction of a gigantic stele in 1405 AD for the Ming Xiaoling mausoleum; which had been built for his father, by his father, and was then later completed during the reign of his son. The Yangshan mountain quarry was chosen by the city’s stone-masons. They were then said to have cut and crafted three enormous blocks from the mountain side before finally coming to the realization that the blocks they’d been cutting were far-too big. At which point, they abandoned the effort in favor of a more realistic project.
How big were these blocks that they mistakenly sized-up?
The stele that these masons did end up creating for the Emperor is 6.7 meters tall—8.78, if you include the height of the stone tortoise it’s perched on—and, altogether with the tortoise, would weigh right around 100 tons. If assembled, the stele that they were said to have mistakenly attempted would have been over eight times as tall—73 meters high—and over three-hundred and ten times its weight—31,000 tons. For reference, a typical car weighs between 1 and 1.5 tons; the largest monolith, in the ancient and modern world, is the 1,250-ton Thunder Stone moved by Russia in 1770, resembling a rough outcropping that was never carved.