Spooky early construction practices

As today is Friday 13th, we are spotlighting spooky and superstitious construction practices.

Many early civilisations are thought to have practised human sacrifice as part of the dedication of major building projects, from temples to bridges, in order to bring good fortune and pacify the gods.

In Mayan culture, although human sacrifice was relatively rare, when dedicating a major building project, the sacrifice of an enemy king was most prized. The later Aztec civilisation is better known for its legacy of sacrifice, with thousands thought to have been sacrificed in the final stages of construction of Templo Mayor (in modern day Mexico).

The practice is not limited to Latin America – there is a legend that thousands of men are entombed within the Great Wall of China (to make it stronger), and that the mortar used to bind the stones was made from human bones.* In ancient Japan, there are tales of ‘hitobashira’ – people buried alive at the base of construction, to protect buildings against disasters or enemy attacks. Hitobashira are often connected with complex and dangerous projects involving water, such as dams and bridges.

While thankfully this consideration no longer features on the critical path, some superstitions still factor into building. For example, in multi-level buildings the 13th floor is often omitted, or airports will lack a 13th gate, in countries where the number 13 is considered unlucky.

*The mortar used to bind the stones of the Great Wall was actually made from rice flour. Less spooky but very innovative.

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