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NOVA: Medieval Siege
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Have you ever marveled at the mystery of Stonehenge and the Pyramids? Experts have had the very same musings. A team of engineers, architects and archaeologists set out to replicate these symbols of civilizations past using just the resources available at the time they were originally built. Spellbinding stories and photos reveal a group of modern-day craftsmen struggling with the same problems that their ancestors faced thousands of years ago
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But this is Nova, not the History Channel, and that's only part of it. At the turn of the 21st century, two teams of modern day catapult designers traveled to Loch Ness, where they created a portion of thick stone castle wall and two similar but differing in detail trebuchets to knock it down with. The blurb on the dvd case says they were competing teams, but they were more properly collaborative groups of friendly rivals. The key element of the trebuchet was that it was no simple flinger of objects that worked as simply as, say, a spoon that you'd use to hurl mashed potatoes across the cafeteria in a food fight. This mechanized weapon used a counterweight box on the shorter front end of the catapult arm to allow the attackers to adjust their range by adjusting the weight they put in the box. The trajectory of the toss could also be fine-tuned by lengthening/shortening the rope on the throwing end of the catapult. In the end, after a bit of interesting tinkering, both teams are able to reach the wall portion with their machines. That's the physics of it.
One previous reviewer, in somewhat panning this video, said it's just grown men playing. And while that isn't "all" it is--lots of history and science here too--it is undeniably grown men playing. That, for me, is part of the charm of the video. Here we see guys strapping a grand piano onto a catapult arm and shooting it out into an open field and then cavorting over to see if, indeed, the thing is smashed to smithereens (it is). But more than frivolity, here is historic re-enactment of the best sort. There were no schematics left by Edward Longshanks's engineers, so these teams used what scant records did exist, combined with historical detective work and good engineering problem-solving to create these two weapons of mass destruction (if you will). I bought the dvd to show to a class in "American Wars," not because this sort of weapon was in use ever in America but in specific to show the ever-changing subtle shifts in strength between offensive and defensive warfare. On a related note, perhaps for physics teachers, elsewhere on the Amazon site, one can purchase a scale model of the War Wolf. Just don't use it to reduce the walls of your school the way Edward Longshanks reduced Stirling Castle.
It is just one episode of a series called "Medieval Siege" and runs a little under 1 hour. This episode shows two teams making two different types of trebuchets based on drawings and writings from the age of castle warfare. They're made (mostly) by using original techniques and are compared by seeing how they fare against the wall of a castle constructed specially for this show.
My only complaint is that I would have liked to see more detail about how the trebuchets were built. It seemed like everything was pared down to fit it into an hour-long show, and it could have been easily a 90-minute show. Also, the DVD is a little pricey for the short length. But hey, trebuchets!