Back around 10,000 BC, humans began to use fire to make plasters, mortars and quicklime. Instead of caves, they could build luxury homes of stone, straw and mud. This was the beginning of stonemasonry.
Fast forward a few thousand years and you arrive at some of stonemasonry’s famous triumphs: The great pyramids of Egypt. The Sphinx. All around the world, ancient civilizations developed stonemasonry. Greeks built temples, Central Americans made their beautiful step pyramids. Persians built palaces, and Romans created their coliseum and other marvellous structures that still exist.
When you think about it, many of the sites that people travel all around the world to visit have a team of stonemasons to thank.
In Europe, stonemasons busily built castles for hundreds of years. The first great European cathedrals were erected during the Norman period (circa 1000 AD). Gothic chic developed during the 12th and 13th centuries. At times, timber-based construction was in vogue. But which buildings endure? It is stone, of course.
By the Medieval period, a stonemason hierarchy evolved. Apprentices were indentured to their masters, working to pay off their training. Journeymen were more skilled, and got their name because they would journey along with their masters to work on projects. Master masons were free men with a high skill level.
Stonemasonry reached new heights during the Renaissance. Italy shone with works like the Fountain of Neptune, the Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore and the Laurentian Library in Florence.
Stonemasons have traditionally carved a personal symbol onto their stones. Called a banker mark, this mark identifies it as the work of a particular stonemason. These marks are sometimes passed down through generations of stonemasons within the same family. As you can imagine, this is an invaluable aid to historians studying works of stonemasonry.
For many centuries, stonemasonry tools remained relatively unchanged. Masons used various sizes and shapes of chisels, mallets, hammers and trowels. Archaeologists found chisels at the Egyptian pyramids similar in size and shape to those manufactured today.
During the 20th century, the internal combustion engine changed the tools available to stonemasons. Instead of relying on human or horse power, now cranes, trucks and forklifts could ease the moving and positioning of stones. Electrically powered saws cut through stone easily and precisely.
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