Friday, March 27, 2009

Civilization?



This is a sort of rambling post. It's feeling my way into what I hope will be a worthwhile look at some of the work of our operative forefathers. I have been looking at neolithic and paleolithic structures in Europe, Asia and Africa. Of course, they are awesome in appearance and stunning to contemplate the sheer labor that they required. Possibly the most stunning thing is that people realized that these structures would last forever.

Did they have a concept of forever? Was this one upsmanship on the part of the rulers, or was it truly a monument to eternity?

Stonehenge is the most famous of these structures, probably. It took generations to build. The circle of small white dots that surround the giant stone structure mirror a cycle of lunar eclipses that alone took at least three generations of observation. Probably more, just to notice the pattern.



I've entitled this post "Civilization?" to ask the question what constitutes civilization. We look at the monumental masonry of Egypt and the Sudan, and we accept them without much of a shock because these were "civilizations." They had lots of labor available and leaders and mathmeticians and priests to encourage, or require that these be built. They paid the laborers with salaries, room and board; good medical care. We look with a bit more surprise at the castles and buildings of Great Zimbabwe, because here we don't have what the west would call a "civilization" on the scale of Egypt. Of course this is ridiculous, because clearly these monuments are sufficient record of a great and advanced civilization. Or are they? That's the theme of this entry and some more to come.

In the case of Stonehenge, the builders of this would be, by our standards, howling barbarians, with the most primitive social structure: hunter/gatherers, possibly nomadic, certainly ruled by strength, not democracy. Or were they? This building required vast astronomical, engineering and masonic knowledge. It required a sense of eternity.

Eternity, because the place is unneccesary. The giant stones, imported from long distances were not needed for any practical purpose. There is evidence of less permanent sites that served similar purposes with similar technology. Sites build of wood, like "Woodhenge." that show only the stubs of the standing logs that remain in the earth.

This was a society that was short on wealth. People had to hunt for food, clothing and shelter. If you didn't produce, you died. And yet they fed, clothed and housed several generations of workers, scientists and priests who were producing only this immense structure. This is evidence that this society placed value on other than mundane things.

An argument can be made that there was a practical purpose for such a structure as stonehenge: agricultural, religious, political. It is generally understood that Stonehenge is an observatory as well as a temple. And yet, a far less complex structure would have served as well, and did in many other places. Was this, then the ego of some forgotten ruler, a British Ramses, memorializing himself with a lasting structure? Hardly likely. No one would remember who built it withing a few generations. No one does.

No, this is a memorial to the mind of man. It is conceived and executed as a building unto eternity. It brings together geometry and hard real nuts and bolts building. Or rather big, heavy stone building. Stones harder than than the tools available to work them. Stones that required marine engineering, masonry, and transportation. It requred logistics and vision.

I hope to expand upon this exploration of these monuments. Perhaps we can find other meanings and purposes for them to share with one another. Any references and ideas are welcome.

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This blog is the thoughts of a Freemason. It's not affiliated with any Masonic body, and doesn't speak for Freemasonry in any sense of the word. My purpose is to raise questions, not dictate answers. If you read this blog, please comment; please subscribe, so we can look for answers to these questions together.