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part III - Freemasonry, Religion and Civilisation

W. M. Don Falconer PM, PDGDC

Archaeology brings ancient cultures to life.


Archaeology in the past


The earliest recorded instance of a search for antiquities probably is that relating to Khaemwaset, known as the Egyptologist Prince, a son of the Pharaoh Rameses II of Egypt. In about 1250 BCE he instituted a systematic campaign to clear and restore the ancient buildings and monuments of Egypt, from as early as the step pyramid of Zoser that was completed in about 2600 BCE. Khaemwaset emphasised that "the accurate recording of the date and architect was important for posterity". There also are examples of ancient kings, from Babylon to China, who collected antiquities and even dug up ancient sites to obtain artifacts. Early archaeology primarily concentrated on the acquisition and study of artifacts from selected sites, with little regard to their underlying history. The ancient Greeks, such as Herodotus in about 500 BCE, were the forerunners of modern archaeology, because they were the first to study all the observable remains of a society. However, they did not use the information gained to prepare a systematic anthropology and ethnology of the ancient world, which would have been of immense value to modern archaeologists. Moreover, as most of their original data has been lost, it may never become available from other sources.


The Arab historian Ibn Khaldun (1337-1406) is regarded as a greater historian than all of the ancients who preceded him. He carried out penetrating analyses of social structures, which led him to stress the importance of environment and climate on the development of society. Khaldun hypothesised that change and decline in a society is primarily the result of its own internal organisation, not of external factors. Unfortunately Khaldun had no immediate followers, so his theories lay dormant until taken up again by the scientific archaeologists of this century. The period 1550-1750 was important because it became the prelude to modern archaeology. It was the era when the fundamentals of archaeology were first practised to a limited extent and being written about by several British antiquarians, especially William Camden (1551-1623), John Aubrey (1626-1697) and William Stukeley (1687-1765). The word archaeology is derived from the Greek arkhaiologia through the Late Latin archaeologia. It was introduced into the English language as archiology in 1607, when it was used with only the narrow meaning of the "study of inscriptions on monuments", which persisted into the eighteenth century.


Archaeology, as we understand it today, only began to emerge in about 1770 when Danish and Norwegian scholars initiated the formulation of a standardised system of classification, laying a foundation for prehistoric research that soon became firmly established. This system proved to be invaluable when recording the prodigious feats of archaeological excavation in Italy, Greece, the eastern Mediterranean, the near East and Egypt, which have been under way almost continuously since the second half of the eighteenth century. The first 150 years or so of that period are often referred to as the "pioneering" or "heroic" age of archaeology. Modern scientific archaeologists now study the material remains of the past within the broad context of social, economic and cultural affairs. This enables them to establish remarkably complete pictures of the origins, evolution and culture of vanished towns, cities and even empires and show how their inhabitants lived and died. Archaeology is now a living science that focuses on human social activities as well as on objects.


A living relationship


The development and practice of operative freemasonry reflects the evolution of the human race from the most primitive hominids to modern intellectual mankind. The remanent stone and other structures from bygone ages provide us with an authentic record of human endeavour, linking bygone ages of unwritten history with the present era. The prehistoric builders, like their modern counterparts, reflected the on-going advances in human knowledge and culture. Modern speculative freemasonry arose from the operative freemasonry, directly and indirectly. It was initiated by men of learning with a religious background, who perceived the advantages of bringing men of all social standings together on a common footing, not only to fulfil a desire to perpetuate important moral aspects of an operative mason's training, but also to provide a suitable forum in which to engage in progressive thought and discussion. The aim was for members to philosophise socially for their mutual improvement, fostering the development of better community attitudes and conditions.


The most ancient records prove that stonemasons, the forerunners of modern freemasons, were constructing buildings long before the advent of writing. Written records reveal that archaeology in its crudest form is almost 4,000 years old and confirm that speculative freemasonry and modern scientific archaeology are contemporaneous. Sir Mortimer Wheeler (1890-1976), the notable British archaeologist who introduced the method of stratigraphical excavation, published a book in 1954 entitled Archaeology from the Earth. He summed up modern scientific archaeology by saying: "The archaeological excavator is not digging up things, he is digging up people . . . the life of the past and the present are diverse but indivisible." Remnants of the stonemasons' work, down through the ages from ancient times, are vital elements in archaeological chains of evidence that stretch back for at least 14,000 years, far longer than the mere 6,000 years of recorded history.


Thus there is a long-standing and living relationship between freemasonry and archaeology that illustrates one objective they have in common, which is to understand the past and unite it with the present for the improvement and advancement of mankind. That the medieval freemasons made an immeasurable contribution to society, in both its spiritual and its social aspects, is beyond doubt. Their involvement is clearly evidenced by the abundance of cathedrals and public buildings that they constructed in medieval Britain and Europe, which are still in use. The input of the stonemasons to the civilisations of Greece and Rome during the classical period is almost as well understood, because much of their prodigious work typified by the Parthenon in Athens, the Colosseum in Rome and the enormous temple ruins at Baalbek in Lebanon, are well known and can still be seen and appreciated even though in a state of ruin.


The work of the stonemasons in the ancient Egyptian civilisation, some of which is more than 5,000 years old, confirms the importance of freemasonry in the community from ancient times. The stonemasons’ contribution is illustrated by such imposing relics as the temple complex at Abu Simbel, the necropolis and sanctuary complex in the Valley of the Kings at Thebes and the mighty pyramids at Giza. The temples and monuments of India, Indonesia and Cambodia and also of Central and South America, many of which are about 1,000 years old and some even older, also bear witness to the important part played by stonemasons in the evolution of mankind. In addition there are many less obvious relics of the masonic art that have been discovered, which yield invaluable evidence for the archaeologists when deciphering the history of humanity's progress from the days of the primitive savage to the advent of civilisation. A few interesting examples will be reviewed to illustrate how the work of the stonemason has augmented the interpretation of history.


From hunting to village life


A turning point in the history of the world occurred as the direct result of a natural phenomenon, which was the warming of the climate towards the end of the last great Ice Age, between 15,000 and 13,000 years ago. This allowed wild cereals and legumes to grow and to spread throughout the semi-arid temperate zone of the Near East known as the "fertile crescent". As the climate became warmer, the hunter-gatherers in the Near East progressively learnt the art of cultivation, which began in that region as dry farming about 10,000 years ago. This development can be understood in the global context when seen in relation to developments elsewhere that are summarised later this chapter. When farmers in the Near East found that their crops needed watering in their semi-arid climate, they began to develop simple forms of irrigation, which in Mesopotamia began about 8,000 years ago. With the advent of irrigation, the methods of cultivation improved significantly in the Near East, after which farming spread rapidly throughout the moister eastern Mediterranean region. Small settlements soon began to take shape, which were followed by increasingly more substantial villages during the next 3,000 years or so.


The earliest known house in the Near East was built perhaps 14,000 years ago at Ein Guev, which is on the Jordan River to the east of Mount Carmel. It consisted of a round pit about 4.5 metres across, dug into the side of a hill and covered with lightweight materials, thus reflecting the origins of architecture. Tiny hamlets developed in the region over the next 2,000 years, with some buildings as large as 9 metres across, grouped together in an area of several hundred square metres. The next important development in the Near East took place about 10,000 years ago at Mureybet, on the Euphrates River at the northern limit of the "fertile crescent". Moulded and compacted earth, dry packed stone and timber were used to raise the walls above the ground. The buildings were subdivided into rooms, revealing the first signs of communal enterprise. Construction of the ancient city of Jericho, with its walls of rough stone and a circular stone tower, probably began at about the same time.


A new kind of village, some 15 hectares in area, was built about 8,000 years ago at Çatal Hüyük in the Taurus Mountains of Turkey in southern Asia Minor. This is believed to have been the first village where rectangular houses were erected close together in terraces. The houses had many common walls, but they had no doors at ground level, presumably to provide protection from animals and intruders, because the external access ladders appear to have been removable. The houses had flat roofs with canopied openings, which permitted access and allowed smoke to escape from fires. Inside each house was a hearth, an oven, benches along the walls and an access stairway to the opening in the roof. The materials of construction were mainly timber and mud brick, but the workmanship was very good.


A few hundred years later the village of Sawwan was built in mud brick on the banks of the Tigris River, about 300 kilometres east of Çatal Hüyük. It had a surrounding security wall and consisted of rectangular farmhouses each of which was up to 200 square metres in area and had ten or more rooms. Most of the houses had some upper floor space that was reached by an external staircase. About 6,000 years ago the development of early village life in the Near East reached maturity, when the village of Abbadeh was constructed in the mountains of Zagros, some 200 kilometres east of Sawwan. These houses contained several rooms arranged around a central hall. All had upper floors that were reached by an internal staircase and were of similar construction to the houses in Sawwan. The village of Abbadeh has the earliest known public buildings that characterise a township in the Near East.


Until comparatively recently, on the basis of the evidence then available, it was believed that the earliest developments in agriculture, irrigation and urbanisation took place in the Near East, whence they spread progressively through Asia to the Far East and thence ultimately into the Americas. However, the wide-ranging archaeological investigations that have been carried out since the 1950s and especially during the 1990s in China and the archipelago north of Australia that was part of the huge Sunda shelf during the last great Ice Age, suggest a contrary view. The latest evidence reveals that the advances in agriculture, irrigation and urbanisation that took place in the Far East were either concurrently with those taking place in the Near East or preceded them. Neolithic remains that date from about 9500 BCE have been discovered at many sites in China, even though some regions in China were still living under Neolithic conditions as recently as 2000 BCE. It has been found that millet was being grown and that pigs, cattle and sheep were being domesticated in the northern Chinese provinces of Shanxi, Henan and Hebei at least 7,000 years ago, but probably even earlier. It also has been found that rice was already being cultivated in the southern Chinese provinces of Jiangsu, Anhui and Zhejiang almost 7,000 years ago.


These agricultural pursuits were accompanied by the development of pottery and the construction of dwellings and communal buildings. The first pottery in Japan appeared about 12,500 years ago, followed in China and South East Asia about 11,000 years ago, predating pottery in the Near East by about 3,000 years. An early example of urbanisation in the Far East is the Banpo village in the Shanxi province, which dates from about 5000 BCE. The largest structure found in the centre of the Banpo village probably was a communal building, pyramidal in shape and covering an area of 10 metres by 11 metres. The roof, which also served as the walls, was continuous from apex to ground level and was made of clay and straw, supported by heavy wooden columns on stone foundations. This evidence is supported by the discovery of artefacts and other items in the archipelago, including stone adzes, pottery and charred rice that were left in the Sakai cave in southern Thailand, near the Malaysian border, about 9,000 years ago. Furthermore, it has also been established that the native inhabitants in the highlands of New Guinea were draining swamps to grow taro about 9,000 years ago. Stephen Oppenheimer provides a wealth of evidence that substantiates these early developments in the Far East in his book entitled Eden in the East, subtitled The Drowned Continent of Southeast Asia. His book also correlates events in the Near East with the inundation of the Sunda shelf, which occurred as a consequence of the three great floods associated with the last great Ice Age.


Early masonry


The ability to shape stone was influenced by the availability of suitable implements, which in turn depended upon the production of tough metals that could be tempered and sharpened. Crude local copper was first used in beaten form for small implements and jewellery between 9,000 and 8,000 years ago, in various sites in the mountainous arc from Turkey through Assyria to the Zagros plateau in Iran, but it could not be used to cut and shape hard stone. The earliest known examples of copper smelting and casting have been found on the Iranian plateau and date from about 7,000 years ago. This process was well developed in Mesopotamia and the eastern Mediterranean about 6,500 years ago, even though the ore was not available locally.


Another Mesopotamian invention about 6,000 years ago was the synthesising of glass and copper, using the faience process that is still used in the production of glazed coloured earthenware. The casting of bronze by the lost wax method, which was used when fabricating the two pillars at the porch of King Solomon's Temple, was developed simultaneously about 5,200 years ago in Mesopotamia and in the kingdom of Elam between Babylon and Sumeria, when all of the copper was being imported from the mountains of Oman. Cutting tools made of cast copper were hardened by beating and sharpened by grinding with stones, but they were of limited use for cutting and dressing hard stone. The earliest experiments in the Near East to alloy copper and tin, thus producing a tougher material, were carried out in Mesopotamia and the eastern Mediterranean more than 5,000 years ago, but effective bronze metallurgy was not fully developed there until about 4,600 years ago in Mesopotamia. Even then copper tools still predominated, although building stones were beginning to be shaped and dressed with reasonable accuracy, but with difficulty. The oldest genuine bronze objects discovered in China so far are at least 6,000 years old. They were found in the Hebei and Shandong provinces and have been carbon dated to about 4100 BCE.


The next important development in the Near East occurred about 4,000 years ago, when the Hittite smiths in Anatolia devised methods for the extraction of iron from the crude ores then available. However, the technique of carbonising was not perfected there until about 3,500 years ago, when the Hittites first produced iron implements of equal or superior quality to those of bronze. From then bronze tools were effectively replaced by iron tools in Mesopotamia and the eastern Mediterranean, but another 500 years elapsed before iron tools were in general use in Egypt, Europe and India, when the use of stone masonry began to proliferate. In China the casting of iron was developed directly from the methods they used for the casting of bronze. As bronze tools were expensive, iron tools had virtually replaced them by about 600 BCE. Archaeological investigations that reveal the development of the stonemason's craft thus far are of considerable interest and they will be summarised briefly.


As village life began to evolve, stones in their naturally occurring shapes were carefully selected and used for building whenever available. The oldest known examples are the walls and circular tower of Jericho, which were constructed in stone about 10,000 years ago. The next important step was the provision of paved areas for the houses at Mureybet, in Mesopotamia, about 300 years after Jericho was built. Next were the circular foundations and walls of the remarkable "beehive" houses, built at Khirokitia in Cyprus, about 8,000 years ago. They were constructed of stone set in a strong mortar of mud and were surmounted by good quality corbelled domes constructed in mud brick. This was an important advancement in building. The earliest known monumental buildings are the communal tombs in Brittany and the passage graves in Portugal that are about 6,500 years old, which were built from large naturally occurring stones using orthostat and lintel construction. Their use spread rapidly to Britain, Ireland and even the remote Hebrides and Orkneys, sometimes having dry-stone walls and corbelled stone roofs.


The fortified village of Dimini, in Greece, built almost 6,000 years ago, is enclosed within an elaborate maze of stone walls. The open firing of earthenware gave way to the use of low domed mud brick kilns in Mesopotamia, followed soon after by tall circular kilns in Mesopotamia and Egypt. About 5,500 years ago the production of kiln-fired bricks began in Mesopotamia, providing the appropriate materials and impetus needed to initiate the building of huge temples in Mesopotamia and mastabah tombs in Egypt. Thereafter similar building programs spread rapidly throughout the Near East and the eastern Mediterranean. However it was the introduction of iron tools, which allowed hard stones to be shaped and finished accurately, that provided the greatest stimulus to masonry. This fostered the development of the elegant monumental architecture that began in Egypt about 4,700 years ago and is typified by remarkable temples and the large tombs that supplanted the earlier mud brick mastabah tombs. Probably the most famous examples of early masonry are the Great Pyramids of Giza, in the valley of the Nile, which were completed about 4,500 years ago.


         History in stone


The growth of masonry over the 11,000 years spanning from the earliest  known house built at Ein Guev about 14,000 years ago, until carbonised iron tools were developed and masonry could be carried out with precision from about 3,000 years ago, is a fascinating story. The history of these events has been unfolded by the painstaking efforts of archaeologists in association with anthropologists, architects, astronomers, engineers, historians, mathematicians and scientists in all disciplines. It might be supposed that the fairly general use of writing, that has prevailed since about 1000 BCE, would have ensured that there would be adequate records of the important buildings erected since then, but such is not the case. Written records of building work carried out 1,500 years or more ago are virtually non-existent, with the  rare exception of the biblical description of the temple built by King  Solomon at Jerusalem.

For many reasons very few records exist in relation to the vast array of abbeys, cathedrals and other substantial public buildings erected in medieval times. Any records that have survived have only been discovered by the most diligent research. However, thanks to the information published by researchers, mostly since the 1950s, we can now read detailed accounts of the temples of Egypt; the classical buildings of the Greek, Roman and Byzantium empires; the remarkable city-temple complexes of Asia, Central America and South America; and the beautiful works of medieval construction in Britain and Europe, much of which continues in use today. To illustrate the effort and diligence required to unravel the histories recorded in these ancient stone structures, a brief outline will be given of recent archaeological investigations that have established the true antecedents of King Solomon's temple.


The   Temple of Solomon


Because of the important role Egypt played in the history of the Hebrew people, the strong intellectual and cultural influence of the pharaonic civilisation throughout the Mediterranean region and the close links then existing between the two peoples, it was believed for centuries that Egypt had provided the model for King Solomon's temple in Jerusalem, even though it did not resemble any temple in Egypt. The temple of Solomon was completed about 950 BCE. It was constructed of accurately dressed blocks of stone that were assembled without mortar. The temple had olive wood doors and was lined with cedar wood, ornately carved and inlaid with gold.


Although it was smaller than any Egyptian temple, the temple of Solomon, which was the first in Jerusalem, was a magnificent edifice that surpassed any that had preceded it. The temple of Solomon was noted for the lavish beauty of its detail and the opulence of its furnishings. Archaeological excavations in northern Syria in the 1930s were the first to throw doubt on the long-held belief of an Egyptian heritage. Excavations at Hazor in northern Palestine, during the 1950s, reinforced these doubts. However, it was the salvage excavations carried out from 1970 to 1976 in a bend of the Euphrates River, on the site of what is now Lake el-Assad, that confirmed beyond doubt that King Solomon’s temple was built according to a Phoenician pattern, in the direct line of tradition of a religious system that was at least 2,000 years old when the temple was built in Jerusalem.


The traditions developed in the countries of the "fertile crescent" and the adjoining eastern Mediterranean, were bringing about significant changes in human attitudes to the divinity as long ago as 5,000 years. These attitudes were reflected in the designs of temples that became the pattern for those constructed by the Phoenicians who, from about 3,200 years ago, were the greatest developers and builders around the Mediterranean, until the conquest of the region by Alexander the Great in 333 BCE. These temples were elongated about 3:1 in plan, had a single entrance at the narrower eastern end and were subdivided into compartments that provided a progressive transition from the profane outside world to the inner and most holy sanctuary. Although the many temples that have been excavated are not identical in design, they are sufficiently alike to prove beyond doubt that they had a common religious theme. This arrangement was typified in the temple of Solomon, which had a porch or entranceway called the ulam at the eastern end, which was flanked by two great pillars named Jachin and Boaz. The porch opened into the main hall of worship called the hekal, which had a table of offering and other furnishings and was the place for the priests to hold divine service and perform their rituals. At the western end of the temple was the Holy of Holies, called the debir, where the Ark of the Covenant was kept. It was known as the place "where God dwelt" and was accessible only to the priesthood on special occasions.


The oldest known temples or sanctuaries of this type were the three found at Tell Chouera on the eastern branch of the headwaters of the Euphrates River in the foothills of northern Syria. In comparison with the temple of Solomon, they range from about the size of its Holy of Holies to a little larger than its overall size including the storage chambers surrounding it on the northern, western and southern sides. They are about 4,500 years old and probably were built sequentially over several generations. A Canaanite temple that was discovered while excavating the ancient lower city of Hazor, in northern Palestine, is of the same general description and is about 4,000 years old. Hazor was only occupied for about  500 years, when it was destroyed and burnt, but was never reoccupied. Another temple has been excavated at Ebla, some 300 kilometres to the southwest of Tell Chouera. It was built about 3,800 years ago and is almost identical in size to the temple of Solomon, although the Holy of Holies is significantly shorter. In the temple of Solomon the Holy of Holies was on a podium, but at Ebla it was augmented by a substantial niche in the western wall. This allowed a small room to be placed between the porch and the main hall of worship at Ebla, which is about the same size as it was in the temple of Solomon.


The greatest volume of evidence comes from the salvage excavations on the site of Lake el-Assad, where seven temples were unearthed. Four of them are at Emar, ranging in size from about half to two-thirds that of the temple of Solomon. They are from 3,400 to 3,200 years old, which corresponds with the brief period during which a Hittite city existed there. The two larger temples at Emar are built parallel and close together to form a double sanctuary, with a road between them giving access to a common terrace for sacrificial offering located behind them, instead of in front as at Jerusalem. A similar temple excavated at Moumbaqat, roughly midway between Emar and Ebla and intermediate in age, is even larger than the largest at Tell Chouera. The first Syrian temple discovered, which is that at Tell Ta'Yinat, is almost identical in size to the temple of Solomon and probably was constructed a little later. Some of the Syrian excavations also show evidence of stub walls near the western ends of the temples, which are thought to have been the locations of internal timber walls, similar to the one that screened the Holy of Holies in the temple of Solomon.


The panorama of archaeology


Anyone interested in the broad spectrum of archaeological investigations around the world would find The World Atlas of Archaeology, which is the English version of the French Le Grand Atlas de l'archéologie with a foreword by Michael Wood, a fascinating book that puts the vast scope of the science in remarkable perspective. All aspects from the rise of civilisation, through the invention of writing, the development of religion and the progress of mankind through the ages are covered in graphic detail. One of the more recent books is the Atlas of Archaeology by Mick Aston and Tim Taylor. It includes a comprehensive gazetteer and provides a definitive guide to the location, history and significance of the world's most important archaeological sites and their discoveries. Many other informative books, including The Atlas of Early Man by Jacquetta Hawkes, the Larousse Encyclopedia of Archaeology edited by Gilbert Charles-Picard, The Encyclopedia of Ancient Civilizations edited by Arthur Cotterell and The Atlas of Archaeology edited by Professor K. Branigan, are all pleasant reading and provide a fascinating insight to the subject. Another recent book, by Robert Ingpen and Philip Wilkinson, covers a broad spectrum of archaeological sites and is entitled Encyclopedia of Mysterious Places, with the descriptive subtitle of the life and legends of ancient sites around the world. It is written in a less formal manner than is usual for a book of this type, but provides a wealth of interesting information.

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