A History of Stonework

Stonework is an age-old craft, and has been around since man learned to create tools. The history of stonework is displayed in carvings, ruins of temples and buildings around the world. Some of these former dwellings offer us a remarkable glimpse of the sometimes-mysterious skills of past stone masons.  Egyptian stone workers built the Pyramids, followed by the Persians, the Greeks, and the Romans, all who contributed to the craft. Later, in the medieval period, a stonemason would apprentice for seven years. There were varying stages of skill, and each stone mason signed their work with a mark.

Stonehenge, in Wiltshire, England, has been dated to 3000BC. Stonehenge consists of a circle of giant blocks made of sandstone, called sarsen,  and various smaller igneous rocks called bluestones. The sarsen stones were brought from Marlborough, about 30 km north of Stonehenge. The largest weighs 40 tons, which brings into question how these stones were transported from Marlborough. The smaller bluestones weigh about 4 tons each, and are foreign to the area. The altar is sandstone of unknown origin. 

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Men-an-Tol, in Cornwall, was thought to be a part of a larger arrangement from the same time period as Stonehenge. These stones, which roughly form a 101, are about 4 ft. tall.

The Inca site, Saqsaywaman,  a citadel on the outskirts of Cusco, Peru, was built in 1100. Stones were so closely carved that it was said one couldn’t fit so much as a blade of grass between them. There is no mortar. They are joined in fantastically irregular shapes.

 Saqsaywaman

Saqsaywaman

El Castillo, the Temple of Kukulcan is at the center of the Chichen Itza archaeological site in the Mexican state of Yucatán, was built between the ninth and twelfth century. 

 El Castillo

El Castillo


Two times during the year, during the spring and fall equinoxes, the late afternoon sun casts a series of triangle-shaped shadows against the northwest balustrade, which creates the illusion of a feathered serpent crawling down the pyramid. There is some discussion on whether or not this was a deliberate effect.

 Serpent head at the base of El Castillo

Serpent head at the base of El Castillo

 Maoi on Easter Island

Maoi on Easter Island

Easter Island, is a Chilean Island which has the famous Maoi, monolithic human sculptures with oversized heads, which are carved from tuff (compressed volcanic ash). These have been dated to about 1250 A.D. and 1500 A.D. 

A Stele, is a stone slab or monument, like the Rosetta Stone. The Rosetta Stone was carved in black granodiorite, and represents the first Ancient Egyptian bilingual text found. The Ten Commandments were also said to have been carved in stone. 

 The Rosetta Stone

The Rosetta Stone


Mount Rushmore, South Dakota, depicts carvings of Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln and Roosevelt in the granite of the mountain. Each figure is 60 ft tall. Although Mount Rushmore was originally conceived to have carvings of Lewis & Clark, Red Cloud, and Buffalo Bill Cody, the artist, Gutzon Borglum, rejected the idea because he felt the presidents would have broader appeal.  

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This sampling doesn’t begin to convey the number of stone ruins available to view, but it does offer a glimpse into the brilliance and talent of stone masons through the ages. A long line of professionals have dedicated their lives to the beauty of stone in architecture and life. We are proud to be among them.