When many people hear the word “stone”, they just think of mere rocks. That’s it and that’s all there is to it. Or is it? According to David Macauley, the author of Elemental Philosophy, “The stone is more, or at least other, than what it is normally perceived to be.” Stone is not just a simple rock; there is a long list of all different types and categories of it. More importantly, though, stone is able to communicate with us. It sounds strange, but history has shown us that stone (through different languages and cultures) has been able to tell us a story far beyond its surface.
Before touching upon some of the messages stone is able to convey, it is important to understand how rock may be capable of “communicating”. According to the Greek philosopher, Thales, stone possesses a soul, which is widely considered to be the source of life or consciousness. But how? Stone is able to move iron, and by having the ability to “change its own accord”, stone is animated. With this philosophical view that stone is essentially a living thing, it is much more understandable how it can communicate with us and tell a story.
There is much history to be discovered in the many varied layers of stone. As archaeologists, anthropologists, climatologists, and paleontologists dig through these layers, they are able to discover the history of civilizations and the natural land at different periods of time. Often carvings on stone can also be unearthed to even further explain a past society that used stone as a tool of communication. As Macauley stated, stone is recorded history and a “journal of its [the planet’s] past.”
In addition to the layers within stone, stone itself has also been used as the foundation for the creation of numerous historical landmarks, including The Great Wall of China, the Pyramids of Egypt, and many more. In these, stone is a marker of a significant period in history, and proof of an existence. Stone was used in creating Stonehenge, the statues of Easter Island, and other mysterious landmarks. In these, stone creates a conversation as people discuss and question the origination of these major artifacts.
Stone can become sacred to a culture. Stone can be used to create religious figures or buildings, such as the Kaaba in Mecca, and portray a religious message to the public as a site for prayer. In addition to this, because of stone’s solid structure, it is also used to metaphorically speak about religion. For example, as Macauley wrote, “Christianity is also founded upon the certainty of stone in the proclamation that, “The Lord is my rock.”” Stone can be used as both a site of prayer and a comparison to one’s god, which establishes a deep religious message within itself.
I find it absolutely fascinating how much one can discover from stone. While I do think viewing stone as an actual “living thing” is a bit of a stretch, stone still does hold remarkable story telling abilities. Digging into deeper layers can reveal completely different temperaments and societal practices, and even just looking at stone as a whole in the form of manmade statures can convey so much history and significance of a religion, or even complete mystery in the case of figures like Stonehenge. Although, in present day, we are using stone less and less in our buildings, making way steel, glass, and plastic, archaeologists still look to stone to discover the secrets of past civilizations.