- "Each of us is carving a stone, erecting a column, or cutting a piece of stained glass in the construction of something much bigger than ourselves."
– Adrienne Clarkson
- "When wasteful war shall statues overturn, and broils root out the work of masonry."
– William Shakespeare
The ability to work with stone and use it as a construction material marks another important milestone for an early civilization. Stone buildings are infinitely more stable and resistant than wooden or clay ones, and offer unparalleled opportunities to defend a settlement from foes. Of course, this development also prompts the development of the means to break down these new defenses, manifested by the Battering Ram.
This tech is relatively easy to develop (requiring only Mining, which is usually one of the first techs to research), but its use is not as immediate as other military-oriented techs like Bronze Working or Archery. Namely, Masonry gives access to defensive structures and the means to bring enemy defenses down, and in both cases this means war with another civilization. (Barbarians can never threaten the very existence of your cities, unless you're really inept.) If you don't expect such a contingency, you can delay researching Masonry until the next era. And if you feel threatened, you should research it around Turn 50.
The only case when you'd want Masonry right away is if your starting location is close to Desert terrain - then you'd want to try building the Pyramids, which is one of the most useful wonders through the early and middle game!
Masonry: the “art” of construction of something, sometimes utilitarian (houses) or not (temples and palaces), from blocks of stone, brick or even concrete usually held together with mortar (if not, it's termed “dry set” masonry).
The ancient Egyptians mastered the art of masonry as early as the fourth millennium BC, constructing temples, palaces, pyramids and other edifices from limestone, sandstone, granite and basalt found in the hills of the Nile River. The Assyrians of the Fertile Crescent lacked easy access to stone but possessed rich deposits of clay, which they sun-dried into bricks. The Babylonians too used brick, held together with mortar made of lime and pitch. The Harappa city in now-Pakistan was built around 2600 BC with bricks and gypsum mortar (now called “plaster of Paris”).
The Romans invented concrete, a superior mortar for all that stone and marble building they did ... and which could be used as a construction material itself. This “concrete revolution” allowed them to build monumental structures that were impossible using more primitive materials. From 300 BC to the fall of Rome, concrete paved roads, lined aqueducts, and held the Colosseum together (among other things). But the masonry skills were lost during the Dark Ages (as was so much else) until the 1300s, when Europeans again began using concrete as mortar for their castles.
So endemic did the use of concrete become, the term “mason” evolved to include those who worked with concrete (along with the secretive members of a fraternal organization). To distinguish themselves as artisans, those who work with “real” stone took to calling themselves “stonemasons.” Although they occasionally labor on the building of modern monuments and memorials in capitals around the world, mostly they just carve tombstones these days.