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International Science Festival Lectures 2002 – Present

The Rosslyn Templar

Ashley’s first book recounts his voyage of discovery when an enigmatic 19th century painting surfaced at auction in Edinburgh. Entitled ‘Templar Knight at Roslin Chapel, by Edinburgh artist R.T.McPherson, this bold fusion of form and content was hidden for over 170 years. Ashley reveals it is composed with numerous Freemasonic symbols and features relating to the Knight Templar Degree. Very little visual material exists to help our understanding of the activities of Freemasons in 19th century Scotland, therefore, this painting offers a valuable insight into the developmental stages of Freemasonry.

Modern Minds – Ancient Symbols

In the 13th century, safe passage to America was a closely guarded secret. But by the 18 & 19th century buildings and monuments in the United States began to display arrays of ancient architectural styles and arcane symbols. Analysing these features takes us closer to the minds and beliefs of the architects and designers. Were America’s most famous buildings and institutions created by members of clandestine secret societies with ancient religious principals? Or is this modern bullshit?

Silk Road Secrets

The Silk Road or Silk Route was an ancient network of trade routes connecting the east and west, from China to the Mediterranean Sea. The name of this route is derived from the lucrative trade in Chinese silk beginning during the Han dynasty (207 BCE – 220 CE). Cowie's lecture focuses not on the trade of silk, but on the movements and transitions of religious beliefs and the syncretic philosophies which the route brought about. Cowie asserts that in addition to economic trade, the Silk Road served as a means of carrying out cultural trade and integration among the civilizations along its network.

Twist in Time

Presenting an entirely new perspective on prehistory, demanding we re-engineer our views of the Stone Age. Currently, everything before 5000BC is called the Stone Age, but this broad term is very misleading and promotes the dated view that ancient tribes were primitive, barely scratching a subsistence from hunting and farming. Twist in Time challenges how specialists interpret the Stone Age and takes viewers on a highly original visual journey into the fibres of prehistory. 

Skara Brae on the North coast of Mainland Orkney is the best preserved Neolithic settlement in Europe dating to around 3200BCE. In the 1930’s Professor Vere Gordon Childe of Glasgow University excavated the site and many of the stone and bone artifacts and items of jewellery he discovered have similar symbols to those found in contemporary cultures. The artifacts are found to be essential cordage production tools and this lecture is a voyage into the cordage skills and survival crafts of the ancient inhabitants. A number of the artifacts were categorised as ‘probably for ritual or ceremonial purposes’. Among these items: a curious T-shaped stone device and a number of carefully shaped stone balls. To establish if these items were actually used for ‘rituals or ceremonies’, we must first consider all their potential practical uses in day to day community activities.

Rise of the Neolithic Farmers

Between 4 – 2000 BCE, settlers in Scotland established farms, fishing stations and immense standing stone structures – which are now generally associated to ancestor worship. Using Ring of Brodgar and Maes Howe burial chamber in Orkney as working examples, what do the alignments and measurements within these monuments tell us about the skills, knowledge and beliefs of the builders?

Egyptian rope crafts and the evolution of Geometry

Every year after the Nile receded, for taxation purposes, Egyptian surveyor’s re-measured lands with simple wooden tools, ropes and pegs. Greek Geometers later translated these rope crafts onto clay tablets and the eggs of geometry were hatched. Greek geometry and astronomy are discussed highlighting the influence of Greece in the development of western sciences and symbols.

Megalithic Meridians

Over the last 7000 years, Scotland’s landscapes have hosted a series of meridians (arbitrary north-south alignments). The practical use of meridians in measuring land, building and astronomy are explored and the ancient observation stations located upon them are examined.

Navigators of the North

Myths, symbols and legends often encapsulate elements of astronomy, navigation and place determination sciences. This lecture highlights the role of planet Venus in the development of time keeping and within the myths of the Celtic and Norse nations.

How to read a church

Churches, and their architectural features, were used as vessels to deliver content. Rosslyn Chapel was founded in 1446 as a collegiate church – cruciform in shape. Building works ceased in 1484 and the structure remains incomplete. Establishing the governing geometry and the foundational measurements applied by the designers, a complete ground plan for the original building can be completed.