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Panning for gold at Baile an Or in Northeast Scotland

Alister and Ian Cruickshanks (UK) During the year of 1818, a nugget of gold weighing around ten pennyweights was discovered in the river Helmsdale, in Northeast Scotland. The find sparked national interest and the Scottish local newspapers were soon headlining the discovery. It was then in 1968 that Scotland ensured its place in the history books following the discovery of further gold nuggets at Kildonan, in the river Helmsdale by a local man Robert Gilchrist, who had spent 17 years in the gold fields of Australia. Fig. 1. Gold panning at Baile an Or. Gilchrist was granted permission from the Duke of Sutherland to pan the gravels of the river Helmsdale. Shortly after, word started to spread into London and, within just six months, over 600 people made their way to Kildonan, creating its own miny gold rush. A whole series of temporary living quarters started to appear along the riverbanks forming the small town, Baile an Or (meaning ‘Village of the Gold’). Fig. 2. The equipment you will need. Today, Baile an Or (Grid Reference: NC 91136 21380) continues to provide fun for all for those wishing to try their luck at gold panning. The original nugget from the river was said to have been made into a ring and is in possession of the Sunderland family, but there have been recent stories too of a couple who panned for gold twice every year over a number of years, who had their wedding ring made from the gold of … Read More

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Travelling through time: The roadmap for Namibia is in the rocks

Patricia Vickers-Rich , Peter Trusler, Steve Morton, Peter Swinkels, Thomas H Rich, Mike Hall and Steve Pritchard (Australia) The “road map” allowing (time) travellers to move across more than 1,000 million years in Namibia is recorded in the rocks of this land. And, it is on display in several museums in Namibia – in Swakopmund, Windhoek, Rosh Pinah and Farm Aar. The old part of the road In drafting the early section of this map, Southern Namibia has been a key region for understanding some of the sights our time traveller will come into contact with, some being the weird organisms called Ediacarans. Since the early days of the twentieth century, when geologists, such as Paul Range, and German soldiers occupying isolated outposts in the Aus region of Southern Namibia, some of these strange fossils were reported. These were the first ‘large’ multicellular organisms that prospered on planet Earth before the development of true animals, and amongst them were the tiny cloudinids. Their fossils are preserved in the thick rock sequences that can be seen along the “time road” in Southern Namibia. These showcase a time in the history of life when there were fundamental and pivotal changes in life occurring, with life transitioning from an enigmatic biota to what we consider normal today. And, at a number of museums in Namibia, including the Swakopmund Museum and the Namibian Geological Survey in Windhoek, several of these intriguing organisms are on show – such as the soft-bodied Ernietta, Pteridinium and Rangea,and … Read More

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Environmental scientists and geology (Part 3): Geology and soil science in the ‘National Environmental Policy Act document’ process in the USA

Deborah Painter (USA) I am an ecologist and general environmental scientist, specialising in transportation, energy and industrial development planning to minimise deleterious environmental impacts. I live in the United States and have also written several articles for this magazine. I appreciate just how important local geology and soil science are in one of the aspects of work I do: researching and writing National Environmental Policy Act documents. This is the third of three articles on how environmental scientists apply this knowledge. Part 1 detailed geology and the hazardous materials site assessment of a property (Fig. 1; see Environmental scientists and geology (Part 1): The first phase of an environmental geology investigation). Part 2 dealt with wetland and water permitting and how geology is important in that process (Fig. 2; see Environmental scientists and geology (Part 2): Geology and soil science in the ‘Wetlands and Waters Permitting’ process in the USA). Fig. 1. Hazardous material releases can have a tremendous impact and must be documented along with plans for remediation. (Credits: Deborah Painter.) Fig. 2. If wetlands are to be impacted, permits must be obtained, along with avoidance and minimisation measures put in place. The impacts must not be significant ones. (Credits: Deborah Painter.) Both of these areas of environmental due diligence are parts of every National Environmental Policy Act document, or “NEPA” document. When I write one of these, I must thoroughly document that these two potential issues – and twenty more – have been examined, and that any remediation … Read More

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Walrus of the Norwich Crag: Alachtherium cretsii

Alister Cruickshanks (UK) The Norwich Crag at Easton Bavents, Southwold in Suffolk is one of the only locations where mammalian remains from the Pleistocene Epoch can be found, in situ, at an accessible location in the UK. The Norwich Crag splits the Antian and the Baventian. At Easton Bavents South Cliff, the Norwich Crag Shell Bed is missing. Instead, there is a fine gravel layer with laminated clay and sand, which yields occasional remains. This bed is equivalent to the Lower Shell Bed of the North cliff at Easton Bavents, One of the latest theories suggests that this was once a pre-historic fast flowing river, which flowed into a larger estuary that was present at the North Cliff during the Pliocene Era. The North Cliff itself has a stone layer above the Norwich Crag Shell Bed. This bed comprises three main bands: the upper, middle and lower beds, but varies considerably along this stretch of cliff. The Norwich Crag Stone bed is directly below the Baventian Clay, both of which are from the Baventian stage which is 1.55 to 1.6 million years old, from the Pliocene Era. The Norwich Crag Shell Bed is Antian in age, which is 1.6 to 1.7 million years old. Fig. 1. Fine gravel layer with laminated clay and sand. A complete lower mandible of a walrus was discovered in situ after high tides during 1993, by my father and me. At this time, the specimen could not be fully identified and spent ten years at … Read More

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Fossil hunting in Oxfordshire, UK

Mike Thorn (UK) If you ask someone to think of Oxford, they will not usually picture warm tropical beaches and azure coral seas. However, go back to the middle Jurassic and you would be hard pushed to find a dreaming spire or student on a bicycle anywhere. At that time, around 160 million years ago, Oxfordshire lay beneath a shallow, tropical seaway at about the same latitude that the southern Mediterranean occupies today. Over the course of the middle Jurassic, this seaway varied in depth, but remained close to nearby land masses from which a lot of sediment was derived (Fig. 1). A great thickness and variety of limestones, sandstones and clays were deposited over several tens of millions of years. Fig. 1. Southern England during the middle Jurassic, 160 million years ago. During the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, there were many working quarries in the Oxford area, exploiting the abundant clay and limestone for the brick and building stone industries. Quarrymen were frequently paid to look out for fossils and these turned up in abundance, fuelling the academic debates on evolution taking place at the time. Fig. 3. Geological Context for Kirtlington Quarry and Dry Sandford Pit. Sadly, many of these quarries have now been filled in and, for the casual fossil hunter in Oxfordshire, it might seem that there are now few opportunities to collect. However, Kirtlington Quarry and Dry Sandford Pit are two old quarries which are open to the public and at which there is … Read More

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Environmental scientists and geology (Part 2): Geology and soil science in the ‘Wetlands and Waters Permitting’ process in the USA

Deborah Painter (USA) I am an ecologist and general environmental scientist specialising in transportation, energy and industrial development planning to minimise deleterious environmental impacts. I live in the United States and have also written several articles for this magazine. One of the things I really appreciate is just how important local geology and soil science are in one of the aspects of work I do: delineating wetlands and obtaining permits from regulatory agencies for work in wetlands and waters. This is the second of three articles on how environmental scientists apply this knowledge. The first is entitled Environmental scientists and geology (Part 1): The first phase of an environmental geology investigation. The discharge of dredged or fill material into waters of the USA and most categories of work in navigable water bodies require US Army Corps of Engineers authorisation under Section 404 of the Clean Water Act of 1972. These activities also require Section 401 Clean Water Act permits from their state governments. The Federal definition of “waters of the United States” includes rivers, small streams, bogs, most nontidal wetlands, many lakes, mud flats, bays, the US territorial sea, and even many drainage ditches (Figs. 1, 2 and 3). They do not include isolated, nontidal wetlands with no connection to interstate commerce. However, a state may assert jurisdiction over these isolated wetlands under its Section 401 program, if it chooses. Fig. 1. In New York State, northern white cedar (Thuja occidentalis) is a common nontidal wetland tree. (Credits: Deborah Painter.) … Read More

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Thanet Anticline’s shifting shorelines: two millennia of change

Dr Richard J Hubbard (UK) Introduction The Thanet Anticline is an uplifted area forming the northeast corner of Kent and is home to the four coastal towns of Birchington, Margate, Broadstairs and Ramsgate (Fig. 1). Historically, the area has been known as the Isle of Thanet and, in this article, I will look at sediment deposition and erosion around the upstanding anticlinal structure and how shorelines have shifted during the past two thousand years. I will finish with some thoughts about how shorelines might look one hundred years from now. The article is based on material drawn from three guidebooks published by GeoConservation Kent, written by Geoff Downer and myself (see below). Fig. 1. The Isle of Thanet. Sketch map of northeast Kent to show the geography of the Wantsum Channel at the time of the Roman occupation. Today’s shoreline is superimposed with some medieval settlements added for orientation. The Isle of Thanet is elevated and forms an ‘island’ because of the underlying structural geology. Note the location of the offshore seismic line published by Ameen (1995), on which the cross section of Fig. 4 is based. (Figure 87 from The Smugglers Trail, Hubbard & Downer, 2021.) This article has also been written to accompany a book review that was recently published by Deposits (see Book review: The Smugglers Trail – Geology of the Thanet Coastline from Broadstairs to Cliftonville, by Richard Hubbard and Geoff Downer). Thanet has been a high standing area for more than 300 million years and … Read More

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Environmental scientists and geology (Part 1): The first phase of an environmental geology investigation

Deborah Painter (USA) I am an ecologist and general environmental scientist living in the USA and specialising in transportation, energy and industrial development planning to minimise deleterious environmental impacts. I have also written several articles for this magazine. As such, I appreciate just how much local geology is a vital consideration in many circumstances and especially during one of my routine responsibilities – undertaking a Phase I Hazardous Materials Site Assessment of an industrial or commercial property in the United States. This is the first of three articles on how I and other environmental scientists apply our knowledge of geology in our day to day work. But what is the purpose of these assessments? Companies such as my employer do these to benefit a person or business desiring a loan from a bank to purchase a property or to pay for upgrades. Cities and counties also contract with environmental companies for Phase I Environmental Site Assessments for properties they own and want to improve, or intend to acquire for resale to private parties. For example, city officials may have their eyes on an old former school and grounds as the future site for a new police station, and want to know how expensive it would be to renovate it as opposed to demolishing it to build a new structure. The assessment is done to satisfy the current American Society of Testing and Materials (ASTM) Standard E 1527-13: Standard Practice for Environmental Site Assessments (2013), and the United States Environmental Protection … Read More

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A mineralogical tour of Ireland (Part 4): Ulster

Stephen Moreton (UK) Our journey around Ireland concludes in Ulster. This comprises Northern Ireland, which is part of the UK, and the counties of Cavan, Donegal and Monaghan, which are part of the Republic of Ireland. As geology is no respecter of politics, the national border is ignored here. I assure my gentle readers that this is not intended as a political statement! The geology consists of metamorphic rocks and granite intrusions in the west, a huge expanse of Tertiary basalt in the eastern half, and a series of Tertiary granite intrusions in the southeast corner. Carboniferous limestone makes an appearance in some places, but is not as well endowed with minerals as further south. Fig. 1. The four regions of the island of Ireland. Fig. 2. Ulster in more detail. Donegal, occupying the northwest corner of the island, has such a varied geology that it has long been a favourite venue for university field trips. In spite of this variety, there are few mining sites. Lead has been mined at Glenaboghil, Keeldrum and Glentogher, but these old mines are not noted for specimens. However, minor yellow powdery greenockite occurs at the first location and green coatings of pyromorphite at the second. What it lacks in mines, the county makes up for in silicate minerals. The beryl occurrence at Sheshkinnarone is probably the best known. Finger size green and blue-green prisms in a white quartz matrix occur at several spots here. The richest is just outside the garden wall of … Read More

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Book review: The Smugglers Trail – Geology of the Thanet Coastline from Broadstairs to Cliftonville, by Richard Hubbard and Geoff Downer

I like local geological guides, which aim to get you out and about, visiting areas you might not have known are worth a daytrip. And this is a good example. I sat down and read it cover to cover, as it is only 90 pages long. And I now really want to visit this bit of Kent coastline. Largely concentrating on the Upper Cretaceous Chalk, this guidebook explains and illustrates what seems to be some marvellous geology that can also be explored during what could be a lovely day out on the beach.

A mineralogical tour of Ireland (Part 3): Connaught

Stephen Moreton (UK) In the first two articles of this series, we looked at Leinster and Munster. Continuing in a clockwise fashion brings us to Connaught. Some of Ireland’s oldest rocks are to be found here, forming the Ox Mountains. The rugged and mountainous west is dominated by metamorphic rocks and a series of granite intrusions. Inland, Carboniferous limestone prevails. Fig. 1. The four regions of the island of Ireland. Fig. 2. Connaught in more detail. Where the latter abuts Devonian sediments is found the jewel in the crown of Irish mineralogy – Tynagh Mine. This giant polymetallic deposit, near Loughrea in County Galway, was discovered in the 1960s and yielded close to a million tonnes of lead, zinc and copper. Much of this was as sulphides dispersed through black mud filling a huge depression in the limestone. This was formed by acid from rotting pyrite dissolving the country rock. Extensive oxidation and remobilisation of the primary ores produced hundreds of thousands of tonnes of smithsonite, cerussite, malachite and azurite. Scores of rarer species, such as linarite, anglesite, brochantite, native silver and numerous arsenates were also present. Fig. 3. Malachite, from Tynagh, Co. Galway. 64mm x 35mm botryoidal and stalactitic mass dug out of the tips. Sadly, collectors were slow to learn of this treasure and most was sent to the crusher. By the time they did realise something glorious was going on, most was already turned into smelted metal. A fickle attitude on the part of management did not … Read More

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A mineralogical tour of Ireland (Part 2): Munster

Stephen Moreton (UK) In the second part of our tour of Ireland, we head for Munster, which occupies the southwest corner of the island. Geologically, the rocks are mostly inland Carboniferous shales and limestones, with Devonian sandstones forming the coastal peninsulas. All host mineral localities of note. Fig. 1. The four regions of the island of Ireland. Fig. 2. Munster in more detial. Starting in County Waterford, mineral collectors will tend to head for the copper coast – a group of nineteenth century copper mines centred on the coastal village of Bunmahon. The magnificent crystallised native copper and cuprite these mines yielded in the past are elusive nowadays. On the other hand, post-mining oxidation in the dumps and sea cliff levels and outcrops has produced an array of vividly coloured and sometimes rare secondary minerals. These include connellite, langite, atacamite, botallackite, brochantite, lavendulan and erythrite. The soft, wet, blue and green substances that coat the mine walls are amorphous gels that dehydrate and crumble to powder when removed to a dry environment. They are best left where they are. Fig. 3. Tankardstown Mine, Co. Waterford. The author is examining post-mining deposits of an amorphous copper-bearing gel. Mention should be made of the Croaghaun Hill beryl occurrence inland from the copper mines. In a small outcrop of conglomerate, one of many among the scrub, patches and sprays of slender, sky blue beryl prisms occur in a quartz matrix. Unfortunately, the rock is so tough it defeats even the largest sledgehammer. The … Read More

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Geojunkets: a geologist returns to Fairbanks, Alaska (Part 1)

Jesse Garnett White (USA) “It is no measure of health to be well adjusted to a profoundly sick society” Jiddu Krishnamurti My Great Grandfather and his son both gave me some advice at a very young age. “Never trust anyone that won’t look you in the eye when they shake your hand” and “It’s OK to pick up hitchhikers while travelling the road”. These are all positive suggestions that have proved valuable both in the States and abroad. I’ve made a number of interesting decisions in my life. One I never thought I’d make was moving back to Alaska. I’ve told colleagues, dozens of friends, family members and myself, “I’ll never spend another winter in Fairbanks.”. Learning the lesson of ‘never say never’”, while travelling into the past and future simultaneously has been interesting to say the least. When a friend of 26 years heard the news, he said, “You can’t escape Covid-19, Jesse.” I completely blew that off and forged ahead. Since returning to Alaska, I’ve been fortunate to have worked with a lot of good folks, meet new friends, network, and travel around the interior and Alaska Range. I was blessed to work as a contract geologist at an open pit mine in both development and exploration roles, assist mom-and-pop miners with permitting, create an LLC, and work at what I consider the best pizza place in Alaska. Winter temperatures dipped below -50oF and snow depth at the cabin reached four feet in total. At the time of … Read More

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A mineralogical tour of Ireland (Part 1): Leinster

Stephen Moreton (UK) The island of Ireland has much to offer the mineral collector, but is relatively unknown to most. This may in part be due to a lack of published information, although, for years, the troubles in the north also served to deter visitors for many years. This series of articles briefly summarises the principal mineral locations on a region by region basis. Fig. 1. The four regions of the island of Ireland. Fig. 2. Leinster in more detial. As the island is divided into four regions, Leinster, Munster, Connaught and Ulster (Fig. 1), which are in turn subdivided into counties, it seems appropriate to cover the island in this way. As the main ferry terminals for the Irish Republic are in Leinster many a trip to the country will start here. Leinster occupies the southeast region of the island and is the driest (or rather least wet) part of Ireland. Geologically, it offers the largest granite batholith in the British Isles, complete with metamorphic aureole, Carboniferous and Ordovician sediments and a scattering of basic igneous intrusions. County Wicklow dominates the mineral scene in Leinster. Fractures along the margin of the Wicklow granite have acted as conduits for much later mineralising solutions, giving rise to lead/zinc veins. These reach their best development in Glenmalure, Glendasan and Glendalough. Fig. 3. One centimetre spinel law twinned crystals of galena, from North Hero lode, Glendasan, Co. Wicklow. Fine schieferspar calcite and dark brown sphalerite have recently been found in Glendasan, while some … Read More

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Mammoths and the Mammoth Ivory Trade

Dick Mol and Bernard Buigues (The Netherlands) The ivory industry is flourishing using mammoth tusks and, illegally, the tusks of modern elephants. The growing hunt for mammoth tusks hampers palaeontological research and, as the two ivories are hard to distinguish, enforcement of endangered species legislation is impeded. Changes in legislation may not be practicable. However, education of the mammoth hunters may result in a win-win situation. This has now begun and the resulting co-operation has already lead to, and may lead to, more important discoveries and the securing of the remains for scientific exploration. Introduction The use of mammoth ivory for the construction of tools and artefacts is already known from Palaeolithic time. Our ancestors have used it for weapons and ornaments. The quality of the ivory of woolly mammoths, Mammuthus primigenius, found in the permafrost of Siberia as well as in North America (Alaska, USA and Yukon, Canada), is of outstanding quality and easily processed by the ivory industry. The quantity of traded ivory is substantial and the first overview of those traded amounts has been archived by Tolmachoff (1929). After this inventory, the trade has continued at an accelerated pace, especially during the last decade. Apart from the commercial value for the ivory industry, individual collectors and natural history museums often want to possess complete tusks. These intense collecting activities destroy enormous amounts of palaeontological data and obstruct the investigation of Pleistocene mammals and their habitats. It was our objective to start a discussion on how to counteract … Read More

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Fabulous Fluorite: Derbyshire Blue John

Richard M Haw (UK) Blue John is a unique variety of blue-purple banded fluorite. Hydrocarbons or oils have been deposited on some of the crystal surfaces while the mineral was forming. These oil layers are partly responsible for giving the stone an alternate blue and white banding, best seen when the stone is cut in section. It is not known to occur anywhere else in the world and is confined to an area of about 1km³ of the Carboniferous “reef” limestones at Castleton in Derbyshire. Fig. 1. Old picture taken sometime in the 1870s, showing miners digging in the Old Dining Room, now part of the show caves. I have been involved with the public caverns here for a while and I am sure many of you have visited them. However, there are many people who have never even heard of Blue John, so the following article gives a general overview without intending to be too technical. The area Castleton is a small village located in Derbyshire’s “Peak District” between the cities of Manchester and Sheffield. The village is dominated by the ruins of Peveril Castle that was built by the Normans to oversee lead mining in the area. The scenery around Castleton forms a dramatic backdrop and the rolling limestone hills end abruptly atthe vertical face of Mam Tor. Beyond and to the north are the gritstone moors known as the “Dark Peak” that eventually lead up to the two-thousand-foot-high plateau of Kinder Scout. Castleton and the surrounding area … Read More

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Seeing dramatic folded strata from the car: Sideling Hill, Maryland, USA

Deborah Painter (USA) In many states of the United States and in many locales in the United Kingdom, there are historic markers at the site of an important historic home or event. However, I wonder if every accessible rock formation had its own historic marker, would more people take the time to learn about it? The entire history of the planet is seen in rock formations. Just west of the town of Hancock, in the state of Maryland, USA at Mile Marker 74 on Interstate 68 (coordinates 39° 43’ 11.54” N, 78° 16’ 58.29” W) is the Sideling Hill road cut, a textbook example of tight folds in a mountain (Fig. 1). Until relatively recently, the visitors centre located adjacent to the cut was a perfectly complete historic marker. It gave travellers not only a place to stop to buy refreshments and relax at a picnic table surrounded by shade trees. It also provided an opportunity to read about the history of a spectacular cut in a mountain resulting from a need for safer transportation through a difficult and rugged stretch of road. Fig. 1. View west along Interstate 68 and US Route 40 (National Freeway) from the Victor Cushwa Memorial Bridge as it passes through the Sideling Hill Road Cut in Forest Park, Washington County, Maryland. (Credits: Famartin, Wikimedia Commons.) The centre still helps motorists see a geological formation safely from a walkway and an enclosed bridge. Sideling Hill’s transportation story goes back to the earlier days of road … Read More

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Urban geology: The battery on the Sloterweg

Stephen K Donovan (The Netherlands) The city of Amsterdam in the Netherlands is surrounded by a great defensive earthwork on its landward side, the Stelling van Amsterdam (= Defence Line of Amsterdam), along which are a series of forts and batteries (Figs. 1A-E and 2). This major structure was built between 1880 and 1914. The principle feature of this defensive system is a raised earthen embankment or dyke, still imposing today although breached or flattened in many places to make way for modern developments, most commonly roads. The embankment is often flanked by two canals, one on either side. Fig. 1. (A, B) The Battery on the Sloterweg, Hoofddorp, Noord Holland, the Netherlands.(A) General view of the Battery, looking approximately northwest.(B) Nameplate.(C-E) Three views of the restored embankment between the Battery on the Sloterweg and Hoofddorp station.(C) The view southeast on the northeast side of the embankment from the R-Net bus stop (routes 300 and 310) at Hoofddorp station, looking towards the Battery. The cycle path crosses the bridge and continues away from the photographer. Note the blue tractor scraping the embankment.(D) The view southeast on the southwest side of the embankment from the R-Net bus stop at Hoofddorp station, looking towards the Battery (at the end of the path in the distance). Again, note the tractor scraping the surface.(E) The view northwest from the Battery, looking towards Hoofddorp station, showing the ‘exposure’ in the foreground, which was particularly productive of builders’ rubble, including lithic fragments.(F) Details of the granite … Read More

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Geology museums of Britain: The National Stone Centre, Derbyshire

Jon Trevelyan Britain has a long and proud history of geological museums (and museums that have significant geological collections) dating back at least to early Victorian times. One need only think of William Smith’s revolutionary and magnificent, 1829 Rotunda in Scarborough to understand this (Fig. 1). Fig. 1. The Rotunda, Scarborough. Here, Smith’s fossils were (and are once again, after significant renovation to the building) arranged up a spiral staircase in the order they occur in the rock column – an extremely modern way of doing things. And, of course there is Richard Owen’s Victorian masterpiece, the Natural History Museum in London with, among many other things, its dinosaurs and exhibits of other fossils (Fig. 2). Fig. 2. The Natural History Museum, London. However, the venerable NHM raises an important question. To create a display for the public, to what extent should museums use push-button technology and pretty pictures, rather than displays of the actual subject matter? In recent years, it seems that museums increasingly want to cater merely for children (and certainly not adults), who (apparently) can only be engaged by technology rather than, for example, a well-labelled and beautifully prepared fossil ammonite. The belief seems to be that they simply cannot look at exhibits in the way that Victorians did – with specimens set out in cabinets – but rather, need to be engaged by electronics and graphics that are one remove from the subject matter itself. I suspect that it was this belief that lead the NHM … Read More

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Book review: Trilobites, Dinosaurs and Mammoths: An introduction to the prehistory of the British Isles, by James McKay (for the Palaeontological Association)

This is an interesting little booklet and very much a new departure for the Palaeontological Association. You will be aware that I have reviewed several of its many excellent fossil guides in this magazine. However, this recently published tome is somewhat different.

Urban geology: An inselberg in Rotterdam

Stephen K Donovan (The Netherlands) The Low Netherlands, much of which is below sea level, is a broad area of the country that (very approximately) parallels the coast and is kept ‘dry’ by major works of civil engineering (IDG, 1985, pp. 6-7). Geologically, it is a flat expanse of Holocene deposits; most of the author’s experience is in the coastal plain (de Gans, 2007), where I both live and work. There is no significantly older geological deposit or feature anywhere in this region – no coastal cliffs, mountains or quarries to tempt the attention of the wandering Earth scientist. So, it is commonly the ex situ that demands the geologist’s attention rather than the in situ. For example, I have commented previously on such diverse topics as the use of imported limestone to make a false natural bridge (Donovan, 2014), various aspects of building stones (for example, Donovan, 2015, 2019) and gabions mimicking sedimentary bedding, at least from a distance (Donovan, 2018). Of these examples, the natural bridge is the most exotic; although such a bridge might be expected in karstified limestone landscapes almost anywhere, my own experiences of them are limited to the Antilles (Miller and Donovan, 1999; Donovan et al., 2014). In this article, I describe a further man-made structure mimicking an even more exotic geomorphological phenomenon, most closely associated in the minds of Earth scientists with Africa. It is a structure that I have, until now, only known from textbooks – I refer to a mock inselberg … Read More

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Book review: Rebels, Scholars, Explorers – Women in Vertebrate Paleontology, by Annalisa Berta and Susan Turner

This is certainly a somewhat different sort of book from those I usually review. As it makes clear, women have always played key roles in the field of vertebrate palaeontology, going back centuries. However, other than perhaps the most best known historical female vertebrate palaeontologists comparatively little is known about these women scientists and their true contributions have probably been obscured. In this context, the book aims to reveal this hidden history, thereby celebrating the diversity and importance of women VPs.

Urban geology: Brush up your neoichnology

Stephen K Donovan (The Netherlands) It was a dry Saturday in February (2014), but it was blowing a gale such that some gusts stopped me dead in my tracks. My son, Pelham, and I were out for a walk in the Haarlemmermeersebos, which roughly translates as ‘the wood of the lake of Haarlem’. The area where we live, which includes the nearby Amsterdam Schiphol International Airport, is the bed of a lake that was drained over 160 years ago. So it is a flat, featureless, polder landscape (Ministry of Foreign Affairs, 1985, pp. 10-11), apart from what man has put into it; and is criss-crossed by canals and, less commonly, dotted by lakes. The canals in the Haarlemmermeersebos landscape that are intended for water transport are few; rather, most are part of the water management system in a landscape that is below sea level. In such a landscape, the weekend geologist must look hard for ‘exposures’. Building and decorative stones are always of interest (Donovan, 2014). Beachcombing on the nearby North Sea coast can be rewarding, particularly after storms when Quaternary peat clasts are washed up on the shore (Donovan, 2013). But, in truth, there is more potential for the geomorphologist than the geologist or palaeontologist. The point of our excursion in a gale was to model palaeontological collecting and to hone our observational skills in the open air. I had discovered a path paved with many hundreds of recent sea shells and rare flint pebbles in the Haarlemmermeersebos (Fig. … Read More

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Mary Anning and the Jurassic Dragons

Ray Goodwin (UK) It was a hot and sultry summer afternoon in August 1800. A happy crowd was gathered in the small town of Lyme to watch an exhibition of horse jumping in the nearby Rack Field. No one could have guessed that, before the day was out, tragedy would strike from the skies and three women would lie dead beneath a clump of elm trees. With a little 15-month-old baby in her arms, Elizabeth Haskings and two young friends hurried for shelter as, late in the afternoon, the sky darkened and torrential rain began to pour down from the heavens. Minutes later, a brilliant flash of lightning hit the trees and a terrible thunderclap reverberated around the nearby cliffs. As the rain stopped, a horrified crowd walked towards the trees and, amid the charred remains, they saw the outlines of three huddled bodies lying on the ground. The three women were terribly burnt and had been killed instantly. Sheltered by the body of Elizabeth, the baby lay unconscious but, after bathing in water, soon recovered consciousness. Legend has it that she was transformed from being a quiet, ordinary baby into a child of exceptional liveliness and intelligence. Whether this was strictly true or not, we may never know.  However, it is a fact that the child, whose name was Mary Anning, was destined to become one of the greatest palaeontologists of the early nineteenth century. Mary Anning was born on 21 May 1799 in the small Dorset town of Lyme. … Read More

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Alluvial gold: A geological model (Part 2)

Philip Dunkerly (UK) In A geological model for the alluvial gold environment (Part 1), the first part of this article, I discussed how alluvial gold is found and suggested a geological model for alluvial gold deposits. (Readers are recommended to have another look at that part to remind them of the model.) In this second part, I now turn to the nature of the gold itself. Fig. 1. Gold bullion bars of 400 troy oz. Fig. 2. Sites from around the world. Gulch gold Gulch gold is the coarsest that exists in any part of a river system. If nuggets (pieces of gold weighing more than 0.1g) are present, they will mostly be found in gulches (narrow ravines), provided suitable traps are present, such as irregular bedrock. In gulch alluvium, the vast majority of the gold will be found on, or in crevices within, the bedrock. Gulch gold is often coarse and angular and may contain silicate debris, especially quartz. As examples, gold from Victoria Gulch on the Klondike was described as “sharply angular”. In the Ballarat gullies, some enormous nuggets were found and Canadian Gully yielded nuggets of 50.4, 34.7 and 31.4kg. At Bendigo, White Horse Gully, a 17.8kg nugget (including some quartz) was found. (Interestingly, of a list of 92 Victorian nuggets, 34 came from localities specifically named “gullies”.) Finally, in the Sierra Nevada of California, most of the gold is from gulches or minor streams close to croppings. Fig. 3. Old hydraulicking operation of terrace gravels, note … Read More

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Sheppeyfossils.com: The genesis of a website

Fred Clouter (UK) The Isle of Sheppey is situated at the mouth of the Thames estuary and is a part of the North Kent marshes. The north coast of the island has about 5km of London Clay exposures that are highly fossiliferous. The London Clay here was laid down between 54 and 48mya, during the Eocene epoch, on the shallow shelf of a semi-tropical sea near the estuary of a major river system. I cannot remember just when it was that I decided to embark on the project of building a website about fossils and fossil collecting in the Isle of Sheppey. However, I do know that a combination of factors led to it. The first was my rapidly growing collection of fossils from this area. The second was the book London Clay Fossils of the Isle of Sheppey that the then Medway Lapidary and Mineral Society had decided would make a good Millennium project. Information covering the fantastic fossils found there was not readily available. The only information often could only be found in old and difficultto- obtain monographs written in the Nineteenth Century or books written in French relating to fish fossils found in Britain or in Belgium and Holland where there are deposits of a similar age. As this book was a collective undertaking, my role was to take the pictures. This meant that I would have access to fossils from many private collections as well as some held in various museums. Lastly and most importantly, was … Read More

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Alluvial gold: A geological model (Part 1)

Philip Dunkerly (UK) Mankind almost certainly first found gold when a yellow, glint from the bottom of a stream bed attracted the attention of one of our ancestors in pre- historic Africa. Ever since, the allure of gold – its colour, improbable density, malleability and scarceness – meant it has been prized, and great efforts have been made to accumulate it. Most ancient peoples venerated and coveted gold and used it for decoration, and empires used gold as a store of value and a medium of exchange. The Egyptians are known to have used gold as early as about 5000 BC, followed by many others, including the Romans, the Incas, the Spaniards and, of course, the Anglo-Saxon invaders of North America, Africa, Australia and New Zealand. Fig. 1. Spectacular Roman paleogravel workings at Las Medulas, NW Spain, now a World Heritage site. The mouth of one of the tunnels through which water was released from a header tank is visible in the shadow. Fig. 2. Panoramic view of Las Medulas, worked by sluicing using water brought through canals up to 60km long. Though gold was won from hard-rock deposits in ancient times, most gold until perhaps 1900 was won from riverbeds, and was traditionally called alluvial or placer gold. Prospecting for alluvial gold required relatively little equipment and always attracted hardy pioneers willing to forego the comforts of society in the hope of ‘getting rich quick’. The gold they found – if they were lucky – could almost instantly be … Read More

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Check those damaged ‘Megalodon’ teeth

Michael E Howgate (UK) Back in the days when I gave my ‘Doctor Dinosaur’ talks to museums, school groups and ‘gifted children’, I would take with me: a plaster cast of the Baryonyx claw; a beach rolled Iguanodon vertebra; and, star of the show, ‘a fossilised dinosaur poo’ (which, in reality, was an Ichthyosaurus coprolite from Lyme Regis). These were some of my collection of props, which helped engage the children through what might otherwise have been a run-of-the-mill slide presentation. Some of the bits-and-pieces I picked up to pass around among the children were a selection of broken and hence dirt cheap Carcharodon megalodon teeth (Fig. 1). (I use Carcharodon instead of the more correct Carcharocles as it is still in common use. The term ‘Megalodon tooth’ is often used by fossil dealers as a short-hand term.) These stood in for the teeth of every child’s favourite dinosaur, the fearsome Tyrannosaurus rex. I would pass the teeth round and get the children to feel the serrated edge as a prelude to explaining how a serrated blade was better at cutting steak – or even a loaf of bread – than a sharper carving knife. “Only try this at home if you are supervised by both parents” was my health and safety rider at the end of this explanation. Fig. 1. Half of a C. megalodon tooth. A cheap and cheerful stand-in for a T. rex tooth. Carcharodon (now Carcharocles) megalodon, which used to be considered the ancestor of the … Read More

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Book review: Inscriptions of Nature: Geology and the Naturalization of Antiquity, by Pratik Chakrabarti

Maybe it’s a result of my social anthropology and geological background, but I found this difficult but fascinating book a great read. It’s about nineteenth century India. It is not about the modern geological science or social anthropology of the subcontinent, but rather, the geological imagination of India, as well as its landscapes and people, and its history.