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Geology museums of Britain: The Museum of Somerset, Taunton

Jon Trevelyan (UK) I’ve been meaning to go to the Museum of Somerset for a long time, not just because it is situated in a castle, but also because of its lovely collection of fossil. Taunton castle (Fig. 1) was created from twelfth century by powerful bishops and welcomed distinguished (if not always particularly pleasant) guests, including King John and Henry III. It was also here that Judge Jefferys presided over the Bloody Assizes from 1685 to try prisoners from the failed Monmouth Rebellion. Since 1958, the museum has been run and funded by Somerset County Council, and now showcases exhibits going back 400 million years and it is about these that I am writing. Fig. 1. The dramatic entrance to the museum: over the bridge, through the fortified gatehouse and into the castle. The exhibits are displayed in magnificent glass cabinets in the ‘Foundation Stones’ gallery and are a feast for the eyes (Fig. 2). This is largely because Somerset has some magnificent geology, giving rise to some splendid examples of palaeontology. Fig. 2. Visitors to the museum are greeted by a stunning display of three large ammonites: (top) Titanites giganteus; (middle) Asteroceras; and (bottom) Phylloceras. The geology of Somerset explored by the museum started (at least for our purposes) some 400 million years ago, when Somerset was on the southern edge of a large, mountainous continent, with active volcanoes. Later, during the Upper Carboniferous (Pennsylvanian), it was a tropical rainforest, where generations of plants lived and died, decomposing … 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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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.

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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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.

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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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.

Book review: Measures for Measure: Geology and the Industrial Revolution, by Mike Leeder

I sat down to read this over Christmas and what a good read it turned out to be. The appropriate word is ‘eclectic’ – because Measures for Measure is written for all us with an interest in the industrial history of Great Britain, and its impact on the landscape, economy, social history and culture. It’s a great read as it dots about linking places and ideas together, with the link always being the geology.

Book review: Strata: William Smith’s Geological Maps, with contributions by Oxford University Museum of Natural History, with a foreword by Robert Macfarlane

This book is truly sumptuous, and yet is also a comprehensive discussion of William Smith’s maps (including the revolutionary ‘A Delineation of the Strata of England and Wales, with part of Scotland’) and career. It is beautifully produced, printed on quality paper and the full colour illustrations are outstanding.

Geology museums of Britain: The Museum of London

Jon Trevelyan (UK) In Issue 60 of Deposits, I restarted my occasional series on UK geological museum with a visit to the Booth Museum in Brighton (see Geology museums of Britain: The Booth Museum of Natural History, Brighton). Having more time on my hands than I would like during the Covid-19 lockdown, I got to thinking about a recent visit I made to the Museum of London in the Barbican in the City of London. I expect that most people would not link this excellent museum to anything geological, but they would be wrong. In fact, there are many exhibits from the prehistory of the capital and these include fossils of animals that lived in the region and stone tools from our ancient ancestors, who shared the area (Figs. 1 and 2). Fig. 1. A somewhat demonic looking auroch (Bos primigenius), which is an extinct species of large, wild cattle. These were domestic during the Neolithic Revolution, such that modern breeds share characteristics of the aurochs. Fig. 2. Flint tools found at Swanscombe. In fact, the museum’s oldest items date back to when London was tundra and the local population would fit into one of its iconic double-decker buses. During these times, there were several different species of humans occupying the Thames Valley, firstly as hunter gatherers and only later creating fixed settlements. Human and animal species roamed the open steppe-tundra, until their final disappearance about 30,000 years ago; and Neanderthal groups probably shared the valley with modern humans. And … Read More

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On the origins of buffalo wings and chicken fingers by means of unnatural connexion, or the preservation of flavoured races in the struggle for clarity

Carl Mehling (USA) Things aren’t always what they seem. The fluidity of information and the frailties of human memory allow for a lot of corruption. Innocent assumptions are made. Sloppy mistakes take place. Unforeseeable accidents occur. And deliberate subterfuge is always there as an option when these others fail. Throw a little time at them and mis- and disinformation get lithified, entrenching them in the human psyche and culture. Fighting for accuracy is a continuous battle. A wing and a prayer Once almost considered throw-away parts of the bird, chicken wings have soared to unimaginable heights since their transformation into ubiquitous bar food in the 60s. Buffalo wings are so absurdly popular in the US that possibly-calculated rumours often circulate that a wing drought is coming, causing the requisite panic. Sports bars riot over this dearth, prompting half-serious suggestions of breeding chickens with more than the pathetic pair that their lineage has provided. Anything this popular inevitably spawns feuds over priority: Who gets to claim bragging rights for such a powerful, lasting and lucrative phenomenon? Fig. 1. Were the origins of Buffalo Wings in a science pub or a brew pub? This certainly happened with Buffalo wings. I’ll spare you the gory details, but although hard to prove definitively, most have settled on the idea that the Anchor Bar in Buffalo, NY began this tangy trend in 1964. However, as it turns out, it can be demonstrated that the origin of buffalo wings actually happened elsewhere, and in 1962. Or, … Read More

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Book review: Dinosaurs, Evolution and the Woman whose discoveries changed the World: the Fossil Hunter, by Shelley Emling

Mary Anning was clearly one of the most significant characters of eighteenth century science and possibly of all time, particularly in the realm of palaeontology. I am not sure that she is quite as unknown (certainly in the UK) as the American author this excellent little biography claims, but she certainly should be better known.

Baths and batholiths

Deborah Painter (USA) “Look over there!” I exclaimed as I stood on the grounds of a manufacturing plant and stared across the tracks of the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railroad to the east of the plant. I was pointing at several mountains a few kilometres in the distance. “That mountain is glowing!” Standing alongside me was James, the plant’s maintenance supervisor. “I guess because I’ve seen this for the past 14 years, I don’t even pay attention anymore” was his reply. The mountain was not glowing due to any internal source but because exceptionally light toned granites captured and reflected rays of sun streaming from behind a December cloud cover (Fig. 1). Fig. 1. The mountain glowed in the shaft of light, as the sun peeked from behind a cloud. (Credits: Deborah Painter.) The mountains looked like this for most of that chilly day and the glow shifted from mountain to mountain (Fig. 2). Fig. 2. A remarkable combination of December light and greyish-white toned granites produced this day-long glow in the Bernasconi Hills. (Credits: Deborah Painter.) The granitic mountain cluster was in Perris, a city in Riverside County, California in the USA. I have had the good fortune to visit this county twice recently on two separate and unrelated trips a few years apart. And my friend, Mike Ramsey, had been with me on both trips to this same county. He was with me and a friend late in November when we visited another friend in nearby Moreno … Read More

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Tauern gold: The history of gold mining in the Central Alps

Dr Robert Sturm (Austria) Exploitation of gold deposits in the Hohe Tauern, in the Central Alps of Austria, has a long history: occurrences of this noble metal were explored for the first time about 2,000 years ago. Since the fourteenth century, the search for gold has been conducted on an industrial level, resulting in the production of 130km of tunnels and shafts, with the main centres of medieval gold production being the Gastein Valley, Rauris, Heiligenblut, Fusch and, later on, Schellgaden. In the second half of the fifteenth century, all of the gold found in the Central Alps was sold to Venice, but from the year 1501, the noble metal was exclusively used for indigenous minting and, therefore, all gold mines came under the archbishop’s control. Fig. 1. Map showing the position of the Hohe Tauern National Park (green) in Austria and the main locations of historical and current gold exploration. The economic zenith of gold exploitation in the Central Alps was reached in the middle of the sixteenth century. At this time, three families – the Weitmosers, Zolts and Strassers – dominated the mining industry in the Gastein Valley and in Rauris. In 1557, 830kg of gold (corresponding to about 27,000 ounces) and 2,723kg of silver were hauled from the mines. However, 50 years later, gold mining ceased completely. The main reason for this economic collapse was the total exhaustion of all lodes of ore that had been exploited in the Hohe Tauern until that time. Furthermore, only ‘visible’ … Read More

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Cameos from Ancient Greece and Rome: Small but precious treasures

Dr Robert Sturm (Austria) When talking about precious or semi-precious gemstones, most people think of the diamonds they cannot afford or rubies, agates and similar well-known minerals. But, only a few people know that gemstones have been subjected to various carving techniques since ancient times, making from them small but marvellous works of art. Basically, the most commonly applied technique of gem carving is the so-called cameo, which, in most cases, features a raised relief and, therefore, differs from the so-called intaglio that has an engraved or negative image. Ancient cameos date back as far as the third century BC and were first produced in Greece, where they mainly served as jewellery for the Hellenistic kings and their retinues. In ancient Rome, cameos and similar works of art were highly popular, especially in the family circle of the Emperor Augustus (27 BC to 14 AD), who developed a great affection for this kind of art. Roman cameos generally continued Hellenistic styles and were marked by only very few innovations. The extremely high quality of gem carving (which will be discussed more in detail below) was maintained until the end of the second century AD, but, with the beginning of the third century AD, it was subject to a sharp decline that can also be seen in other fields of art. During the European Middle Ages, cameos were highly appreciated by the aristocracy, but, nevertheless, the production practices developed in the ancient world found their application only in very rare cases, … Read More

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Plenty of geological fun at Cornwallis’ Cave

Deborah Painter (USA) Cornwallis’ Cave, a feature along the bluffs overlooking the York River in historic Yorktown, Virginia in the USA, is not a real cave and may not even have sheltered British General Charles Cornwallis during the final weeks of the American War of Independence. The National Park Service, which oversees the feature, has little historical evidence that Cornwallis ever used it as a meeting place or as shelter. He probably used a bunker located elsewhere along the river. It is one of the United States’ best-known man-made ‘caves’ and, though composed of Pliocene epoch coquina – a type of sandstone composed mainly of fossil shells – it is unrelated to actual karst features in the area. This feature is a cultural resource that contains holes carved in the stone cave walls for wooden beams to enable storage of supplies during the later American Civil War and is part of the Colonial National Historical Park encompassing many hectares. The cultural history Cornwallis’ Cave is approximately 12.19m in length. It has been sealed off partially by the National Park Service and one can only enter approximately a meter into the cave and view its interior through a wrought iron gate. Were it not for the historic value of the feature and its proximity to the site of testing of mid-nineteenth century hot air balloon warfare, the ‘cave’ might have been levelled long ago. Thankfully, it has not. It is rich in fictional lore, including its reputation for ghosts. A regular … Read More

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Historically important unconformities in Scotland and Northern England

Mark Wilkinson (UK) Scotland has a number of sites of historical interest to geologists. I described one of these, Hutton’s Unconformity at Siccar Point near Edinburgh (see Hutton’s unconformity and the birth of ‘Deep Time’). James Hutton described several Scottish unconformities in his book of 1795 and, while the one at Siccar Point is easily the most dramatic and most easily accessible, there is another unconformity on the Isle of Arran that is well worth a visit if you are on the island. There is a third unconformity in the Scottish Borders that is sufficiently well known to be actually called ‘Hutton’s Unconformity’, but is on private land and is thought to be presently inaccessible. There are also a number of other locations that Hutton described, but which have sunk in the mists of time back into obscurity. It would make an interesting project to resurrect these. It was on the Isle of Arran that Hutton first observed an actual unconformity surface, in 1787. Arran is the seventh largest Scottish Island at around 32km long, lying in the Firth of Clyde some 64km to the southwest of Glasgow. Sometimes described as ‘Scotland in miniature’ due to the range of scenery, Arran has both highland and lowland landscapes. This is because the varied scenery reflects the underlying geology, with rocks typical of the Highlands of Scotland, and the lowlands. There is a good range of sedimentary, igneous and metamorphic rocks, many of which have well-exposed field relationships, as well as areas … Read More

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Cresson Mine: The untold stories

Benjamin Hayden Elick and Steven Wade Veatch (USA) The Cresson mine (Fig. 1) – situated between Cripple Creek and Victor in Colorado – was established in 1894 (MacKell, 2003). No one is certain who started the mine, but records show that two brothers, insurance agents, J R and Eugene Harbeck from Chicago, were early owners. After a hard night of drinking, they sobered up the next day and learned of their new acquisition (MacKell, 2003). The Cresson Mining and Milling Company was organised a year later, in 1895, to raise capital and operate the mine (Patton and Wolf, 1915). The mine continued operating through several leases with low but steady proceeds. Fig. 1. Early view of the Cresson mine, Cripple Creek, Colorado. Photograph date, circa 1914, courtesy of the Cripple Creek District Museum. The Cresson mine became profitable when Richard Roelofs, a known mining innovator, was hired by the Harbecks as mine manager in 1895. Roelofs wrote in an undated letterhead: I was a prospector, a leaser, a miner, an assayer and chemist, an underground shift boss, foreman, superintendent and then general manager of one to the greatest of Colorado’s mines” (Roelofs, n.d.). Roelofs (Fig. 2) was a newcomer to Colorado, as many were when the Cripple Creek gold rush ignited in 1891. He moved to Cripple Creek in 1893 with his wife Mabel. They had one child, Richard Jr, who was born on 19 August 1894 in Cripple Creek. Fig. 2. Richard Roelofs, manager of the Cresson mine. Photograph date, 1914, … Read More

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Walk that Changed History: New evidence about the discovery of the Iguanodon

Martin Simpson (UK) Newly unearthed documentary evidence substantiates the classic story that Mary Ann Mantell found some worn down Iguanodon teeth in Cuckfield, Sussex, before 1822 in some rocks by the roadside, while her husband Gideon was elsewhere. She was accompanied by a friend and purchased the specimens from a workman. We now have the who, what, where and why in this discovery, but the precise when remains unclear. It is suggested in this article that the event took place on 21 May 1821 and the fossils were passed to Gideon the following day. Subsequently, the ‘later to be’ dinosaur was formally named in 1825. Introduction One of the benefits of the government’s 2020 social lockdown policy, introduced to combat the spread of the Coronavirus pandemic, has been the increase in reading, researching and publishing amongst many scientific academics. There will no doubt be a corresponding increase in productivity for the individual scientists themselves and a forthcoming ‘paper boom’. In my own case, I have spent proportionately more of my time preparing, cataloguing and researching fossils, and less on actual field collecting due to the travel restrictions, resulting in a significant catch-up of jobs that needed doing, but were otherwise confined to the back burner. In particular, with precious little television worth watching, I have been trawling the internet in search of obscure references to check the synonymies of umpteen species of interest, and to add to their historical background. Whilst googling a topic somewhat off at a tangent from … Read More

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Mull’s famous fossil tree (Part 2): Walking to the site

Rosalind Jones (France) In Part 1 (Mull’s famous fossil tree (Part 1): Chrissie and the tree), I described the events surrounding the unique fossilisation of an Eocene redwood tree in Mull’s famous Staffa suite of volcanic rocks. In this part, I will take you on a walk to the fossil tree. As enjoying Mull’s magnificent scenery is one of those ‘never to be forgotten’ experiences, choose a fine day to visit and come prepared with a camera and picnic. Fig. 1. The view across Loch Scridain from Ardtun towards the fossil tree location at Rubha na h Uamha. But, be advised, Mull’s weather is very changeable, as acknowledged in two Mull sayings: If you don’t like Mull’s weather, just wait twenty minutes’ and ‘In Mull you can experience all four seasons in one day”. Both sayings are true, so sturdy shoes or boots and wet-weather clothes are essential, unless you are blessed by a Mull heat wave and drought. If staying on Mull, make your way to Tiroran but, if over just for the day, drive from Craignure or Fishnish ferry ports, via Glen More to Kinloch. Fig. 2. An autumnal view of Ben More from Tiroran, taken at the start of the walk to Burg and the tree. Turn right onto the B8035 for the pretty hamlet of Tiroran, then left at the converted Kilfinichen chapel. Cross the bridge over the River Abhainn Bail’ a Mhuilin to enter Ardmeanach – where it feels as though you’ve entered a time-warp. … Read More

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Glacial rock flour and the preservation of Greenland fossil fish

Deborah Painter (USA) The island of Greenland is now an independent nation called Kalaallit Nunaat in the language of the native-born people. Almost totally covered in ice, the world’s largest island can be compared to a bowl of ice having a rim of ice-free hills and mountains. The southern tip supports agriculture in the form of small sheep farms and cultivation of kale, strawberries and other crops, mostly for local consumption, but fish and allied products reign, accounting for about 89% of exports. To anyone other than someone who calls this land home, much of Greenland might seem remote and perhaps forbidding. My father, the late Floyd Painter, might have thought the same about the great island before he was a master sergeant stationed there for a year. Yes, it was very cold and dark for part of the year, but conversations with him about his time there revealed that he actually had an interesting time in the land of the Midnight Sun. My late father served in the US Navy and Army before his careers as an archaeologist and marine engineer. When in his early thirties, his Army career took him to Camp Lloyd on Michigan Bay, a part of the North Fork of Sondrestrom Fjord (“Deep Stream Fjord” in Danish). It is located 670 38’ North, 500 43.33’ West, HO Chart 5796. Sondrestrom Fjord now appears on maps as Kangerlussuaq (pronounced “kanger-loo-soo-ack”) and is located along the west-central coast. It is the world’s longest fjord. Camp Lloyd, the … Read More

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Body of a mighty giant

Matt Salusbury and Tim-Holt Wilson (UK) “The Wonder of Our Times: Being the True and Exactly Relation of the Body of a Mighty giant dig’d up at Brockford Bridge neer Ipswich in the county of Suffolk.” That’s the title of a printed pamphlet from 1651, now in the Thomason Collection of the British Library (Ref 1). It was written in the form of a letter from “I.G.” to his brother in London, updating him on “the town of his nativity” (Ipswich). It describes a skeleton found by workmen digging in the “gravelly way”. Brockford is a hamlet in the parish of Wetheringsett, located on the A140 road (grid reference TM117669) about 15 miles north of Ipswich (Figs. 1 and 2). It is not exactly “neer” (near) the town in seventeenth century terms – in those days it would have been the best part of half a day’s ride on horseback. It’s unlikely that “I.G.” travelled all the way from Ipswich to Brockford to see what the pamphlet called “The Wonder of the Age” for himself; he probably relied on descriptions he received in letters. The pamphlet refers to a John Vice as having found the bones, so the account is second-hand, at least. Fig. 1. The Brockford area shown on Hodskinson’s map of Suffolk, 1783. It is crossed in a north-south direction by a turnpike (the modern A140) and diagonally by a lane between Mendlesham and Thorndon. (Image by kind permission of David Yaxley – ‘Hodsksinson’s Map of Suffolk in … Read More

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Fifteenth century magico-medicinal minerals

Chris Duffin (UK) The Hortus Sanitatis (1491) On 23 June 1491, a new volume was printed and bound for distribution in the German University town of Mainz. The publisher was Jacob von Meydenbach, who might also have been responsible for compiling many of the entries in the book. The volume was based partly on an earlier work entitled Gart der Gesundheit, which was also published in Mainz, but this time by Peter Schöffer, an apprentice of Johannes Gutenberg. This famous pioneer revolutionised mass product printing in the 1450s by developing the use of movable type. Schöffer continued to innovate in this medium after Gutenberg’s death in 1468, experimenting with page sizes, numbers of lines to a column, the arrangement of text blocks and font styles, and the use of woodcuts as illustrations. His Gart der Gesundheit, published in 1483, only a few decades after the inception of the printing revolution, was an immediate success. Meydenbach’s Hortus Sanitatis was prepared as a sort of sequel to the Gart; more ambitious in scope, it was rather longer with additional entries and, importantly for us, a section on stones (Fig. 1). Fig. 1. A double page spread from the De Lapidibus section of Hortus Sanitatis (1491). Wellcome Collection, London.Gart der Gesundheit (German) and Hortus Sanitatis (Latin) both translate as The Garden of Health, giving an indication of the thrust of the volume – here was a treatise on the medicinal virtues of materials from the natural world. The section on stones (De Lapidibus), … Read More

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Pathway to the past: A miner’s photograph

Steven Wade Veatch (USA) Fig. 1, Robert Plews (32), with two daughters, Elizabeth (4) and Mabel (3) and his wife Janet (25), stand in front of their small home in Elkton, Colorado, one of the towns in the Cripple Creek Mining District. (Photo date circa 1899, from the S W Veatch collection.) This photograph, taken around 1899, shows my ancestors posing at their modest frame home, where they lived one step away from Cripple Creek’s gold rush world of cardplayers, whisky drinkers, and midnight carousers. The scene depicts my great-grandfather (Robert Pickering Plews), my great-grandmother (Janet Plews), and two of their daughters in front of their miner’s cabin, built from pine boards, on a hillside in the newly established mining town of Elkton, Colorado. My great-grandparents were from England. Two years after my great-grandfather married my great-grandmother, he left England – by himself – to build a better life in Cripple Creek’s goldfields for the family that he left behind. Robert Plews was a hope-chaser. He carried his dreams from England across the Atlantic and then 1,700 miles to the Front Range and Cripple Creek. He arrived in the gold mining district in 1897. Victoria was the Queen of England, William McKinley was the US President, and Marconi had sent his first wireless transmission. The Colorado Rockies meant a new chance for him at a place with unlimited opportunities. He went to work at the busy Elkton mine. After my great-grandfather established himself in the mining camp, he sent for … Read More

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Geoarchitecture of some Romanesque churches in Aquitaine, France

Nouvelle-Aquitaine (New Aquitaine) is a vast region of southwest France covering more than 30,000 square miles. Between 1154 and the end of the Hundred Years War in 1453, much of the region was under British control. Links with Britain are still strong today, both through tourism and the large ex-patriate British population, particularly in the Dordogne, known jokingly to locals as ‘Dordogneshire’.

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Artist unknown: The dilemma of the Nottoway Stone Image

About 61 years ago, a boy wandered among loblolly pines near an agricultural field not far from the Nottoway River in southern Virginia in the USA. His eyes fell upon a tan coloured rock atop a thick layer of old needles at the bases of the pines. It was a curiosity – the coastal plain Southampton County does not feature rocks reposing at the surface. Young Lloyd Bryant turned over the rounded chunk of stone and was jolted to see an etched human face staring back (Fig. 1).

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Golden Dinosaur from the depths of the London Mine: Mystery of Genevieve

Steven Wade Veatch and Teresa L Stoiber (USA) The legend of “Genevieve”, a fossilised dinosaur not only made of stone — but also of gold — began on 3 July 1932. That was the day WK Jewett, owner of the London Mine near Alma in Colorado, stopped at the Antlers Hotel in Colorado Springs and made the official announcement of its unearthing. The story was picked up by the news services and word of the fantastic find spread through the scientific world like a prairie fire. The golden dinosaur was discovered by William White, 700 feet (213m) underground — deep in the London Mine (WK Jewett, 1932). Curiously, the miners had been using the creature’s nose as a lamp holder, not realising there was a ‘dinosaur’ (if that is what it was) there. White, a hard rock miner, believed at first he was looking at two stumps. In reality, it was a dinosaur lying on its back with its limbs at an angle of 75 degrees. Eager to retrieve it from its rocky tomb, miners blasted it out of rock at the 700-foot level of the London Mine with dynamite. The blast shattered the specimen. Bits and pieces of the dinosaur were hoisted to the surface, where curious crowds gathered to see the prehistoric monster. As the story goes, a geology professor at Colorado College, Robert Landon, travelled to Alma so he could examine Genevieve – an extraordinary record of a former world. The measurements he made revealed that the … Read More

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Geology in Leonardo’s ‘Virgin of the Rocks’

Steven Wade Veatch (USA) Leonardo da Vinci (1452-1519), considered one of the greatest painters of all time, used his knowledge of geology to inform his art. Leonardo was also noted for his work in sculpture, anatomy, mathematics, architecture, and engineering during the Italian Renaissance (about 1330 to 1450). From a geological perspective, Leonardo da Vinci’s paintings present a realistic portrayal of nature. In his Virgin of the Rocks (1483-1486), on display in the Louvre in Paris (Fig. 1), the geological accuracy is striking (Pizzorusso, 1996). The painting’s subject is both the Virgin and the rocks. The Virgin sits in front of a grotto or cave, various aspects of which, according to geologist Ann Pizzorusso (1996): … are rendered with astounding geological accuracy. Leonardo has painted a rich earthscape of rock eroded and sculpted by the active geological forces of wind and water. Most of the rock formations … are weathered sandstone, a sedimentary rock”. Fig. 1. Leonardo da Vinci’s Virgin of the Rocks (1483-1486). From his studies of geology, Leonardo learned how the Earth works and improved the realism of his paintings. Location: Louvre, Paris. Oil on panel transferred to canvas. Height: 199cm. Width: 122cm. (The image is in the public domain.) What looks like basalt, an extrusive igneous rock formed by the cooling of lava, appears above Mary’s head and at the top right of the picture. Leonardo even painted the columnar joints formed by the cooling of the rocks. Also, just above her head is a precisely painted … Read More

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