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Gobustan Rock Art Cultural Landscape in Azerbaijan

Khursheed Dinshaw (India) Gobustan in Azerbaijan is an interesting site depicting prehistoric rock art. The petroglyphs here vary in age from the Upper Palaeolithic Era to the Middle Ages (Fig. 1). A UNESCO World Heritage Site, more than 6,000 images can be seen here (Figs. 2 to 9). The petroglyphs are carved on three mountains called Beyukdash, Djingirdag and Kichikdash, respectively. Fig. 1. Petroglyphs varying from Upper Palaeolithic Era to the Middle Ages. Fig. 2. Gobustan Rock Art Cultural Landscape. There is also a museum where artefacts that have been excavated are exhibited (Figs. 10 to 14). The museum also provides information about the climate change periodization of Gobustan. About 21,000 years ago, juniper trees grew here. There is also a strong possibility of tugay forests in which wild cherries and pomegranates grew. (Tugay is a form of forest or woodland associated with fluvial and floodplain areas in arid climates.) Wild cherries and pomegranates grow in the region even today. Fig. 3. The UNESCO World Heritage Site of Azerbaijan. Fig. 4. More than 6,000 images can be seen here. Credit for the discovery of the petroglyphs goes to Prof I M Jafarzade. He found them in the 1930s on the Djingirdag Mountain. Fig. 5. Visitors learning about petroglyphs. Fig. 6. Prof I M Jafarzade discovered the images on these rocks. Most of the petroglyphs of Gobustan have been made by engraving an image contour on the rocks. On the Beyukdash Mountain, on rock No 67, there are a total of … Read More

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Book review: The Lewisian: Britain’s oldest rocks, by Graham Park

Recently, I have finished the Great Silurian Controversy, a magnificent book about the nineteenth century arguments over the age of the lower Palaeozoic greywackes/sediments of Devon, and the creation of the concept of the Devonian. And reading The Lewisian: Britain’s oldest rocks by Graham Park, perhaps it occurs to me that this should perhaps be called, The Great Lewisian Controversy. It shares the same historical and scientific intentions, and the same grand sweep of scientific history from the early twentieth century, namely, the exploration over decades of the geology of the Lewisian of northwest Scotland.

Shetland – an archipelago on the edge

Allen Fraser (UK) Shetland is a spectacular group of islands with a varied geology, a wonderful landscape and a special flora and fauna, peopled by a culture distinct within the British Isles. Shetland remains one of Britain’s natural treasures.” (J. Laughton Johnston) Fig. 1. St Ninian’s Isle. The islands Shetland sits on the edge of the European continental shelf and is sinking. Since the end of the last glaciation about 10,000 years ago, relative sea level has risen by about 120m and has fashioned an archipelago of over 100 islands. The island group extends over a distance of 110km from Muckle Flugga (Fig. 2) in the north to Fair Isle in the south, and a convoluted coastline, over 2,700km in length, means that no point on land here is more than 5km from the sea. Fig. 2. Muckle Flugga, a small rocky island north of Unst in the Shetland Islands. The landmasses of the larger islands are generally in the form of roughly north-south ridges of hills forming the ‘spine’ of Shetland. The hills, mainly composed of acidic granite, schists and gneisses, are treeless and are generally covered by peat or blanket bog. The valley floors between the hills of the central Mainland (the largest island) are composed of crystalline limestone and are generally more fertile. Together with sandy coastal areas, they form the best agricultural land. Fig. 3. The fertile valley of Tingwall. Fig. 4. The port of Scalloway, the largest settlement on the west coast of the Mainland, … Read More

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Geology Museums of Britain: Radstock Museum, Somerset

Jon Trevelyan(UK) Contained in what was once the Radstock Market Hall (Fig. 1), this is perhaps one of my favourite local museums. Maybe it is because the museum is close to wonderful relics of the Somerset coal industry and to the Upper Carboniferous plant fossils that were a waste product. (My maternal grandfather was a miner in one of the two collieries in Aberdare in South Wales, and my mother took me collecting on the tips when I was young.) Fig. 1. The museum is located in the old Radstock Market Hall. In fact, in the Radstock district, there are still some tips where you can find plant fossils. Nearby is also the impressive ‘volcano’ at Midsomer Norton, which will always be a monument to coal miners who laboured in the coalmines of this part of the world (Fig. 2). (It is a tip containing waste from the Old Mills and Springfield collieries.) However, this museum is not really a geology museum. It has a lot of geological exhibits, but rather it is a museum of Somerset coalfield life, but no less fascinating for that. There are permanent displays covering two floors within the listed building. On the ground floor, there is the history of the 75 or so coalmines that once existed, and the mining communities of Radstock and the local trades and industries which supported the miners and the industry. This includes, on entry, a gorgeous horse-drawn carriage from the Co-op (Fig. 3). All this, along with some … Read More

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Pierre Teilhard de Chardin 1881 to 1955: a geologist priest in Hastings

Ken Brooks (UK) Pierre Teilhard de Chardin was born in the Auvergne region of France on 1 May 1881. His enthusiasm for science developed in his childhood, partly through the influence and encouragement of his father, who was a keen naturalist. In 1899, at the age of 18 and having completed secondary education, he joined the Society of Jesus as a novice. While severe intellectual discipline was a characteristic of his Jesuit Order, it also included instruction in all branches of science, particularly geology and zoology. Fig. 1. Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, 1955. Shortly after and as a result of legislation in France directed against the religious orders, the Jesuits moved to the Channel Islands and, in 1901, transferred their juniorate to the institution Notre Dame de Bon-Secours at Maison St Louis in Jersey. Teilhard stayed here for three years studying theology and philosophy, but he was also able to spend time developing his interest in geology. In fact, it is said that he never went for a walk without a hammer and a magnifying glass. In 1905, Teilhard was sent to Egypt to gain teaching experience at the Jesuit College of St Francis in Cairo, where he studied and taught physics. For the next three years, his naturalist inclinations were developed through field trips into the countryside near Cairo studying the existing flora and fauna as well as fossils from Egypt’s very ancient past. He also made time for extensive collecting of fossils and for correspondence with palaeontologists in … Read More

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Celebrating the Ashdon Meteorite

Michael E Howgate One hundred years ago, a grapefruit-sized lump of rock ended its four and a half billion year long journey through space by crashing into a field in northwest Essex. To be more precise, at 1pm on Friday, 9 March 1923, Frederick Pratt, a thatcher and farm labourer, heard what he described as a loud “sissing” noise, and a couple of seconds later saw: a projectile fell about ten or fifteen yards from him, causing the earth to spout up like water” (News report in The Times newspaper, 7 June 1923). Three days later and suitably equipped, he went back to the spot with a friend and they dug up the ‘Ashdon’ meteorite. Being a sensible chap, he knocked a piece off, presumably to check that it was not just a common flint he had unearthed, and then took it to the local police station. The Saffron Walden bobbies were not interested, so he took it home to Wendens Ambo. Here, he showed it to his vicar, the Reverend Francis W Berry who, being an alumnus of Trinity College Cambridge, showed much more interest. Berry recognised the importance of Pratt’s find and purchased it from him, so that he could donate it to the Mineralogical Department of the British Museum (Natural History). The keeper of mineralogy, Dr. George T Prior, a noted expert on meteorites visited the site three months later with both Frederick Pratt and the Rev. Berry in attendance. (Prior’s description of the Ashdon meteorite appeared … Read More

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Ice, dykes and tectonics: the Plattsburgh story

Deborah Painter (USA) As our small passenger jet began its descent into the Plattsburgh, New York International Airport on a cool November day, I admired Lake Champlain to the east from my window and noticed that the small aircraft, once it touched the very long runway, continued rolling down it for ten whole minutes. When the jet came at long last to the gate area, I noted that the size of the attractive terminal was small – quite out of proportion for that enormous runway. On returning to the terminal and dropping off my rental car two days later, following completion of an environmental compliance project, I noticed that the young lady who checked my bags and took my ticket at the gate was the same person who loaded the plane’s baggage compartment. Why should such a tiny airport with such a tiny staff and only a few arrivals and departures daily need such a long runway and taxiway? Later, I learned that this had been an Air Force base in the past and the runway had been intended to serve as an alternate runway for NASA’s Space Shuttle in case of an aborted mission. Less than three years later, I had the good fortune to have another project in Plattsburgh. This time, I took a passenger train and, since the rail line runs parallel to and very close to Lake Champlain through much of its service through New York north of Albany, I was able to see the lake … Read More

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Stones that illustrate themselves

Deborah Painter (USA) Earlier in the month of September 2022, my friend David and I spent an afternoon with a fellow named Ellery, a long-time member of a rock collecting club we joined a year ago. Ellery allowed me to photograph some of his rock and mineral specimens, including a rough piece of ‘wonderstone’ of approximately 30cm in length and 19cm in width, from southern Utah, USA (Fig. 1). Fig. 1. Shinarump Wonderstone is a variety of chalcedony that features swirls and other decorative patterns. (Credits: Deborah Painter; specimen from the collection of Ellery Borow.) The piece contained what looked like a painting of the flanks of a slot canyon one might see in the very area where it is found (Fig. 2). Fig. 2. A slot canyon in Page, Arizona USA, just 180km to 185km from known sources of Shinarump Wonderstone. It reminds one of the ripples and swirls in the Wonderstone in Fig. 1. (Credits: Brigitte Werner, Pixabay.) On the opposite side of the same specimen was a fish’s head, complete with an ‘eye’ (Fig. 3). Fig. 3. This ‘fish head’, complete with a fishy ‘eye’ is the image that greets you when you turn over the Shinarump Wonderstone specimen in Fig. 1. (Credits: Deborah Painter; specimen from the collection of Ellery Borow.) None of the images were artificial or cut in a particular way to bring out these ‘images’. I was instantly reminded of the pietra paesina stones of the Florence area of Italy. The latter have … Read More

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Geology Museums of Britain: Portland Museum, Dorset

Jon Trevelyan(UK) Fig. 1. A huge Titanites giganteus adorns the doorway. I visited this little museum a while ago while on a Geologists’ Association field trip. I have passed it several time and always loved the large Titanites giganteus above the door (Fig. 1) of this picturesque cottage (Fig. 2). As a result, I had always wanted to visit, but more particularly I want to see the famous fossil turtle (Fig. 3) that is exhibited there. Fig. 2. One of the two seventeenth century cottages making up the museum. Fig. 3. The lovely fossil turtle at the museum. In fact, Portland Museum is a lovely example of a local museum containing (among other things, geology (Fig. 4), in this case, tucked away in a beautiful part of the ‘island’ in two seventeenth century cottages, near Rufus Castle and the popular Church Ope Cove. Fig. 4. Some of the geological exhibits at the museum. The Isle of Portland in Dorset represents the most southerly point of the Jurassic, which is a UNESCO designated World Heritage Site and famous for its geology, fossils and geomorphology. It is joined to the mainland by the equally famous Chesil Beach but has always been regarded (not least by its inhabitants)as separate from the mainland, and this is reflected in the museum’s collection. That is, Portland Museum does not just contain geology and palaeontology; its exhibits also reflect the Isle’s history and people. Portland Museum was founded in 1930 by Dr Marie Stopes, renowned for her … Read More

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Earthquake in Lincolnshire: 27 February 2008

RMW Musson (BGS Scotland) I was woken abruptly at 1:30am by the ringing of my phone, which was sitting on the shelf above the bedroom radiator. The phone ringing in the middle of the night usually means only one thing: bad news. I took the phone into the hall so as not to disturb my wife more than need be. A colleague of mine was on the line: There’s been a large earthquake in Lincolnshire. It’s about 5.” Visions of damage raced through my mind. Magnitude 5 is not big in world terms, but is about the upper end of what is experienced in Britain. And size is not everything: location is critical. We have been fortunate in the UK in recent years, as the largest British earthquakes have mostly occurred well away from large cities. The two previous 5s (in 1984 and 1990) were in the extreme north-west of Wales and the Shropshire countryside respectively. However, an earthquake in Lincolnshire in 1185, probably about 5 in magnitude, brought down a large part of Lincoln cathedral and, if folklore is to be believed, so destroyed some nearby villages that they were never rebuilt. Was this a repeat of the 1185 earthquake? OK, I’m on my way.” The streets of Edinburgh were completely deserted as I drove up to the BGS office on the southern edge of the city. Three of my colleagues were already there, bringing up data from the seismic monitoring network remotely over radio and computer links. By … Read More

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German Miners in Cumbria

By Jean Tyler One fine Summer’s day in 1564, a group of men on horseback made their way westward from Carlisle along the rough road to Keswick. One of their number rode with the covered wagon that contained clothing, personal chattels and the tools of their trade – mining. These men came from Germany and were the finest miners and smelters in the world. They were here in England at the request of the English Crown and their job was to extract the rich, glowing copper from the mineral veins of Lakeland. So begins the story of mining in this country. The first group of ten men arrived in Keswick in 1564 and were easily accommodated in local lodgings. What a flurry of excitement this must have caused in this little town that consisted of no more than one muddy street with a few squalid yards running off it. At that time, the housing was of timber and wattle daub construction with bracken-thatched roofing. Behind the houses ran strips of land with middens, pigsties and more very basic housing – buildings that were little more than hovels. The arrival of the Germans created a flutter amongst the local girls who were soon vying with each other for the attention of these small, tough men from overseas. Unhappily, some of the inhabitants were suspicious of the foreign strangers who were set to earn good money doing a proper job and violent confrontation eventually resulted in one of the incomers, Leonard Stoulz, … Read More

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Building stones of the Ancient World

By Ken Brooks (UK) Local stone was an essential element in the development of early civilisations, as its availability and quality determined the building styles that they created. The effective working and use of stone as a building material was a skill acquired by man at an early stage of history in many different regions of the world. Today, we can identify their methods of working stone by studying the buildings, quarries and the tools that have survived them. Egypt For thousands of years, the River Nile has carved its way through areas of sandstone, granite and limestone on its 750-mile journey through Egypt to the Mediterranean. From very early times, and even to the present day, the Egyptians have built their homes with bricks made from mud – an abundant raw material along the banks of the River Nile. It was around 5,000 years ago, as organised religion became established, that they began to use locally available stone to construct temples and pyramids. Between 2590BC and 2500BC, the ancient Egyptians built three huge pyramids on the Giza plateau (near present-day Cairo). Fig. 1. The pyramids at Giza. The bedrock in this area is a nummulitic limestone dating from the Eocene period, 34 to 55mya. It is an interesting thought that some of the largest man-made structures on earth were constructed from the fossil remains of tiny organisms (foraminifera). Work on a pyramid began with the extraction of limestone blocks at a nearby quarry. The only tools the Egyptians had … 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.

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.

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.

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 … Read More

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.

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 … Read More