Jon Trevelyan (UK) One rainy afternoon in March, rather than getting wet collecting fossils near Radstock, I abandoned my plans and paid a brief visit to the Wells & Mendip Museum in Somerset. It is not a geology museum, but it does have some great geological exhibitions. The museum (Fig. 1) was founded in 1893 by Herbert E Balch, who was a well-known amateur archaeologist, naturalist and caver; and the museum was intended to showcase his extensive collections of historical artefacts and natural specimens. Fig.1. The entrance to the museum, in the beautiful square in front of the cathedral. When you arrive in the lobby, you can’t help but notice a magnificent two-metre-long skeleton of an ichthyosaur (Fig. 2). This was found in the Lower Jurassic Blue Lias quarries at Keinton Mandeville (which is 200 to 150 million years old), during which time, a warm sea covered Somerset. In fact, the area around the town of Street, not far from Wells, has been an important source of ichthyosaur skeletons. Fig. 2. The ichthyosaur (Ichthyosaurus tenuistris), which was discovered by Thomas Hawkins, a nineteenth century collector of marine reptiles. A fossilised example of an eye socket is also on display next to the main specimen. We know that this ichthyosaur preyed on an extinct form of squid or cuttlefish (Phragmoteuthis), because the small hooks from the squids’ arms are clearly visible in its stomach. In the museum, there is also an exhibition on the ‘Netherworld of Mendip’, which explores the subterranean … Read More
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
This is a charming little book, which describes itself as an “admittedly idiosyncratic compendium of [geological] words and phrases chosen because they are portals into larger stories”. It succeeds brilliantly at its professed goal, combining a great deal of information, education, and a gentle sense of fun, brought out very nicely by some attractive and humorous illustrations.
Dr Charlie Underwood (UK) Shark teeth are amongst the most iconic and sought after of fossils. However, for most of us, collecting them can be a difficult or even unpleasant task. I am sure that most collectors in northern Europe are familiar with picking their way over slipped cliffs of clay, in the teeth of a freezing winter gale, to collect the few treasures that erosion leaves on the beach. Alternatively, the more dedicated are used to carrying hundreds of kilos of clay home and painstakingly passing it through a sieve before even knowing if there are any fossils there. But it is not all like this. There are a number of places in the world where the vagaries of sedimentology have allowed bone-beds (or phosphorites) to develop, within which vertebrate fossils, and shark teeth in particular, are hundreds of times more abundant than in a normal marine sediment. By far the most extensive of these deposits are in Morocco. Below the dusty scrub and parched farmland of northern Morocco lie the largest reserves of mineral phosphate known. Vast complexes of open-cast mines, one stretching for nearly 30km, have been cut into these deposits, with a network of conveyor belts transporting the phosphate sand and rock to the processing factories turning the rock into fertilizer. These great phosphate deposits were laid down in a sea saturated with nutrients and teeming with life. As a result, the phosphates are crammed with the fossilised phosphatic bones and teeth of fish, sharks and … Read More
Khursheed Dinshaw (India) The first time I saw a mud volcano at close range was in Rotorua in New Zealand. I was fascinated – the raw energy of the erupting mud massively appealed to me. Once back home, I read up on mud volcanoes and learnt that, out of the almost 700 present in the world, about 300 of which are located in Azerbaijan and the Caspian Sea. No wonder scientists call Azerbaijan ‘the region of mud volcanoes (Fig. 1). These mud volcanoes reach heights of 200 to 500m and temperatures of 1,000 to 1,2000C. They include active and extinct underwater, island-type and oil producing volcanoes. In Azerbaijan, one can find these natural wonders on the Absheron Peninsula, at Gobustan and the Shirvan plain. Fig. 1. A map of the mud volcanoes of Azerbaijan (© Mark Tingay and Google Earth). Recently, I was fortunate enough to visit the country and booked a tour to Gobustan to experience the famed mud volcanoes, which are locally known as ‘Pilpila’ (Fig. 2). One can drive up to the designated spot in any vehicle, but the last few kilometres necessary to reach the volcanoes is only possible by authorised cars driven by locals who know the landscape like the back of their hand. This is important, because the terrain is barren and there are no marked roads, routes or signposts to get to the mud volcanoes. Fig. 2. Mud volcanoes are called Pilpila in Ajerbaijan. My driver was born and brought up in a … Read More
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
Clay Carkin (USA) Thirteen, 11-year-old students in the Freeport Middle School’s sixth grade science class had an opportunity to collect fossils in the state of Alabama, 1,000 miles away from their home state of Maine. Their collecting excursion was one component of an ultimate ﬁeld trip involving spelunking at Cumberland … Read More
I recently reviewed another of the guides in Crowood Press’s excellent “Landscape and Geology” guides, which was undoubtedly a great read. And this one is equally good, with great, full colour pictures, maps and diagrams, and easy to read text, with descriptions of interesting walks and what can be seen on them.That is, there are easy-to-understand explanations of how the rocks formed and how the geology affects the landscape, and there is also an n exploration of the long human story of the landscapes.
Goodness me! This is a massive work (432 pages) – but written with enthusiasm from the heart, with authoritative text, lovely photos throughout, fascinating anecdotes and history, with detailed geological descriptions of all the relevant counties. Now, I’m no expert on minerals, which fall well outside the scope of my interests. However, I cannot praise this book too much.
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 … Read More
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, … Read More
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 … Read More
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 … Read More
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. Starting in County … Read More
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 … Read More
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 … Read More
Jon Trevelyan (UK) If Yorkshire really is ‘God’s Own County’, then clearly the Almighty is an enthusiastic geologist. Just how lucky is the Yorkshire man who, on the same day, can see some of the best and most varied geology in the world, set out in glorious coastal and mountain … Read More
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 … Read More
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 … Read More
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 … Read More
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.
This is a lovely book – a glorious mixture of a beautiful coffee-table book and an academic treatise of the highest quality. But why microfossils? What is it about them that can create such strong feelings?
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 … Read More
Ken Madrell (UK) Introduction Most visitors to the Cyclades islands will gravitate to the island of Santorini to see its stunning caldera and the magnificent sunsets from the northern town of Oia. The island is part of the Aegean volcanic arc formed by the subduction of the African plate under … Read More
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 … Read More
I have stood several times in front of an (apparently) plain white, chalk cliff-face along with others, while Prof Mortimore discussed the implications of what we were seeing. And, every time, I left not just thinking but knowing this was the most fascinating piece of geology I had ever seen.
Robyn Molan (Australia) In an article in the Australian Age of Dinosaurs Journal (Issue 6, 2008) I dubbed the period between 1984 and 1994 ‘a decade of dedication’, thanks to the persistence of an American-Australian team headed by palaeontologists Tom Rich and his wife, Pat Vickers-Rich. (Tom wrote an article … Read More
Dr Thomas H Rich (Australia) I have no idea what made me look up at that moment. But, when I did, I saw a flash of light reminiscent of the sun glinting off the wings of a flock of birds abruptly and simultaneously changing direction. However, the light was not … Read More
There are many good guides the geology of the Lake District and this is no exception. However, this is first and foremost an illustrated guide to the region’s rocks and an introduction to the common rock types to be found, largely through the use of colour photographs.
Steven Wade Veatch (USA) 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 … Read More