Showing posts from January, 2013

Westgarth Forster: Fame and Misfortune

I’ve just been reading a review of the 3 rd Edition of Westgarth Forster ’s “A Treatise on a Section of the Strata from Newcastle to Cross Fell” in the May 1 st 1884 edition of Nature. It provides an interesting summary of Westgarth’s travels following the publication of “Strata” and the unhappy financial speculations on lead mines in Wales that followed. “The volume was issued in 1809 in the same year with William Smith’s first geological map of England, and at once became exceedingly popular : and thenceforward the author was recognized as one of the leading men in his profession, and was fully engaged in many surveys until his retirement in 1833. During this active period of twenty-three years he worked in nearly all the mineral districts of England and Wales, with the exception of Cornwall and Devon, and also visited Spain and North America. The American trip was made in 1831, in pre-steamboat days, in the fine packet-ship Napoleon , making a fairly good voya

The Karoo

"Karoo" is thought to be a Khoikhoi word meaning "Thirstland", and a very hot and dry place it certainly is. I first had the pleasure of visiting the Karoo twenty years ago, studying Permian rocks deposited in a deep-marine setting, guided by a famous geologist, Arnold Bouma, and his colleagues. At a place called Kagga Kamma there were old rock paintings showing animals, fused animals and humans, and lines of humans tapering in size from front to back. How delightful then to see these Khoisan dancing in just such size-sorted lines (photo taken in April 1992). They laughed when we (two Brits and two South Africans) did our version of this dance for them. I enjoyed rediscovering the vast views in this landscape the week before last, and was very happy to see gemsbok moving along the Gemsbok Valley, and an ostrich standing before the Permian rocks of the Skoorsteenberg Formation. One of my favourite images from this trip was a group

Return to the Cape Peninsula

I drove from Cape Town to the Cape of Good Hope last Monday, something I hadn’t done in fifteen years. The spectacular scenery is produced by erosion of Ordovician sedimentary rocks of the Table Mountain Group, lying above the Cambrian Cape Granite. At the cape, the cormorants nest on ledges in the Peninsula Formation which shows dipping surfaces recording the passage of subaqueous dunes. Let's zoom in on that cormorant: To the North at Boulder Beach the penguins dry themselves on rounded outcrops of the Cape Granite. My father passed this way 70 years ago, in a ship on the way to Burma. Here is his sketch of the view. I remember the "dassies" ( Procavia capensis ) at the top of Table Mountain and it was fun to see them again at the Cape of Good Hope.

Spectacular Images of Ancient Life

Exceptionally preserved fossils of long-extinct animals represent another convergence of Life (the jump of imagination to picturing the live animals is greatly reduced by the state of preservation), Art (the fossils are often aesthetically beautiful) and Earth (they are part of the geological record). X-radiograph of Helianthaster rhenanus , 12 cm across, showing 14 arms, from the Devonian of Bundenbach One ever-popular group of extinct animals, the trilobites, are only very rarely preserved with their limbs and antennae intact and even more occasionally show preservation of their soft guts. A page of such examples, ranging in age from Early Cambrian to Late Devonian (a number of these being the best examples known) can be seen here: The Whole Trilobite . Some of my favourite occurrences of exceptional fossil preservation are: -        -  the Devonian slates around the town of Bundenbach in Germany, where astonishing details are captured in p

Jan and Cora Gordon return to London

On April 4 th 2010 I was busy with a house move when a book, “ The London Roundabout ” by Jan and Cora Gordon (published in 1933), arrived in the post. The book is described as "a roundabout trip of London, where one may catch glimpses of the four quarters of London, glimpses hurried and unsatisfying, yet containing something of that peculiar wholeness that makes up London." Taking a break from moving boxes, opening them up and deciding where things should go, I began to read, and was struck by a series of parallels. The book begins with a house move as the Gordons return to London from Paris. At the time of their move Jan Gordon was the same age as me. Both they and I were rediscovering old treasures as we unpacked. Both the Gordons and I had spent 20 years living abroad prior to this move (though they had returned to England during the later war years).  The Gordons had moved into a flat in Clanricarde Gardens  and from there wrot