On the 14 December, our super awesome Geology and Mineralogy course – “Myths and Facts About Rocks’ starts. Here in the iversity office, the excitement has been building as we discover just how interesting this area of study is. From the largest meteor impact in recorded history to the part rocks played in the world’s most peaceful revolution, let’s drill down deeper into the core of this subject.
The study of rocks (Geology, if you want to be scientific about it) might not seem like the kind of topic to inspire passion and interest amongst many people. After all, rocks are just grey stones, kicked about under our feet, aren’t they?
However, that’s simply not the case, whether you’re wandering around the concrete streets of Berlin, or hiking through the Himalayas, the rocks and minerals that make up the Earth have some absolutely fascinating stories to tell. Many of which wouldn’t be told if it wasn’t for the study of Geology (Rocks and stuff, if we’re going to be unscientific about it). With this in mind, we went out in search of three mysteries that have been unravelled thanks to an understanding of geology.
Story 1: The Tunguska event
It’s the 30th of June, 1908 and the eerie silence permeating a huge uninhabited stretch of Siberia is shattered by a huge explosion. So huge in fact that it flattens 2,000 sq. km of forest, knocking over an estimated 80 million trees and creates a shockwave that registers in Great Britain. Luckily (and pretty amazingly), no one is killed as the area is so sparsely populated.
The unnerving sight of hundreds of trees, flattened by the huge blast.
So, what could have happened here to cause such a huge amount of energy to be released?! The theory was put forward that this must have been a meteorite or comet impact, however first expeditions to the site found no clear crater. Without any of this evidence, it was down to the geologists and mineralogists to get to the bottom of the mystery. Using their knowledge of the types of rocks and chemicals that you would expect to find had a meteorite or comet hit the Earth, they set about trying to solve the mystery.
It wasn’t until the 1950s and 60s that the geologists and mineralogists could use chemical analysis to prove the meteorite theory. On investigation, they found deposits of microscopic silicate and magnetite in the soil, consistent with a meteorite event. As technology advanced, the investigations were able to further prove this theory by testing the trees and surrounding marshes for evidence. Finally in 2010, fragments of a ‘celestial body’ were found in the area, further proving the theory that a meteorite had fallen to earth in this spot. A truly amazing event that would have remained a mystery had it not been for geologists and scientists!
Story 2: Fake pieces of the Berlin Wall
It’s 1989 in Berlin, Germany and you are walking along a section of the newly fallen (politically at least) wall. All around you the sound of people chipping away at different sections of the wall rings out. People want the wall gone, but they also realise the historical significance of these small pieces of concrete. People from all walks of life come to the wall to chip off these pieces, even earning themselves the nickname ‘wall peckers’.
Historical artefact or spray painted pebble?
Fast forward another 20 years, and you’re a tourist looking to take home your own piece of history from this tumultuous and exciting time. The souvenir shops are stocked with small grey chunks of rock but the city is rife with stories of fakes. Around Berlin there an open secret that a man named Volker Pawlowski (who bought over 30 sections of the wall after its collapse) spraypaints grey undesirable pieces himself to sell on at an increased profit.
So, how can you ever be sure that you’re holding a piece of history in your hand? With a bit of Geochemistry, of course! Tests have shown that the authentic wall fragments have a unique chemical makeup as they were all quarried from the same location in Rüdersdorf. This testing can prove with near certainty whether the small piece of rock in your hand has been sold by a street vendor looking to make a dishonest profit, or whether it played a key part in segregating an entire city for 28 years before being knocked down in a peaceful revolution.
Story 3: 6000 Year Old Jade Hand Axe
The actual axe. Carefully crafted over 6000 years ago.
Jade is a mineral that has been held in high regard for thousands of years. In ancient China it was valued even more highly than gold. So when archaeologists found this amazing example of craftsmanship in Canterbury, England, they were at a loss to explain how it had ended up there. A place where no Jade existed, and at what was at that time, the edge of the world. 6000 years ago there weren’t the established trade routes needed to bring such an object halfway across the world. So where did this beautiful object come from?
Jade is prized so highly in China that medals awarded in the 2008 Summer Olympic games contained a ring of the precious mineral.
It took two dedicated archeologists Pierre and Anne-Marie Pétrequin 12 years of searching to unravel the origins of this particular stone axe. High up in the Italian Alps, they found what they were looking for. Huge blocks of Jadeite sitting isolated in the landscape, with ancient marks from where they had been quarried, still present. But how were the pair to prove once and for all that this smooth green axe had come from this place? Employing a geochemistry technique originally pioneered by astronomers it was possible to match the geological signature of the axe confidently to the Italian Alps. Amazingly, it was possible to go one further and match the axe not just with the mountain, but with the exact boulder the axe had been taken from. An amazing discovery that allowed the archaeologists to be able to tell this period of history in an even more accurate and fascinating way.
If you have been inspired and intrigued by these stories of Geological discovery, then you should definitely come and check out our new course in association with Tomsk University “Myths and Facts About Rocks”. If you enrol soon, you can even take advantage of our 20% Early Bird discount on the certificate track. See you on the 14th of December.