Hull Geological Society
Mike Horne FGS
U nfinished Works
This is unfinished work that has not been edited or peer reviewed by the Society.
Geodiversity in the Graveyard.
What do we mean by Geodiversity? Presumably it is the variety of rocks in our local environment. Unlike Biodiversity which can be increased through careful management, we cannot do anything to increase the number rock types in our natural environment. All we can do it to try to conserve the exposures that exist; no easy task. However the variety rocks can increase anthropgenically in the built environment and a prime example of this is in our church graveyards and cemeteries.
Graveyards are an excellent too for geological education and sometimes geological research. Not only can they provide examples of rack types to enable us to teach geology they also provide links with various forms of history and environmental issues to aid public engagement with our science. Like natural exposures they are not a permanent resource – geoconservation is also needed in the graveyard!
Safety – do not climb on or lean on the monuments – they may be unstable.
Respect – do not hammer, scratch or use acid to test the monuments.
Do not clean the monuments without permission
Real Geology – If you are ever mapping or researching the geology of an area there are clues to the local geology to be found in a graveyard:-
· Have a look in freshly dug grave to obtain soil and rock samples.
· Look at the stone used for the walls around the graveyard – they may be local
· Have a look at the store used for the church or memorial chapel – they might be local
· There might be clues about the geology in the location – e.g. it might not be sensible to have a graveyard just above the local aquifer.
Geological education –
Pure educational geology – can be carried out at many educational levels – from basic recognition of igneous, sedimentary and metamorphic classes to more details analysis of rocks and structures. There are limitations though: no hammering!
· Identifying rock types
· Sedimentary structures
· Igneous structures
· Metamorphic structures
· Folding & faulting
· Weathering and resistance to weathering
Environmental studies – gravestones usually include a date of the death of the deceased individual and usually the stone was erected shortly after that event. By combining that date with the type of rock and its weathering we can make environmental observations.
· How legible is the inscription?
· Rate of Solution of marble by acid rain – the lead lettering will not dissolve
· Lichens on the stone
· Spalling due to frosts and rising damp
· Is one side more weathered than the other?
· Location – are gravestones under trees better protected from weathering?
We can make comparisons between these observation between urban and rural graveyards.
We can engage the public or students more by posing questions such as “how long will my gravestone last?” or “which rock type would you choose for your memorial?”
Social and economic history – from the variety of stones and the design of the memorials we can investigate changes in social history and economic geography.
Economic history - Trade routes and communication – when did certain types of exotic rock arrive in the area? The cost of the gravestone is mostly in the labour extraction of the rock and the working of the stone plus the transport costs.
· Local rocks
· Exotic rocks brought by sea, canal, rail and road indicate the date of opening of new transport routes
Examples – first Welsh slates might indicate the opening of the railway;
Larvikite might be more common in a port that traded with Scandinavia; rocks
Social history of mourning – the style of the memorial and wording of the inscriptions has changed through time and can form an interesting study.
Shape & design of the stone and sculptures – Examples:-
· Skull & crossed bones
· Draped urns and broken columns
· War graves
· Quaker cemetery
· Soccer balls, Hearts and teddy bears
Personalised sculpture and engravings - examples
· Life images
· Linked to career – locomotives, boats and anchors
· Masonic imagery
· Life images – carved, photograph ceramic or laser etched
· Hobbies - such as cricket, soccer or angling - carved or laser etched
· Interests – support of local sports team, Elvis or meerkats
Wording of inscriptions has changed over time and may indicate our attitude to death, mourning and religion.
· “here lie the remains of”
· “sacred to the memory of”
· “called home”
· “entered the homeland”
· “passed away”
· “fell asleep”
· “gone fishing”
· “we miss you granny”
Social diversity –
· Place of birth
· Wealth & prosperity
· Life expectancy
Local History – memorials to the rich and famous; records of local events and tragedies. Examples
· Shipwrecks, airship disasters and international incidents
· Mass graves and associated memorials for cholera epidemics
· Public funding of a memorial due to genuine respect for a local benefactor or unsung hero or the tragic loss of a young person
· “Important People” often wish to keep their status when they are dead with impressive memorials in a prominent position!
Family history – a potential source of information for dates of birth, death, relationships, place of birth, place of death, occupation &c.
When visiting the site behave responsibly
· Behaviour – show respect for the dead and their relatives
· Biodiversity – try not to disturb flora and fauna or allow a group you are leading to trample the area
· No hammering or use of acid to test limestones
Not everyone is buried and has a memorial – poor people cannot afford it, many are now cremated, inscriptions become unreadable, graveyards become wildernesses, stones are moved or lost. Your researches in to local, family and social history are statistically biased!
Other public engagement –
Art, design and aesthetics.
· Beautiful rocks
· Good or unusual gravestone design
· Using the site for photography and painting
· A place of peace
· A tranquil oasis
· Remembering and honouring our ancestors
· Reflecting on our own mortality
Conservation – like geological exposures gravestones will not last for ever but we can help conserve them. They are subject to some threats that can be managed – examples –
· Weathering due to nearby trees
· Becoming overgrown with ivy or brambles
· Subsidence caused by tree roots
· being laid down due to safety
· cars parking on gravestone pavements
Threats to the Graveyard
· irresponsible dog walkers
· fly tipping
· reduced access to prevent these problems
· cooperation with site owners, managers, caretakers and wardens
· cooperation with local authority planning and conservation officers
· listed building status
· RIGS or local geological sites or geological reserve
· Cooperation with “Friends of the …” group
· SSSI or Nature Reserve
· Cooperation with wildlife or other groups
· Using the site responsibly and public engagement – if members of the public value the site then they will want to help protect it.
Increasing Geodiversity – can geologists work with site owners and memorial companies to encourage an increase in geodiversity? Or does that conflict with the concepts of preservation of local character? I have heard of some church graveyards banning Carrara Marble gravestones and words like “Nanna” from the inscriptions.
Warning - One last thing to be aware of if you lead a geological walk around a graveyard is there will nearly always be someone there that expects you to know where Aunty Edna is buried!
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