Wednesday, 29 June 2011

Knew it

A woman is sitting beside a couple of amethyst geodes.

'Are these made in volcanoes?'
'Not directly, no, but there can be a link. The crystals of amethyst gradually grow into cavities in a rock, which can be sedimentary or igneous. Very often, though, the original cavities are related to volcanic activity - they can be bubbles of gas in lava flows. When the lava cools and hardens the pockets of gas are trapped. These little caves can then be filled with mineral growth as the material the crystals need to form and grow is washed through the rock with the movement of groundwater.'
'Ah. I knew it. Because they look like volcanoes, don't they?'

Friday, 17 June 2011

Show time

I leave on Monday for the show in Sainte Marie aux Mines in Alsace. Work, you know. Let's leave aside the fact that it's a beautiful place surrounded by vineyards, wooded valleys and peaceful farmlands. That the Kronenbourg brewery is in nearby Strasbourg. And that I'm staying in a lodge on an organic apple orchard with a group of friends. With a big barbecue area. Leaving all of that aside - this is a work trip.

On the list for this trip are lumps of North Sea mammoth, French ammonites, German urchins, Belgian brachiopods, Russian meteorites, Brazilian agates, Peruvian clams and Moroccan trilobites. Although it's a far smaller show than Tucson, people do travel from far and wide to sell there. I wonder if part of that is just because it's an amazing place to spend a little time. Remember - I do this so you don't have to. I know, I know. You're welcome.

Friday, 10 June 2011

Is there anybody out there?

Different meteorites contain different stuff. Not a revelation, and I've probably mentioned this before. Most that are found are iron, but most that fall are stony meteorites - chondrites. There are a wide range of chondrites, but possibly the most important ones, for a very specific reason, are the carbonaceous ones.

Carbonaceous chondrites have organic content  - and again there is quite a range. They are not common, and the challenge is to find as wide a range as possible - to try to form as complete a picture as possible. This will then provide a fair estimation of the 'starting point' of organic matter at the time the solar system, and Earth, were formed some 4.55 billion years ago. A line of thinking being researched now is common-source hypothesis, which suggests almost all organics are derived from a single source and that the early diversity stems from exposure to hydrothermal activity in their host bodies.

One of the biggest questions science faces is the origin of life. Evolution provides a comprehensive answer to the diversity and complexity of life, but so far the very beginnings are still to be revealed. It's a hot topic and there are many hypotheses currently being explored, but one that has come to prominence in recent years has been the idea that life, or at least the means to it, came to Earth from space. Not in a shiny silver rocket or flying saucer, but by way of a meteorite. This possibility is looking increasingly likely.

It follows that if the vast majority of organics in our solar system come from a solitary source that was being spread at the time of formation, the other planets were likely to have received their share. And, further to that, had the common source been outwith the system to begin with, surely the same material would be more widespread than just our solar system; would probably be elsewhere. Out there. Quick! To Area 51! Or whatever it is.

Friday, 3 June 2011

Mr Wood

A guy walking past as I put the sign out the other day suggested changing the shop's name to Mr Stone's Fossils. A few friends asked when I bought the business whether it would become Mr Dale's Fossils. But it's not a name pulled from the air - there is a Mr Wood, and he set up the business in the first place. They really were Mr Wood's fossils.

Stan Wood was in the merchant navy. He sold insurance. And then he found a fossil, whilst walking his dog, and fossils took over his life. Something about his find sparked his interest and he quickly learned more on the subject. Stan has a vital thing for fossil hunters - the eye. Where others see rocks, he sees fish. It didn't take Stan long to become an expert in the obscure fauna of Scotland's Palaeozoic, and he worked with Glasgow University's Hunterian Museum and others to provide scientifically important material for study. During this time he discovered the famous Lizzie - Westlothiana lizziae - and the shop's logo, the stethacanthid shark Akmonistion zangerli, as well as a host of other rare and wonderful animals. Stan has not only featured in a series by that hero of natural history, David Attenborough - Lost Worlds and Vanished Lives - but was also the subject of his own BBC documentary, Stan, Stan, the Fossil Man. He has a string of creatures named after him and a discovery record to match any. As fossil hunters go, he's a celebrity. And he's still going, wading through the rivers of The Borders to find material that will soon be on display in a special exhibition in the National Museum of Scotland, before touring the country.

It's a name to be proud of, so it's always going to be Mr Wood's Fossils.