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So, it has finally arrived! My first academic article available for free on my blog.
Please click on the link below to access the .pdf version of the article, and please leave any thoughts on the article in the comments below.
This is an electronic version of an article published in Geology Today: complete citation information for the final version of the paper, as published in the print edition of Geology Today, is available on the Blackwell Synergy online delivery service, accessible via the journal’s website at http://www.blackwellpublishing.com/GTO or http://www.blackwell-synergy.com.
Find the latest update on this project in my Mapping the Geology of Skyrim post where I have produced a map of all the major rock exposures in Skyrim.
If you would like to follow the progression of this project please head over to the Dark Creations Forums where I am hosting my project on the Geology of Skyrim. Feel free to join and offer advice or assistance at any point!
To have a look at a quick summary of the comments on my articles on the geology of Skyrim, take a look at my post on How teaching science through video games can engage new audiences.
Here is a transcript of my recent Jan 2013 Science Showoff set on the geology of The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim.
Having seen that no-one has actually done this so far and published it on the web, I decided to put my geological knowledge to the problem and do a set on it! This will hopefully form the basis of a mod I will be making which looks at the geology of Skyrim which I think could be useful for educational purposes – see my initial post on this idea here.
Hello! My name is Jane and I love the video game Skyrim! So, to begin with, who actually knows what Skyrim is? (Luckily at this point there was a general excited murmur of consent that most people did actually know the game!)
For those of you that don’t know then, here is a little run-down of what the game involves…
It is a role playing game that means you can be any person you want and dress up in cool clothes (this is my outfit in Skyrim: Nightingale armour from the Thieves Guild FYI!)
You get to explore cool places (such as this Dwemer ruin)
Fight awesome monsters like Dragons…
And then of course claim the treasure…
But best of all (for me) is the scenery, and most importantly, the rocks:
So what I want to do tonight is take you through a little tour of what I think the geology would be in Skyrim. Namely, I think looking at the process of questions a geologist asks themselves when working out the geology of an area, and applying this to something cool and accessible like Skyrim.
The first question to ask therefore is what? What kinds of rocks can you find in Skyrim? Luckily, for most of this work, there are a whole host of other people in the world who are much geekier than me who have actually taken and collated and all I have to do is ask the right questions!
Here are the eight different kinds of rocks found in Skyrim. Not all of them are actually real however so the ones I will be discussing today are iron ore, gold ore, moonstone ore and malachite ore. Some notes: malachite is actually an ore in itself (of copper) and you do not get an ore of malachite; moonstone is a mineral and corundum is real (a mineral) but is found in Blackreach which is underground and cannot be shown on the Skyrim map.
So now, the next question we need to ask is where? Now we know what, it is logical to look at where they actually occur. This is taken from the extremely useful Skyrim Wiki, which has a run down of all the different rocks and all the places where you can find them, ordered from most deposits to least. I took the first entry for each rock, the place with the highest number of deposits.
Here we can see the spatial distributions of the four different rocks. The gold coloured one indicates where gold is found, red for iron, green for malachite and cream for moonstone.
Now we want to know how they actually got there. Lets take a look at how each of these rocks can form. There are different ways that each of these rocks can form, but for the purpose of tonight I will just take the most common formations.
Gold ore commonly forms in compression zones where landmasses push together, (commonly associated with mountain building) where metamorphism, or rocks undergoing change through heat and pressure, dehydrate. The release of fluids from the rock will take with it dissolved minerals which can include gold. When these fluids crystallise, in cracks within the rock,, you can find gold alongside other minerals like quartz and sphalerite (pictured). When these mountains that have formed erode over millions of years, the gold in the cracks is found in alluvium, or river sediments where people will then pan for gold.
Iron is most commonly derived from rocks referred to as banded iron formations. These are Precambrian in age – they are at least 2,400 million years old! These rocks are really exciting, because they actually represent the point at which organisms started photosynthesising and producing oxygen. At first, when bacteria began producing oxygen earlier around 2,600 million years ago the oxygen produced was chemically captured, forming iron oxide deposits as seen in the banded iron formations. Later, when much of the iron had been oxidised, free oxygen began to accumulate in the atmosphere until it reached a level similar to today’s. Banded iron formations therefore didn’t occur much after 1,800 million years ago. The banded iron formations commonly formed in the oceans, and the red bands of iron oxide are therefore mingled with oceanic fallout silica. As these rocks are so old, many of them have been deformed through metamorphism.
Malachite is a copper ore. It can be formed via fluid interaction of intrusive magma that has cooled at different times and depths. The fluids pick up dissolved minerals from the magma, and the fluids are later driven off during cooling of the magma. This causes zones of rocks which are enriched with various metals and other minerals precipitated in cracks within the rocks. This type of formation is commonly associated with copper ore and the veins and cracks carrying the mineralised rocks is called stockwork.
Moonstone is actually a mineral that geologists call feldspar. Feldspar is a rock forming mineral commonly associated with igneous rocks (formed from magma/lava). Shallow melting of the mantle (below the Earth’s crust) produces large volumes of magma that are rich in silica and therefore silica rich minerals including feldspar which is a silicate (contains silicon and oxygen). Cooling of this magma can lead to separation of feldspar which has more potassium and feldspar that has more sodium, forming lamellae of white and pink (to the naked eye) and black and white (under the microscope). This mixing of slightly different composition rock means that to the naked eye the feldspar looks shiny, and is why it is given the name moonstone.
Great, so now we have the how sorted from the rocks point of view, we should also really ask how they got there from a landscape point of view. To do this we need to take a look at the map and look at the geography – where the hills are and what they can tell us about how the area has formed.
Over in the west, where we see a couple of curvy lines with triangles on them, these mean that the land to the north east has been thrust on top of land to the south west. This is also called compression, which builds mountains, and could explain why we see mountains in the west around Markarth.
In the east, we see the Rift which holds the town of Riften. Maybe unsurprisingly, I see this area as being extended (or rifted apart) between the Throat of the World and the mountains adjacent to Eastmarch. The straight lines with squares indicate extension, where the land to the east has been displaced towards the east. This is also called a normal fault.
If this is the case on the map, then we could also infer that to the west of the Throat of the World there has been some further extension, which is why I have put arrows across the area of mountain building. This could also tell us that the thrusting occurred first, and that the extension occurred later.
The Throat of the World and the town of Solitude are therefore displaced above the rest of Skyrim, which could account for why we see the highest mountains there and the plateau where Solitude sits.
But what does this all mean?! Can we fit this large scale analysis together with the formation of the rocks? Does it all add up? Well, surprisingly the answer is yes.
And here it is! To recap: we have gold occurring over in the west, which is commonly associated with zones of compression and mountain building, found in streams in alluvium from the erosion of these mountains. Iron ore is commonly found in heavily metamorphosed rocks, and metamorphism is very commonly associated with areas of compression and mountain building. The land in the centre would have been thrust towards the south west to form the mountains in the west near Markarth, which therefore seems to make sense. In the east, we have malachite and moonstone occurring near the Rift – a zone of continental extension. It is very common at rifts/extension zones to have increased volcanic activity, as when continents pull apart magma will rise up to fill the space created.
And there you have it, the geology of Skyrim. Of course, this is all hypothetical not least because it is a video game but also because there may be other interpretations of the game, especially if you were to take a closer look at the structural formations in-game and better map the spatial distributions of the ores. However, it’s a start and I hope that this is useful to some interested people! As I also said at the beginning, I think that if this was to be done properly – and a mod made about the geology of Skyrim – then it could be a great educational tool and a fun step for science communication to a new and diverse audience.
Please feel free to contact me about this project by heading over to the Dark Creations Forum linked to at the beginning of this post, or through Twitter (@JLizRob) or email janeliz.robb [at] gmail.com!
N.B. I do not claim ownership/copyright of the images (apart from where I have edited over the maps).
This article was published in Museum Practice in September 2012 in their issue on starting your career in museums.
Taking on a Masters of Research in Heritage Science is a big task. Especially since the subject of mine was so interdisciplinary: it is about where geology and heritage meet, presenting an interesting and continually challenging environment to study in. This is especially important as the heritage field is itself constantly evolving, in a sector with so many innovative ideas and yet so small budgets. The best strategy for future students of the heritage sector is to ‘be prepared’.
Heritage Science is a relatively new discipline. Initially the term was coined in 2006 by the House of Lords’ report on ‘science and heritage’, bringing the discipline to life with respect to preservation of the UK’s national cultural heritage. In 2011, University College London began teaching the first course in heritage science, offered as a Masters of Research (MRes). The teaching part of the 2011/2012 course is now finished and the four pioneering students, including myself, are now well into our individual research projects on which our dissertations will be based. While studying for the masters, two of us are already involved in heritage organisations: Pimpim is a project manager in an Asian heritage fund, Gabrielle is a senior conservator in an archive. Tiphaine is undertaking the MRes as the first year in her engineering doctorate and I am pursuing the course as a stand-alone Masters.
The research projects range from analysing traditional Tibetan building materials; finding out what non-textual information users of archival objects require when accessing digitised archives; using terahertz technology to image archival objects we cannot open due to their physical condition and finally understanding what users value in museum geological collections. All of our projects are practice-driven and based on collaboration with heritage institutions such as the National Archives of the Netherlands and the Natural History Museum in London.
The heritage science domain is a highly interdisciplinary field and allows for a wide range of interests to be catered for. As students you meet a vast number of people who can help you along your way and improve communication skills with all types of professions: from artists to curators, conservators to engineers; you will find that working together is a challenge and a reward. Clashes of opinion may be common, but these enrich the creative scientific process. I believe one of the key skills for working in such a highly interdisciplinary sector is being able to communicate with this wide range of personalities and disciplines, and to learn how best to communicate and synchronise ideas.
The state of the sector’s economic affairs means that there is high competition for jobs. Having talked to fellow students of conservation, it appears that every job opening or even unpaid internship is a rush for the finish line. Luckily, in heritage science this is not so much of an issue. With two students already engaged and our vastly differing fields of expertise there will be little competition between each other for jobs, but this does not mean it will be easy to secure a future in the heritage sector.
My experience with the course has taught me a lot about the heritage sector, and although I went into the course with dreams of being a curator in a geological museum and now want to work with outdoor heritage, this shift in ambition is not due to any failing as part of the course (although I wouldn’t turn down an offer to be a curator!). If anything it has opened my eyes to the wide selection of avenues I can go down within the heritage sector and allowed me to develop new and exciting ideas for future research projects and career paths.
Looking to the future, after her doctorate Tiphaine would like to continue to work in terahertz technology, possibly as an independent consultant or working for an archive and using the technology she is pioneering. Gabrielle would like to see her current role become more research focused and ideally sees herself coordinating and stimulating further projects with the help of the MRes in introducing her to scientific practice. Pimpim and I would like to work towards further qualifications, either taking the form of an MPhil or PhD. My ambition would be to continue to work within the heritage sector but take a step back from collaborating only with museums and extend this to the outdoors, looking at cultural landscapes and our natural heritage.
To achieve our ambitions we have realised that one of the key issues is to engage with heritage professionals and organisations from an early stage. For me, becoming a member of the Museums Association was one of the first steps, as well as a member of the Institute of Conservation. In addition to this my project involves collaboration with as many professional societies associated with my field as possible. I would highly recommend this approach to anyone looking to enter the heritage sector, as even if job opportunities do not abound you will find you learn much more about your subject and other, new and exciting aspects of heritage you never even knew existed.
This article was published in the July 2012 issue of Rockwatch Magazine – the club for young geologists.
What does your geological collection represent?
It’s a big question, and it could be a number of different things: the geology of the country, area or town you live in, a set of beautiful colourful and fascinating objects that please you when you look at them or a wealth of scientific knowledge just sitting there ready to be unlocked.
My collection represents my childhood, my fascination with beautiful natural objects and the realisation of the wonderous, boundless knowledge that can be gained from each and every specimen. My collection represents the journey I took to become who I am today (although I still have far to go!).
To me, the meaning of my collection is something very personal, but other collections – like at the Natural History Museum in London and its great mineral gallery – may mean something entirely different. I see the past few hundred years of scientific discovery embedded in those rows of cabinets, and the histories of the people who donated specimens to the museum in the vast corridors of storage behind the scenes.
Collections mean different things to different people too. People will value collections differently and for many reasons, but not just in monetary terms.
Take Sir Arthur Russell, the 6th Baronet of Swallowfield Park near Reading who lived from 1878 to 1964. He was fascinated by minerals from a young age, and at 8 years old he had already visited his first working mine. From then on, he was hooked. His passion lay in piecing together a collection that represented the whole mineralogy of Great Britain and Ireland, and managed to create one of the most comprehensive collections of British minerals to date. His collection became extremely important and well known, and after his death even universities all the way across the Atlantic in the USA wanted part of his collection!
The collection meant everything to him: “It is my earnest hope and desire that this collection upon which I have bestowed so much loving care and so much of my life shall remain intact and be well cared for wherever it finds a resting place”, a quote from Sir Arthur Russell. Arthur’s collection now resides at the Natural History Museum in London in the hope that it would be kept in perpetuity, meaning that it will remain here forever.
The task of keeping objects in the way they were donated is harder than it sounds because all objects and materials will change over time, no matter how careful you are. This type of change is called degradation, and is caused simply by factors such as wear and tear through use, the storage environment (such as high or low temperatures or humidity – the amount of water in the air relative to the temperature) or the amount of light something is exposed to. These factors can cause changes such as breakage, crumbling or fading which alter the condition of the object relative to its original state in which it was given to the museum.
To help slow the process of degradation (a practice called conservation) museums come up with ideas to assess how the material’s condition has changed compared to the state it was originally documented in, and use this to decide how to conserve the material.
Think about your collections. Do you think they will last 100 years and end up in a museum? If so, what might you do to help make sure people can appreciate them like you do, and see the full value of your collections?
See http://www.russellsoc.org/russell.html or http://www.snh.gov.uk/about-scotlands-nature/rocks-soils-and-landforms/fossils-in-scotland/fossil-code/ on how to collect responsibly, or ask your local museum how to best care for your specimens when you get them home. If you would like to know more about the work I am doing take a look at https://geoheritagescience.wordpress.com/ .
This article was Published in the Geologists Association Magazine in June 2012 (Vol 11 No. 2).
I started collecting at a very early age. I was a toddler when I began to pick up my first rocks from the beach with my mum and dad, seven when I created my first properly displayed geological collection and eight when I won my first prize with Rockwatch for my ‘mineral museum’.
Sir Arthur Russell (1878-1964), the 6th Baronet of Swallowfield Park near Reading also began collecting at a very young age and by the time he was eight years old had visited his first working mine, a trip that helped develop a hobby and a passion that would stay with him for the next 78 years of his life. His stunning collection evolved into one of the most significant British regional mineral collections to date, comprising approximately 13,000 specimens and is one of the Natural History Museum’s largest and most significant stand-alone collections.
Russell collected almost half of the specimens himself; developing relationships with owners of other mineral collections and workers at important geological sites where he acquired many scientifically significant specimens that otherwise might never have been publicly available. Today, many of the localities he collected at have disappeared; consequently Russell’s specimens hold integral information on the geology, geography and cultural history of these sites.
The collection was left with the Natural History Museum in London on his death, as requested by Russell – to the great annoyance of other institutions, such as Harvard. In his will, he conditioned that the collection be stored in perpetuity, together in its original ten oak cabinets with his cataloguing system. The association of Russell’s original cabinets, labelling and cataloguing system mean that his collection does not only represent a near complete record of the mineralogy of the British Isles at the time of assimilation, but also an important historical and cultural resource.
The practice of keeping an object ‘in perpetuity’ is complex. To preserve something exactly as it is for ever is impossible, a problem all conservators and curators will be intimately familiar with. In heritage collections it is a fact that objects will become more fragile with time and the institution holding them will do their best to ensure the object is in the best condition relative to its original state. This process may involve preventive conservation measures to ensure that the possibility of degradation is limited.
To a casual visitor, it may be difficult to imagine the need to conserve a mineralogical collection. The truth is however that some minerals do degrade, sometimes causing catastrophic damage to the specimen or even to those around it. Because of the nature of the Russell Collection, this kind of damage may not only have implications for the scientific integrity of a specimen, but also the historical context. Mineral degradation can affect associated labels, rendering them unreadable, or worse, completely disintegrating them. In the case of Russell’s collection, part of its uniqueness lies in the labels handwritten by Russell himself in his characteristic script, so preventing loss of any aspect of his collection is essential.
In a climate where museums are under tough economic pressure, with severe cuts to funding and staff it may be more difficult than ever for museums to ensure that collections receive the care they need. Without heritage collections we would lack essential information that forms part of the basis of our extensive knowledge of the world today. What makes a collection such as Russell’s so unique is the range of values that can be associated with it – scientific, historical, educational, cultural, aesthetic and inspirational. It not only provides a significant mineralogical resource for researchers across the world, but also a historical record of people and places, that without the collection we may have known much less about.
Looking back to my own collection, (although far from the stunning host of Russell’s specimens!) it provided me with the notion that I wanted to work in museums with other geological collections. Since being introduced to The Russell Collection, it has inspired me to continue to pursue my aim through studying an MRes in Heritage Science at UCL and I am now about to embark on a project focusing on Russell’s Collection at the Natural History Museum. Through the project I hope to learn much more about museums and how to care for collections as well as how to contribute to the preservation and awareness of our great national geological resources.
For more information on The Russell Collection, The Natural History Museum or the work I am doing please visit: http://www.russellsoc.org/ , http://www.nhm.ac.uk/ , or https://geoheritagescience.wordpress.com/.
Here is an article I wrote for Museums and Heritage Online Comment section recently, addressing the students’ role in the future of the heritage sector: http://www.mandh-online.com/in_focus/content/1883/science_and_heritage_seeking_a_sustainable_future
“Heritage science is an emerging field. It combines many disciplines that really come together with two main purposes… both scientific and social… and engage[s] a range of disciplines to do that effectively.” Professor May Cassar, Director for the Centre for Sustainable Heritage at University College London (UCL) and Director of the AHRC/EPSRC Science and Heritage Programme.
Dr Matija Strlič, Senior Lecturer and Course Director of the MRes Heritage Science at UCL, explains: “Heritage science is about understanding heritage on various levels, the knowledge of the stories that the object can tell from a chemical level to a personal one but also something that spreads over to an interdisciplinary understanding of heritage management.”
Until recently, the science of heritage was disparate and fragmented. The field was in decline with less research funding available from the European Commission. This matter began to be addressed towards the end of the 20th century when pan European conferences began to be held on the subject of science and heritage. Independently, the House of Lords Science and Technology Select Committee chose to consider Science and Heritage in their 2005/6 programme of inquiries.
Prof. Cassar stresses how the heritage sector was lucky to have an inquiry shine a light on heritage science, particularly the issue of declining resources in the sector. This was preventing knowledge and expertise from being effectively passed on to new generations. The inquiry did not only coin the term ‘heritage science’ but its recommendations encouraged the development of courses to train and develop younger heritage professionals to deal with the demographic time bomb in the sector.
Prof. Cassar says: “All courses in the heritage sector should aim to extend the research and evidence base to enable better decisions on heritage management and use of resources.” Courses should challenge the ‘hands-off’ approach; heritage science should be open to as wide an audience as possible. But how useful are university courses in heritage science compared to professional experience?
Gabrielle Beentjes has been a senior conservator at the National Archives of the Netherlands for over four years and currently studies heritage science part-time at Masters level. She feels that the course is extremely useful to the heritage sector and especially for someone at her professional level. “It makes the heritage sector more aware of the possibilities of science,” she says, and hopes in the future to be more involved in co-ordinating and stimulating research through the skills the course has taught her.
According to Dr Strlič, “the biggest benefit courses will bring to the sector is that of a broad view of important research questions, and the ability of graduates to question, identify and answer real research needs in the field”.
But what is the future for the students of heritage science? In an age of austerity do new graduates fit into a sector that is littered with budget cuts?
Dr Strlič feels that it would be wise for heritage institutions to build capacity now, to embrace more conservation practitioners, including heritage scientists, in the future. Prof. Cassar notes that for this to happen, the heritage sector will, in the future, need to rely on itself more as the Government has been singularly lacking in moral leadership.
In an age of austerity, prospects for graduates might seem grim, but it is hoped that the heritage sector sees enough merit in the need for heritage science. With fresh approaches, it can look to itself for moral guidance and to provide new opportunities.