The Earth

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Theme Convener: Sonia Withers ◦ Display Designer: Robert Gutmann

The ways in which we satisfy this desire of ours to discover and explore vary with the times. It has never been far from the surface, and about a hundred and thirty years ago, for example. it began to assert itself with remarkable persistence. Clapperton was in the West African jungle, Oxley had started on the first great adventure into the heart of Australia. Franklin was discovering new lands in remote Canada and Ross and Parry were searching for the Northwest Passage. At the same time, a very different kind of exploration was beginning in our own countryside – exploration downwards to discover the nature and structures of the rocks that lie deep down beneath our feet. The pioneer was William Smith.

Exploration downwards

The exploratory work of Smith and others that joined him did not demand great courage or physical endurance, it called for patient observation, honest piecing together of clues and an outstanding scientific imagination that enabled them to visualise underground structures from the piecemeal evidence the rocks gave when they came to the surface. Vital, too, was their realisation that the relative ages of rocks could be read from the fossil remains they contained. How this is done is shown by the displays in this section. The “Land of Britain” also shows how animal life has changed throughout the ages.

Smith made the first geological map of Britain. In doing so, he used a method of recording observations and the probability of underground structures which is now indispensable to all of mans workings in the outer crust of the Earth.

The importance of this new science, founded by Smith, Hutton, Lyell and others, was soon recognised officially. Britain created the first Geological Survey, and showed the world how valuable this science can be when it is organised for the service and development of whole countries. Without it, recovery of the Earths hidden riches – coal, oil, minerals and the rest – would still be a very haphazard affair.

Recent years have brought us new tools with which we can explore even deeper. Modern borings can now recover cores from depths nearly twice the height of Ben Nevis; physicists have not only wrested new knowledge from the study of earthquake waves but have created devices for studying the depths of the crust by waves they create themselves. Much of this work has been stimulated by the increasing need to discover new oil fields.

The earth within

Gradually, then, the secrets of the Earth within are being revealed. Its age is about 3,400 million years. The crust upon which we live, mountains and all, is no more than the skin is to an apple. We know that under this crust the Earth is not quiescent, it has a liquid layer, alive with eddies and currents. It is this liquid rock, thrust up when the thin crust turns, as it were, in its uneasy sleep, that eventually gives rise to the pockets and veins of minerals and metallic ores on which our way of life depends.

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Mineral wealth

These minerals and ores are part of the well-founded riches of the Commonwealth countries. Some of them we have here at home, some we have had but they are now worked out, and the experience we gained in mining them or extracting them from their ores has been passed out overseas. There are few of these resources that the Commonwealth cannot now provide: gold, silver, nickel, tin, copper, lead and zinc are a few of the metals, diamonds for industry as well as for jewellery, asbestos and mica with their multitude of uses. Many of these are displayed in this section of the Exhibition.

Archæology

The story of this field of exploration, as we tell it here, returns to the surface, then, with the extruded molten rock and the mineral wealth it holds, yet there is still a part of it to tell – the chapters revealed by those who explore the latest shelves in this library of the past, the archæologists. It is they who have pieced together the histories and ways of life of past civilisations, some so ancient that they have not even left records incised on bricks or stone.

The great citadel of Mohenjo-daro overlooking the Indus, the great Ziggurat on the plain at Ur, the gorgeous palace of King Minos in Crete – these are just three of the lost achievements of the past that the method and imagination of British archælogists have brought to light again to aid us when we pause to think about the progress of mankind.

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