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Friday, 8 February 2013


Sometimes rocks are holey because they are softish.
As they wear through the years,
harder stones and fossils fall out. 
Sometimes it's the other way round.
There are some aspects of time and geography which fascinate and elude me. If I'm cold, I wouldn't walk a few hundred yards down the road looking for a better climate. Wherever we live, we take it for granted that the temperature in one street will be the same as the ones either side of it. But, if the temperature of every street is the same as the ones which runs parallel and near, how can some parts of the world be incredibly hot and others way below zero? I can see that a cloud might run out of rain - but can I catch the moment when water comes to the boil?

This rock holds different kinds of memories.
Some are shells but there are also
long things which might be . . .
might be the muddy casts of burrows
and root holes?

Some changes have gradations so slight, the difference between one and the next is imperceptible. There are others where things change from one state of being to another in single or multiple lurches. Some can be explained by chemistry or physics. Others not. What about accent? From left to right on a map, Devon, Dorset and Hampshire are in a row. They have no big-deal borders like rivers and mountain ranges - just road signs. But they have their own, distinct, accents and elements of dialect. How can that be?

With some rocks, it's not so much that they
contain stones but that they are themselves
made up of several kinds which means
different parts wear away in different ways.
Here, some are cracking and flaking.
Others are eroding more evenly.

And dinosaur footprints - I have no trouble understanding that mud, given time, can turn to rock (and vice versa). But how can a footprint in it stay undisturbed long enough for it to be set in stone for ever? Imagine being a dinosaur wandering across some mud and  yours being the last feet to walk there for millennia! Imagine how odd it would be to have such significance and not to know it! But how can it be that no-one ever goes there again? Or that winds, rains and tides don't blur or rub them away? It's eye-wide-opening, awe-inspiring stuff!

Dinosaur footprints have been found on Portland and on the Isle of White. I'm always hoping I might find one (or a few - can you imagine that!) where I walk. No such luck! The kind of pre-history I clamber over is made from shells and different kinds of rock which have folded and squashed and muddled together and which are constantly cracking and eroding to reveal new layers.
That a shell sinks into mud and stays there for ever; that, I can understand. But footprints?

If, in the future, people find human footprints,
maybe they will be as interested
in our various kinds of footwear
as I am in the different kinds of rocks.

Remember in the last post, I mentioned that a great groove had been dug in the path down to the sea and that it seemed to lead to a burrow? Well, the first dig seems to have set a trend. The route is getting more and more churned. Whether dogs are scrabbling for rats or what . . . I don't know . . . but there are little holes and pits all over the place and the step created by the rut has collapsed into an even steeper step. Rain and feet are taking their toll too. It looks as if someone's foot has gone right through the ground into a burrow below. Mud is oozing into the crack, filling and distorting it.

Our footprints will say something
about the routes we took.
Did we go up and down the same track
or did we go home a different way?

Someone, or some people, informally maintain the path. Somebody must bring secateurs when the brambles stick out too far. Sometimes it looks as if someone has scattered cindery stuff to keep the grip underfoot. I don't imagine the path will be abandoned . . . but, what if it is? What if it gets too slippy and too much of it collapses into burrows? Other paths nearby, paths which run parallel with the sea rather than down to it, have cracked and fallen away taking great chunks of mud and footprints with them.

The nice thing about being bewildered by time is that you can imagine almost anything happening. If a dinosaur pottered along and no-one went that way again - what if our path is abandoned and human footprints are preserved the same way? The earth is soft and flakey. I expect rain will slur everything to mush . . . but . . . what if it doesn't?

If our footprints are preserved, they may
 tell stories of how evenly we
balanced our weight, how different kinds
of footwear gave different grips.
They may indicate emotion
"Oh, help, I'm slipping!"

In England, there are probably few of us who have problems with the idea of evolution but I realise this blog is read by people across the world so it may be worth adding a post-script. When I say how extraordinary I find it that footprints can be left undisturbed for so long that they have time to get set in stone - I say this in the same way as I might look at a seed and wonder how on earth it could possibly turn into a tree. I say it in awe and with excitement, not in disbelief. If ever you get a chance to see the bendings-over, the scrolls and folds of rocks in the cliffs at Charmouth and Lulworth, you will easily see how old fossils and rocks can land up on top of newer ones - something that must be very puzzling to people digging from top down instead of seeing the earth in cross-section.

What's more, there must be a wonderful unwritten history of what people made of fossil deposits in the hundreds and hundreds of years before Darwin. Mary Anning sold fossils. She didn't discover them. What did people make of the skulls and teeth of the unknown creatures that have been falling out of these cliffs for as long as the sea has been beating against them? They didn't suddenly appear in the nineteenth century. By then (and by definition) they had been there an awful long time!

Human footprints from pre-history on Formby Beach. Thanks to Tim at Notes of Nature for the link.
Extra link - February 11th 2013 - Landslide at Lyme Regis (Dorset) - 300 metres of cliff have fallen. If you look at the picture, you'll see some of the geological layers.


  1. Well I live so far up a hill that I actually do have different weather form my neighbours. The recent snow shows it. Yesterday evening coming home they had no snow - the snow started pretty much in a line, I suppose aobut twelve metres wide, up the hill half way home.

  2. Hi Rosemary. I've seen snow do that. Whether or not it makes sense of contours, it seems to. As far as the main point goes though - presumably, when you go down the hill the other side, it's going to be roughly the same as before you went up? Or maybe there's more rain on one side than the other? That sometimes happens.

  3. Hi Lucy,
    Cool post. I thought you might be interested to see the ancient footprints at Formby: http://youtu.be/ULW76HlxjXA

  4. Fascinating video, Tim. Didn't know about the Formby footprints. (And what a wonderful beach!)

  5. Great post linking our footsteps to those of the dinosaurs. Those footsteps on Formby beach were amazing too!
    Sarah x

  6. Thanks Sarah. I was a bit apprehensive about this week's post. Whenever I was free to go out with my camera it was either raining or dark. I took these pictures on a dark day. (The sunny times were all when I was busy indoors.)

  7. Mary Anning: I did not know about her. I used the link and learned. Thank you. Interesting post.

  8. Hello Barbee. I'm so pleased to see your comment here. The blogosphere doesn't seem quite right when you are silent.

    Mary Anning is interesting, isn't she? If she had been wealthy and male, she would have been much more famous. As it is - she is made much of in Dorset!

  9. Your first photo looks like fossilized Ciabatta!

  10. Hi, Mark. A little harder on the teeth, I imagine. (Depending on your baker.)

  11. the other side of diverse languages (in Switzerland) and dialects across a short geographical distance - is England and America divided by a common language. And the Atlantic Ocean. Way down South, I speak English too!

  12. A fascinating post, and interesting pictures.
    I perhaps won't view my muddy plot in quite the same way again! Flighty xx

  13. Hi, Diana - it's all pretty weird, isn't it, the way things work?

    Hi Flighty, I imagine your plot gets dug over often enough not to turn to stone, footprints or no!

  14. Enjoyable post, Lucy, made me smile this gray morning. Maybe some mud will slide down on top of your tracks and bury them before they can be disturbed. After the whole business is turned to rock, a creature of the future will split the layers and find them and be excited by the mystery :-)

    I followed some of the links ... wow, you have spectacular geology! I see why the area is a World Heritage site.

  15. Hi Hollis. Yes the geology is spectacular here. The rocks, the cliffs, the non-stop fossils, everything - all are so striking that even people like me can't fail to notice that it's all something special. But it's also always-going. The sea is merciless.

  16. I love the shots that you used to illustrate your points....

    A thought provoking post Lucy....


  17. Lucy, that was fascinating. Did you know Oklahoma is set in an ancient flood plain? We were part of the sea at one time, and we find dinosaur bones still occasionally in part of the state. Our mountains are worn and old grooved things because of their age. It's a wondrous thing, the Earth.~~Dee

  18. Hi, Dee. How nice to read your comment. The Earth is, indeed, a wondrous place. I didn't know Oklahoma was once a flood plain! Some thought! Quite a lot different from your more recent climate and drought! I've just looked at the map - and Oklahoma has Texas between it and the sea now. How the world shifts and changes! (Lot of exclamation marks there. But these are the kinds of ideas/concepts that need them!)

  19. I love how footprints are frozen in snow even as the snow melts....you see the footprint all the way down as it melts...and then again with new snow they start all over again.

  20. Dear Everybody. After posting this article about rocks and footprints - There's been a 300 metre landslide from the cliffs at Lyme Regis. (At the western end of Dorset.)

    This link


    takes you to the short local newspaper report about it. The picture is interesting because it shows something of the geological layers.

    Whenever this happens, new fossils are revealed.

  21. Thanks for the link Lucy. Will you be on the look out for some fossils?

  22. Very interesting post. I can't help but think that the archeologists of the future will be very bored with the quantity of waste they will be tripping over every time they dig a hole. Somehow a dinosaur footprint has a lot more magic than remains in a landfill site :-)

  23. Hello Easygardener. I think I will disagree. Although I worry that future archaeologists will have to be careful about old batteries and other dangerous chemicals, I've often thought they'll have a field day in old landfill sites. The big industrial ones will (hopefully) be very time specific. Archaeologists will have objects galore to browse through and lots of evidence of what twentieth century people ate.

    Hi, Tim. You mean where the cliff has fallen at Lyme Regis? No,I'll not be fossil hunting there - at least, not soon. In theory it's not far but it is if you don't have a car - and I don't! That's one thing. The other is that it will all be cordoned off. One of the problems they have after a landslide is keeping fossil hunters away! It can be really dangerous. Last summer, part of the cliff along this coast fell on someone who was on the beach as part of her holiday.

  24. Meant to comment on this post earlier. Always enjoy how you take the basic elements of our everyday life and make an exciting read and gallery. Love it...thank you Lucy!
    Thanks for so many great links too!