Cabinet of Curiosities

Down To Earth

My collecting has gotten me into some strange places and tight squeezes over the years, but it is all such fantastic fun.

Head stuck in a hole
Quartz crystal cluster

I have always been absolutely fascinated by geology. Rocks are essentially combinations of minerals, which in turn consist of different elements blended together. Take granite as an example. This igneous rock is made up of three minerals namely quartz, mica and feldspar. Quartz is the commonest mineral on earth and occurs in most rocks. In granite it appears as small crystals that look almost like pieces of glass from a shattered windscreen. The mica is the laminated, shiny silver or blackish flecks and the feldspar forms the main matrix of the rock and comes in a variety of colours including grey, green, red and buff. It formed as molten rock or magma slowly cooled and solidified deep underground and around 420 million years ago this is how the granite that now makes up the bulk of the Dublin-Wicklow Mountains originated.

Selection of granites
Gneiss, Blacksod Bay, Co. Mayo

One of Ireland’s oldest is a metamorphic rock called gneiss. Found at a number of locations, including Blacksod Bay in Co. Mayo, it is a foliated rock, meaning that the different constituent minerals appear as a series of distinct layers or bands. The rock is around 1 billion years old and consists of quartz, mica and feldspar. This suggests that the gneiss may well be a much older metamorphosed granite.

The earth was dominated by dinosaurs, a diverse range of giant reptiles, for 180 million years. Among the earliest to be discovered, just over 200 years ago, was the iguanodon, the first specimen of which came to light in 1822 in Sussex, England. The name derives from the similarity in the morphology of their teeth with those of modern-day iguanas, a favourite haunt of which are the Galápagos Islands, off the Ecuadorian coast. Averaging 10 metres in height and weighing in at 4.5 tonnes they were an impressive animal and first appear in the early Cretaceous Period sometime around 140 million years ago. Their fore-feet were equipped with a feature we call a thumb-spike and this was probably put to use when the animal had to defend itself. On several sites the fossilised remains of numbers of iguanodons grouped together have been revealed and this suggests that they may have been a herd animal. Their fossilised remains are commonly found on the Isle of Wight, England.

Fossil tail vertebra of iguanodon, 125 million years old

Scientists calculate that the Earth formed around 4.6 billion years ago when our Solar System came into existence. Sometimes rock fragments originating in deep space manage to fall to Earth and these are known as meteorites. Each year tens of thousands of them enter our atmosphere, most mere dust particles, the majority of which melt away before reaching the ground or sea. They are visible as momentary bright trails streaking the dark night sky as they burn up and are known by the familiar name ‘shooting’ or ‘falling stars’. In 1576 a large meteorite was discovered by the Spanish Conquistadors in Argentina. They named the find spot ‘Campo Del Cielo’ – ‘Field of Heaven’. When it fell to Earth thousands of years ago it fragmented and so the surrounding landscape is pitted with impact craters from the individual pieces. Rich in iron, the meteorite had apparently been used by indigenous Indians as a source of metal. It is estimated to be around 4.5 billion years old. The fragment of this meteorite in my hand weighs 3 kgs.

Campo Del Cielo meteorite
Outdoor photographic studio

I have thoroughly enjoyed opening my Cabinet of Curiosities for you over the last couple of weeks and writing the daily blogs. I hope you found them a pleasant and welcome distraction each day from the challenging times we find ourselves in. The images were mostly composed on a makeshift outdoor photo studio, the background fabric of which you will readily recognise, and taken with my iPhone.  Appearing on occasion in the role of ‘specimen holder’ and ‘scale’, my wife Lindi has been an indefatigable help throughout the compilation of the series and my heartfelt appreciation is recorded here. Finally, thanks are due to you the reader, without whose continued interest the project would never have run its full course.



© Vincent Butler Heritage 2020