The Sedgwick Museum of Earth Sciences Blog

Matthew Hollis at the Sedgwick Museum

13th March 2013 | 0 Comment(s) | The Sedgwick Museum of Earth Sciences

Imagine you could take a photograph of your life. Not of a moment in your life, but a photograph that captured your whole life, beginning to end. And imagine that same photograph could also capture your parents’ lives, and their parents’, and in fact everyone’s life who had ever lived. Now let’s imagine that photograph could do more: that it could record a time before human beings, when animals were not like those that we see today, when dinosaurs were youngsters. Ridiculous, you say, no photograph could be so large or could move across time in this way. But rocks are and rocks do. Granted, you cannot see the particular outfit you were wearing on a particular day simply by peering into a rock, but you can learn much about what the world was like at a given time. We know that fossils lock-in life forms that can introduce us to creatures no longer alive; but we don’t need the animal to be present to learn about life on Earth. Iron oxide within a rock may tell us about the changing presence of oxygen in the atmosphere, which in turn allows us to establish the likely kinds of life that the environment supported at the time. Some minerals inform us about temperature: the presence of salt can point to a warmer era when the seas evaporated faster than at other times; till can indicate a period of glaciation. Pollen spores trapped in a rock offer evidence of plant life that allow us to colour the planet with vegetation and picture the kind of creatures that lived off it. In other words, there are clues in the make-up of any rock that indicate what our lives might have been like at the time, if indeed we were living at all. Clues about the air, the seas, the climate, animals, vegetation, food: clues about our ever changing planet, clues about time. Of course decoding these clues takes skill and experience, and fortunately the Sedgwick Museum in Cambridge is a hive of such skill and experience. But there is another element that the museum relies upon which you don’t need to be an expert to possess: and that’s curiosity. For two weeks in March and April this spring, I shall be drawing upon mine when I will be Poet in Residence in the Sedgwick Museum. If you at all share my curiosity towards time and the changeable Earth then do come along with me to the museum this spring to peek into the world locked inside of rocks. You might catch me attempting to put curiosity into words. You might catch yourself putting it into words of your own.


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