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A 3,000 Year Old Geological Map

According to ancient historians, gold in the kingdom of Egypt was as common as is sand in the desert. It´s true that Egypt exported for centuries large quantities, and even the Romans mined gold in Egypt (last attempts for gold mining were done in the 1950s). However, where the ancient mines were once located became forgotten over time.
Archaeologist Rosemarie and Dietrich Klemm discovered in the 1980s the lost mines following an ancient "geological" map. Discovered near modern Luxor (ancient Thebes) between 1814 and 1821, the papyrus/map was brought to Italy and is today hosted in the collection of the Museum of Egyptian History in Turin. The Turin papyrus dates back to 1,150 BC and  was prepared for an expedition led by Ramesses IV.

Reconstructed map of the Turin papyrus, image source. Pinkish-red= gold-bearing rocks, dark-green= rocks for construction.
Modern interpretation of geology , red=Hammamat-fm sandstone and volcanics, blue= Atalla-Serpentinite, yellow & green= Fawakhir-Granite.

The map shows the landscape around an unknown oasis. Inscriptions describe the "Mountain of the Gold”, the “Mountain of the Silver”, but also the location of the “Village of the Miners”, the "Temple of Amun", the streets to the (Red-) Sea and a street to Ta-menti (an unknown locality). The different colors of the map are inspired by the real colors of the rocks, reddish feldspar-granite (Fawakhir-Granite), dark Atalla-Serpentinite and Hammamat-Formation, and yellow for the sand of the desert. A dry river runs down the entire valley, eroding and transprting the rocks, as shown by the pebbles in different colors. A quarry of bekhen stone, a blue-green sandstone used to carve statues, is shown, as are many mines for gold. The most important indication was the location of a well near the village. Thanks to this well, archaeologists identified the area shown on the map. The ancient mountains of gold and silver are situated in the Wadi Hammamat, near Bir-Um-Fawakhir, an ancient miner settlement, almost 100km east of Luxor. Following the indications of the map into the field, the archaeologist discovered ancient signs of mining, like 50m long tunnels following quartz veins. The important veins are shown as lines in the Turin map. The gold is found as tiny fragments in the massive quartz, almost invisible to the naked eye. That ancient Egyptians found it, is a impressive evidence for their (emprical) geological knowledge. Already in 3,200 BC professional geological prospectors, called “sementi“, searched for deposits and veins of gold, to meet the demand of the divine pharao. Tutankhamun’s tomb alone was filled with more than 500 items, many made of pure gold. Following the veins into the mountain, the miners extracted the rock, crushing it, and washing the heavy gold out. Large deposits of quartz sand, the remains of the crushed rocks, still today testimony the hard work done by the ancient miners.

Will democracy survive climate change? - A lesson from the past

Allegory of volcanism as bringer of fortune (fertile soils) and destruction, by artist Alexandre-Évariste Fragonard (1780-1850) after a draft by French naturalist Joseph Nicolas Nicollet (1786-1843).

In June 1783 a volcano in Iceland erupted. Volcanoes are nothing unusual in Iceland, but this eruption, later referred as Laki,  was different. For eight months volcanic ash and gases poisoned the atmosphere over Europe changing the climate for years to come. In Europe the exceptionally hot summer of 1783 was followed by long and harsh winters until 1788. Crop harvests were poor and bread, essential for the large and poor population on the continent, experienced a massive price increase.

Map showing the lava flows of Lakagigar, from Magnus Stephensen "Kort Beskrivelse: Vester-Skaptefields-Syssel paa Island" (1785). The lava from the fissures ended up covering an estimated 2,500 km² (965 sq mi) of land.
At the time France was characterized by a great inequality between the poor peasants and the upper class. The rich aristocracy and the corrupted clergy lived in an own world, distant from daily problems. The lower and middle class had no political power despite its important role in economy and the king was to weak to control the aristocracy. Poor harvests and war expenditures resulted in an economic crisis and famine spread. In human history hunger was always a powerful agent of change. Italian officials noted in 1648 during a widespread famine that “it was always better to die by the sword than to die of hunger.” Women revolted on the streets demanding bread. July 14, 1789 5,000 citizens of Paris stormed the Bastille. Years of chaos followed. French lawyer Maximilien Robespierre instituted an authoritarian regime, culminating in 1793 with the execution of king Ludwig XVI. followed by 16.000 other people only in Paris. In 1799 Napoleon Bonaparte promised to bring order in those chaotic times and in the end declared himself emperor - celebrated by the same people that just some years earlier battled an absolute monarch. Even if the French Revolution is often seen as starting point for the modern Europe, democracy was predated by tyranny.

Georg Heinrich Sieveking’s “Execution of Louis XVI” in 1793.
Today we observe similar tumultuous times and a changing climate. However this time the changing climate is not the result of a short-lived volcanic aftermath. The warming caused by the anthropogenic carbon-dioxide emissions  into earth´s atmosphere will continue for the next centuries. Some research has suggested that a warmer climate will fuel future conflicts. Droughts can cause water and food shortages in less industrialized nations. In 2010 drought in Russia and too wet weather in Europa caused a 20% loss of crops harvest, prices in response were raised on the international market by 40 to 70%, also due speculations. China, also suffering from a poor harvest, stocked crop, causing ulterior shortages.
The increased costs, widespread unemployment and misery lead to riots and demonstrations in many North African countries. The chaos lead in part to installments of  governments controlled by the military and in Syria (hit also by a drought from 2006 to 2010) the civil war is still going on. The civil wars in Africa and Near East caused mass migrations of refugees to the first world countries, Europe was not ready for the onrush, causing a political chaos. In response many right-winged parties, promising simple solutions like walls or travel bans, gained support in many European countries (U.K., France, Germany, Austria, Italy). Right-wing politics promised also simple solutions in the United States. The poor and middle class fears migration as this implies to share already limited resources. The rich class supports such fears as it distracts from the real causes (less than 3% of the population controls more than 50% of the global wealth).
Travel bans and suppressing research about climate change doesn´t solve problems but simply hides the truth. Already authoritarian systems like Russia or China seem also best fitted to deal with future climate change. Such systems can suppress disadvantageous news about climate change effects but also react faster to impending disasters. China, dealing with severe environmental problems due its rapid industrialization, planted millions of trees in governmental controlled projects or simply limited traffic in cities. Such projects would need more effort, time and especially support by citizens in democratic systems.
In times of supposed chaos, overwhelmed by the problems (real or faked), we demand for simple solutions, as authoritarian systems can quickly promise (if they really will hold the promise is another problem), but simple is not necessary the right way.

Global Sea Temperatures As High As Never In Last 800,000 Years

The sea surface temperatures (SST) of the last interglacial, some 129,000 to 116,000 years ago, were similar to temperatures we are approaching nowadays. The Eemian was one of the warmest interglacial periods, short pulses of rapid warming during the longer ice ages, in the last 800,000 years. Sea level was 19 to 29ft higher as today as large portions of the polar ice melted. Until now the correlating sea temperatures were debated. A now published paper analyzed 104 previous publications dealing with sea surface temperatures in the past and as recorded in marine sediments. The temperatures were compared to modern reference periods spanning from 1870-1889 and 1995-2014.
At the beginning of the Eemian, 129,000 years ago,  SST were similar to the 1870-1889 period. 4,000 years later the temperature rose by 0.5°C with values similar to the second modern reference period from 1995-2004. The results suggest that most models underestimated the rate of modern sea surface temperatures rise in response to man-made climate change and that SST will still significantly rise in the future. With higher temperatures also the ice will melt as happened during the Eemian. A sea level rise of at least 19 to 29ft will significantly impact coasts all over the planet.

In the Dolomites during the Eemian temperatures were so high that vegetation could be found 3,200ft higher than today, this cave with cave bear remains was at the time probably surrounded by a forest, providing sustainment to the bears.

Fantastic Rocks and Where to Find Them – High Pressure Metamorphites

Only a small part of rocks are stable on earth´s surface, as widespread erosion and alteration shows. Magmatic rocks, like granite, crumble and minerals composing these rocks, like feldspar and mica, react with water to become soft clay. Similar things happen to metamorphic rocks, eroding under atmospheric conditions. Often metamorphites, formed deep within earth, quickly start to decay already during uplift. Especially unstable are metamorphic rocks formed under very high pressure (25-30 kbar) and temperature (650-700°C), conditions as found in earth´s crust in a depth ranging from 56 to 186miles (90-300km). One locality where such Ultra-High-Pressure (UHP) rocks are partially preserved are the Western Alps between Italy and France, in particular the Dora-Maira Massif.
Fig.1. Geological map of the Western Alps DM=Dora-Maira-Massif, by Phil Mair 85, source Wikipedia.

Here whiteschists, named after the white-greyish color, are embedded as large lenses in a thick layer of gneiss. The whiteschists are geologically speaking not true schist, as this term refers to low grade metamorphic rocks, but pyrope-quartzites. This rock is composed mostly of quartz with large garnets (pyrope) embedded within, also some other typical metamorphic  minerals, like kyanite (an aluminum bearing silicate), talc (a magnesium bearing silicate), phengite (a mica variety) and rutile (a titanium dioxide), can be found. 

Especially interesting is the presence of the high-pressure modification of quartz, called coesite, and the pink mineral ellenbergerite. Ellenbergerite is a complex magnesium-aluminum-titanium-silicate known only from the Dora-Maira-Massif and described for the first time as typical UHP mineral 30 years ago. The minerals are preserved as grains in large garnet crystals, the crystals acted like a pressure chamber preserving these unstable minerals. Both ellenbergerite, coesite and garnets formed when parts of the oceanic crust of the Penninic Ocean were subducted into a depth of at least 186miles. During the later uplift forming the Alps minerals like ellenbergerite and coesite adjusted to changes in pressure and temperature by decaying into other minerals, coesite becomes for example common quartz. However mineral grains entrapped in the larger garnets remained, like in a closed pressure chamber, under high pressure conditions and were also protected from circulating fluids. 

Fig.2. Outcrop of pyrope-quartzite. Some of the garnets embedded in the white quartz-phengite matrix are more than 10 inches in diameter, unfortunately very requested by mineral collectors only the casts remain here (geologist is sadly looking at the hole...)..

Fig.3. UHP rocks are rare even in the Dora-Maira Massif, as most decayed during uplift, adjusting to lower pressure and temperature. Evidence for medium-grade metamorphism during uplift is the presence of blueschists, here with blue glaucophane-amphibole and alterated garnets.

At the time of the discovery an unique find in the Alps, similar UHP rocks are nowadays described also from China and the German Erzgebirge.

Would You Kindly Help To Expand A Rock Collection

If you eventually enjoy my blogging or like the historic titbits I share on social networks and would show some gratitude - I´m not asking for money but rather some samples to expand a rock collection used for teaching purpose. If by chance you got some smaller samples (6x8x4cm/8x8x4cm or smaller would be enough) with basic info (where, when, who, what) to share, drop me a mail at HistoryGeology"add" to discuss details, direct contact and refund.


David Bressan

Of Love and Lava: A Geomythological Tale of Kilauea

The first colonists arrived on Hawai´i probably in the years 800-1.000. Lacking a written history their nevertheless developed a rich oral tradition, inspired in part by past events. 
One of the most important stories involves the volcano goddess Pele and her youngest sister Hi‘iaka. Once, so the myth, they arrived on Hawai´i and after a long search Pele decided to settle on the summit of Kilauea, since then also named Kalua o Pele, the pit of Pele. She send her youngest sister  Hi‘iaka‘aikapoliopele (generally shortened to Hi‘iaka) to search for Lohi‘au, a man Pele loved. The sister promised to bring him back to her and Pele promised as reward to her sister to spare the beloved forest of Hi‘iaka from fire and lava. Hi‘iaka had to overcome many obstacles, but finally she managed to bring Lohi‘au back to  Kilauea. However Pele had grown tired in the meanwhile and in a moment of anger she burned the entire forest.  Hi‘iaka for revenge take Lohi‘au and Pele, seeing the two together, became so envious that she killed Lohi‘au during a furious eruption. Hi‘iaka desperately searched for many weeks the corpse of Lohi‘au between the lava and rocks send by Pele.

Fig.1. On the rim of Pele´s pit, painting by P. Hurd, 1824.

It maybe is possible to interpret this myth in a geomythological way, linking it with features really found in the landscape and the geological history behind the formation of such features. The caldera of Kilauea is dated to 1470-1500 and also the Aila‘au flow (named after another Hawaiian deity), a large lava flow covering the north side of Kilauea, formed around 1470. Morphology and a well developed network of lava tubes suggest it formed during a single, prolonged volcanic eruption of Kilauea. The historic date makes it seems reasonable to assume that the event was watched by the locals and possibly the event was recorded and passed from generation to generation in form of a myth. The destruction of Hi‘iaka´s forest by the furious Pele could describe the lava burning down the vegetation around the crater, suggesting also that before this eruption enough time passed from the previous eruption to grow a dense forest. Also the last part of the myth is interesting.  Hi‘iaka moves and throws rocks into air during her search, maybe the description of an explosive eruption or explosions resulting from the lava coming into contact with groundwater or the sea.


The interpretation of myths in geological light helps also to better evaluate the risk, as eruption style of former volcanic events and the impact on the society can be reconstructed in more detail than just from studying the volcanic deposits.

Interested in reading more? Try: 

SWANSON. D.A. (2008): Hawaiian oral tradition describes 400 years of volcanic activity at Kilauea. Journal of Volcanology and Geothermal Research 176: 427–431