The geological setting of Fort Necessity, Pennsylvania

October 11th, 2014

Great Meadows 101114On July 3, 1754, colonial lieutenant Colonel George Washington fought and lost a small battle on this site in southwestern Pennsylvania. He and his 400 men had built this makeshift fort about a month before in anticipation of an attack by several hundred French soldiers and their Indian allies. The French were incensed at Washington and his troops after they killed or captured most of a French party at the Battle of Jumonville Glen two months before. (Accounts vary as to who was at fault for that deadly encounter as France and Britain were not at war.) The Battle of Fort Necessity was just one day long, and the British under Washington had the worst of it. Washington accepted French surrender terms and he and his men were allowed to march home. This pair of skirmishes between the French and British started the French and Indian War,  known outside of the USA as the Seven Years’ War. It quickly became a global fight between empires; in many ways it was the first modern world war. And it all started in this lonely part of the Pennsylvania country.

Washington chose to place his ill-fated fort, a reconstruction of which is shown above, in a high grassy spot known as the Great Meadows. It is situated near two passes in the Allegheny Mountains, and thus sits strategically beside major trails. Washington liked the area because there was plenty of feed for his pack animals and horses, lots of available water (too much, it turned out), and it was not in the midst of the endless woods of the region.
Screen Shot 2014-10-12 at 5.19.55 PMThis geological map of the area (from the National Park Service) shows that the fort was situated on the Upper Carboniferous Glenshaw Formation. This unit has much clay, trapping water in the thin soil above (“Philo Loam“). Further, the area is a floodplain, thus making the area a kind of wetland with grasses and sedges. Great for horse grazing, not so good for walls, buildings or trenches.
Entrenchments 101114Here we see the shallow entrenchments made by Washington and his men as they awaited attack. The clayey soil and pouring rain made a mess of these boggy trenches.

Fort inside 101114Inside the fort was a simple square building used mainly to keep supplies and wounded men dry, During the battle it was partially flooded with rainwater.

British view 101114This is the British view from the fort of the surrounding woods. Washington miscalculated his placing of the fort because the French and Indians could easily hit it with musket shots while hiding among the trees.

French Indian view 101114The French and Indian view of the hapless fort. It was easy to rain bullets on the British from the woods with little fear of the return fire.

Braddock road trace 101114Nearby is a trace of the military road Washington’s unit had blazed through the Pennsylvania woods on their way to the French Fort Duquesne in what is now Pittsburgh. The British General Edward Braddock enlarged this road the next year in his famous march to a spectacular defeat nearby (the “Battle of Monongahela“).

We can’t fault Washington too much for his choice of a fort location. He did not have the resources to clear a large patch of forest, so the meadow would have to do. He expected to be reinforced soon, so he saw the fort as a temporary measure of protection. The rain was beyond his control that July day, and the clay-rich meadow floor ensured wet misery and ruined supplies. The French surprisingly gave good terms for surrender because they were wet, too, in those woods, and they also expected more British and colonial troops would arrive soon. They feared being surrounded, and so thought their message to Washington and his countrymen had been sufficiently made. How different our world would be if the French were not so generous here in southwestern Pennsylvania!

Additional Reference:

Thornberry-Ehrlich, T. 2009. Fort Necessity National Battlefield Geologic Resources Inventory Report. Natural Resource Report NPS/NRPC/GRD/NRR—2009/082. National Park Service, Denver, Colorado.

Shenyang, China

July 3rd, 2014

Shenyang Palace 070314SHENYANG, CHINA — My first post from astonishing China. I’ve been here about a day and a half now and am simply floored by all I’ve seen and experienced. I’ve seen a fair bit of the world, but no place like China. I’m providing here just a few images of Shenyang as just a taste of the adventure. We are twelve time zones away from Wooster, so I’m still feeling too ragged to write much prose. The image above is of Shenyang Imperial Palace, sometimes called by its old name Mukden Palace. It was built in the 17th Century by the first emperors of the Qing Dynasty, the last dynasty in China. This is the iconic Dazheng Hall, where the emperors held court surrounded by their Manchu cohorts. It is all stone and heavily laquered wood. The red color signifies happiness, the yellow royalty, and the green (not unexpectedly) the glories of nature.

Yongli 070314This is Zhang Yongli, my Chinese host and now good friend. He took me to the Palace this morning as both an introduction to China and a chance to walk around a bit to dispell the fog of travel. (It was 27 hours from Cleveland to my hotel in Shenyang. I will feel it for awhile!)

Shenyang Palace map 070314This is a map of the palace. It is the only Imperial Palace outside of the Forbidden City in Beijing. It was, in fact, modeled on its Beijing equivalent, but it has a distinctly northern flavor of Manchu culture.

karstic stones 1 070314The geological notes here include most notably these naturally-eroded limestones from southern China used as statuary in one part of the palace. All the hollows and holes in these smooth limestones were produced by karstic weathering in a very humid climate. The Chinese call them “lake stones” and very much appreciate their elegance.

Shenyang busy street 070314Outside the quiet palace is the very busy business district of Shenyang. Traveling by taxi through this city of over six million people is extraordinary. Somehow it all works, though, and people get to where they’re going by foot, bicycle, bicycle-cabs, carts, trucks and cars.

Shenyang morning 070314And this, finally, is the view from my hotel window. I’m staying in a hotel owned by my hosts at Northeastern University very close to campus. Tomorrow we leave for Guizhou Province in the south (a five-hour set of flights) and begin our fieldwork in Carboniferous reefs.

More later!

 

Wooster Geologist in London at the British Museum

June 22nd, 2014

Front BM 062214LONDON, ENGLAND — I arrived late last night in London after a series of delays in my departure from Poland, so I was pleased that today was a Sunday so I could chill a bit before work with Paul Taylor tomorrow. If I can visit one place in London (other than the Natural History Museum, of course) it is always the British Museum (above). As you can see, the weather was spectacular — and the crowds took advantage of it. I thought I’d just highlight a set of exhibits that is very cool, despite the fact that few visitors seem to spend much time with it.

Enlightenment textIt is the “Enlightenment: Discovering the World in the Eighteenth Century” gallery. I think it is well done and highly evocative, at least for scientists. My favorite part is there on the right end: “The Natural World”.

Enlightenment cabinetThe cases are deliberately old-timey to evoke the “cabinets of curiosity” 18th Century polymaths had for their collected treasures. In fact, some of these cabinets themselves date back to that period. Here we see rocks, fossils, plants and animals collected by Enlightenment explorers, philosophers, historians, and just plain rich guys. These were the very specimens that thrilled and puzzled some very great minds — not that we don’t have plenty of mysteries remaining about them.

Mastodon BM 062214This is a mastodon jaw (Mammuthus americanum) collected “near the Ohio River” and given to the museum in 1768. It was called “The Unknown American” and thought to be from some extinct carnivorous elephant-like beast.

Smith fossils BM 062214My favorite set of fossils here was collected and used by the famous William “Strata” Smith (1769-1839)  in his pioneering work on geological correlation and mapping. Fossils like these were crucial to working out the relationships of rock layers (“strata”) and early concepts of Earth history. There is something inexplicably enchanting about seeing objects handled by past luminaries.

Schist sarcophygusOn an unrelated but geological note, I have a complaint about a small number of the displays. This ancient Egyptian sarcophagus is an example. What is the rock type here? I’d say a basalt or maybe a fine-grained granodiorite (like the Rosetta Stone).

Schist closer BM 062214Here’s a closer view of the sarcophagus. The sharpness of the carving shows how fine-grained and massive this rock seems to be. (I know the rules — no scratching the artifacts to test their properties.) But what does the sign say?

Schist signBlack schist? No way. Schist is foliated and flakey and most decidedly not massive and so superbly suited to carving. Maybe someone will correct my notion of “schist”, but right now I’m certain this part of the label is wrong. I’ve seen this fairly often in museum displays: the rock types given don’t always match what appears to be the actual lithologies. Not enough geoarchaeologists to go around, I suppose.

Romano British hed 062214Here’s a cool Romano-British sculpture that did have a proper identification as “limestone”. (And to be fair, most are correctly labeled.) I liked this artifact in particular because you could look closely at the broken bits —

Ooids 062214The rock is made primarily of these little calcitic spheres called ooids. I would not be at all surprised to learn that this is a Portlandian (Upper Jurassic) limestone from southern England.

It was a fun day at one of the world’s finest museums. Tomorrow I begin work at another.

A Nazi hiding hole in Middle Triassic rocks (Będzin, Poland)

June 20th, 2014

Tunnel bunker 062014SOSNOWIEC, POLAND — On my last full day in Poland, Michał Zatoń and his family took me on a tour of the city they live in and where my hotel is located: Będzin. The history of this place is very long, stretching back to the Neolithic, and for us it is dominated by World War II and the horrifying events that took place here from the earliest days of the war in 1939 until its liberation from the Germans in 1945. I thought I’d highlight one part of that history recently excavated and with a geological context.

The above view is looking down a tunnel in a complex bunker constructed by the Germans in 1944. Its purpose was to serve as a refuge from Allied bombing and reconnaissance flights near the end of the war. It had been sealed off and all but forgotten after the Germans retreated in 1945. The city of Będzin is now excavating it to be an underground museum. We were fortunate to have a private tour this morning.

Entrance bunker 062014These are the street level entrances into the bunker complex. You can see the solid rock outcrop behind the doorways.

Unfinished bunker 062014Much of the bunker is unfinished, like this portion. The steel arches are the modern effort to stabilize the roof and walls to make it safe for the public.

Fossilized cement 062014The Germans left in a hurry. This is a pile of unused bags of cement mix. In the decades since they were placed they have essentially fossilized into solid masses of concrete.

Muschelkalk bunker wall 062014This is the leading edge of construction where the concrete was laid against the rock wall. The reddish-yellow limestone is the Muschelkalk (Middle Triassic) unit we visited earlier this week. This is a strong rock suitable for tunneling because it can be easily carved out. This interval is probably equivalent to the crinoid-rich top of the Muschelkalk.

Nazis 062014This is one of the few photos made at the time in 1944 when the bunkers (although unfinished) were opened for use. It is taken from this website (in Polish). The man on the left (Hans Kowohl) was the mayor of the city, and the one in the middle was reportedly hanged as a war criminal in 1946, although I can find no mention of his identity.

Thus ends my Polish experience this summer with great colleagues, wonderful rocks and fossils, and a deep, often disturbing, history. I was challenged on many different levels.

Castles in Poland I expect, but a desert?

June 19th, 2014

Zamek Mirow 061914SOSNOWIEC, POLAND — Today my colleague Michał Zatoń took me and his family (wife Aneta and son Tomasz) on a tour of the Polish Jura, an upland with spectacular exposures of Jurassic rocks and the castles who love them. Above is the castle I consider most dramatic: Zamek Mirów from the 14th Century. Note the large mass of white bedrock at its base. This is a natural outcrop on which the castle was built. This will be a theme.

Mirow Oxfordian bioherms 061914Here we see a series of these white rocks jutting dramatically across the landscape. They are Upper Jurassic (Oxfordian) sponge-rich silicified limestones that grew as bioherms (organic mounds) on portions of seafloor elevated because of igneous intrusions below. The sponges loved being raised off the deep seabed and continued to grow upwards. Since many of them were siliceous sponges, after death their silica was mobilized into the surrounding sediment as a cement. This process produced these outcrops of very hard silicified limestones just waiting to host a castle or two.

Oxfordian limestone 061914Conveniently, the rocks can be quarried to produce the stones used in castle construction. Fossils are quite common in the building stones, like this ammonite external mold.

Zamek Bobolice 061914This is a reconstructed castle built on the outcrops.  (Zamek Bobolice; also 14th Century in origin.)

Zamek Smoleniu 061914Zamek Smoleniu was the smallest castle we visited, but somehow the scariest to climb. Getting to the top of that tower was a challenge.

Zamek Ogrodzieniec view 061914Zamek Ogrodzieniec was the largest and best known castle we visited today. It is haunted, but I ain’t scared.

Zamek Ogrodzieniec 061914The outer fortifications of Zamek Ogrodzieniec have very impressive outcrops of the Oxfordian silicified limestones.

Pustynia Bledowska 061914Now what about that mysterious Polish desert? Well, turns out it isn’t a desert in the official sense (it receives a lot of rain), but it sure looks like a desert. Pustynia Błędowska is its name in Polish. It is definitely an odd patch: 32 square kilometers in the midst of rich Polish pine forests. This place is so deserty that the German Afrika Korps trained here before going to northern Africa, and the Polish military uses it as a proxy for Middle Eastern situations. There is a lesson for humanity here as well: In the 13th and 14th Centuries the forest in this area was completely logged to provide charcoal for smelters producing silver and lead ingots. The removal of the trees exposed highly mobile glacial sands, which blew around enough to create dunes and soil too unstable for the trees to recolonize. This is a medieval ecological catastrophe. The Błędów Desert is now protected from human traffic so it has a chance to be absorbed back into the surrounding forests.

The Gleiwitz Incident completes the grim prologue

June 18th, 2014

Gliwice Tower 061814(It is the nature of this blog that our most recent entries are at the top, making it a bit awkward to read what is here the third part of a trilogy of posts today. You might want to start with my visit to Góra Świętej Anny.)

Above is a radio tower in Gliwice, Poland. It is an impressive construction in its own right, being made of wood with brass connectors in 1935 by Germans. It is the second tallest wooden structure (118 meters) in the world. How it survived World War II is a mystery to me.

This radio tower is famous for being the site of the Gleiwitz Incident on August 31, 1939. At the time Gleiwitz was within Germany near the Polish border. German SS troops staged a bloody attack on the radio station and tower to make it look like Polish Silesian nationalists were responsible. This was at least conceivable because of the tensions in Silesia between Germans and Poles for centuries, especially in the year after World War I. Of course, the Poles had nothing to do with the Gleiwitz violence. The Nazis used it as a pretext to attack and invade Poland on September 1, 1939. Last week my colleagues and I visited Westerplatte in Gdansk where the first “official” shots were fired. In some ways, though, the war started here.

Michal Tomasz Gliwice 061814Here are my patient and friendly colleagues Michał Zatoń and Tomasz Borszcz at the base of the Gliwice radio tower. They are very tolerant of my passion for history and geology.

 

 

Geology and nationalism at Góra Świętej Anny

June 18th, 2014

Google Earth 061814Geology, of course, is so much our fundamental basis for being that we rarely think about it. Occasionally, though, particular geological circumstances play direct roles in history. Today as I was visiting Góra Świętej Anny with my geologist friends I was intrigued by events that took place here in 1921 that provided another twist in the story that leads to the cataclysm of World War II.

The image at the top is from Google Earth showing the low prominence of Góra Świętej Anny in the center. It is not particularly high (just 406 meters), but it dominates the surrounding low countryside of fertile fields, productive mines, and scattered factories. As noted in our previous blog entry, Góra Świętej Anny is elevated because it has a core of resistant basalt from an extinct Paleogene volcano. It was an isolated volcano (the furthest eastern exposed basalt in Europe) and thus forms an isolated hill.
View 2 061814This is a view west from Góra Świętej Anny. The haze in the background is from large smokestacks on the right.
Silesian monument 1 061814On Góra Świętej Anny is the above monument to Polish Silesians who rebelled against the Germans throughout history (Teutonic knights are portrayed on the right panel), particularly during a 1921 battle on this elevation. The monument was dedicated in 1955 during “communist times” and shows many elements of Soviet-style design. It contains within it ashes from Poles killed in the Warsaw Uprising in 1945, and it is on the site of a German mausoleum that was dynamited to oblivion during liberation in 1945.
Silesian monument 2 061814These lead outlines represent Polish workers advancing against German troops in 1921 on Góra Świętej Anny. It is a story too complex for a blog entry, but here was the Battle of Annaberg between German Silesians and Polish Silesians during the Third Silesian Uprising. The Poles had taken this hill and defended it against an attack of German Freikorps, which were essentially World War I soldiers who had refused to demobilize in the chaos following the Armistice. The Poles were eventually forced off Góra Świętej Anny at great cost to the Germans. Later international commissions then divided up Silesia between Germans and Poles, with this area falling to the Germans. Polish Silesians, of course, took this very hard and continued to resist the Germans. Tension in this area eventually fed into pretexts for the German invasion of Poland in 1939, the start of World War II.
Nazi Amphiteater old imageGerman nationalists, many of them early members of the Nazi Party, wanted to make Góra Świętej Anny (or Annaberg, as they called it) a kind of shrine to their past and future efforts to make Silesia part of the Reich. They built a mausoleum (seen in the top right in this pre-war image) and a large amphitheater called a Thingstätte. The idea was to have Nazi rallies here with the dead from 1921 elevated above in some sort of Valhalla. The excavation of the amphitheater is what exposed the Middle Triassic Muschelkalk rocks for our study today.
Nazi amphitheater front 061814The amphitheater today survives for Polish festivals (it is a delight to hear the ring of schoolchildren’s voices here) and visiting geologists. (It is part of a geological interpretive trail). At the top of this view is the 1955 Polish monument on the site of the destroyed Nazi mausoleum.
Nazi amphitheater 061814The Germans cut most of the trees of the area down when they made the amphitheater. The Poles have allowed the forest to return. There is something profound about the peaceful, natural healing this reforestation represents.

A day in Gdansk

June 14th, 2014

 

Vistula Gdansk 061414SOPOT, POLAND — It was a rainy, windy, cold day in northern Poland, but our able leader Piotr Kuklinski organized an enjoyable educational field trip to the ancient city of Gdansk, once known primarily by its German name, Danzig. The old parts of the city are gorgeous, especially considering that about 90% of the city was destroyed in World War II. Above is a view north of the Vistula River filled with hardy kayakers. While delightful, the city, cathedral and town hall views will not surprise anyone who has visited the old cities of eastern Europe. For me the best parts of the visit were when we saw places significant for recent Polish and world history.
Gdansk Armory 061414This 17th Century armory building is a good example of architecture in Gdansk at the height of its wealth and influence. It was built by Dutch engineers and builders using bricks brought as ship’s ballast from western Europe.
Westerplatte 061414We took a boat ride into the freezing wind and rain to see the monuments of Westerplatte at the mouth of the Vistula. This is where World War II began when German ships fired without warning on Polish fortifications in the early morning of September 1, 1939. The Polish garrison surprised everyone, especially the Germans, by holding out for seven days under terrific fire and continuous attacks. Above is a Soviet-style marker of the main center of resistance to the invaders.
Roads to Freedom exhibition 061414I was moved by our visit to the “Roads to Freedom” underground exhibition. It represents the history of Poland’s post-war struggles to escape Communist oppression and Soviet imperialism. A major theme is that actions of the Polish people in the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s encouraged the rest of Europe’s captive states to seek their own freedom and independence.

Militia vehicle 061414

A Polish militia armored vehicle sits outside the exhibition entrance. This kind of vehicle figures often in the exhibition’s archival films of street violence in Gdansk and other large cities.

Solidarity signs 061414The history of the Solidarity movement is one of the most dramatic stories of the late 20th Century.

Solidarity gate 061414This is the most famous gate into the Gdansk Shipyards, where Lech Walesa led striking workers into what eventually became a national resistance movement. Now under the awning on the right is a 24-hour ATM!

Fallen shipyard workers memorial 061414One of the demands of the striking workers is that they be allowed to construct a monument to their comrades who were killed in a previous strike in 1970. This is one of the plaques near the structure.

MW Berlin Wall 061414To show the global nature of the Polish political revolution, the exhibition organizers obtained a piece of the Berlin Wall to place outside the museum. Geologist for scale. (Thanks, Tomasz Borszcz, for the photo.) I remember the dramatic events televised from Gdansk and would have never dreamed in, say, 1983 that I would someday stand by a piece of a dismantled East German wall in the free city of Gdansk.

Visiting an aquarium and historic ships in Gdynia, Poland

June 13th, 2014

Akwarium GdyniaSOPOT, POLAND — After lunch today the Larwood 2014 meeting participants had an excellent field trip to the aquarium in Gdynia on the Baltic coast (above). This aquarium has a diverse and interesting collection, but for me the two historic ships docked alongside were just as fascinating.
Dar PomorzaThis is the Dar Pomorza, a fully rigged ship built in Hamburg, Germany, in 1909 as the Prinzess Eitel Friedrich. It was used as a training ship in the Baltic Sea by the German Navy, and then surrendered to France in 1919 as part of reparations for World War I. The Polish bought it as a training ship for naval cadets in 1929, adding a diesel engine. It was interned in Stockholm during World War II, returning to Polish service in 1946. It became a museum ship in 1983.
Dar Pomorza plankingThe Dar Pomorza is being refurbished, so we had only this close view of new planking being laid on the deck.
Destroyer 2 061314This magnificent ship (above and below) had a long and distinguished career in World War II. It is the Błyskawica, which means “lightning” in Polish. It was built in 1935-1937 by a British firm on contract for the Polish government. On August 30, 1939, the Polish Navy secretly evacuated this ship along with two other destroyers to Great Britain just before the Germans invaded Poland. It was thus able to participate in the war against the Germans throughout the North Sea, Atlantic and Mediterranean. It covered operations in Norway, the evacuation of British and French troops from Dunkerque, and the Allied landings in both North Africa and France. It must have been deeply satisfying for the Polish sailors on board the Błyskawica to be able to fight back so long and effectively against the Nazis.

Destroyer sailors 061314Polish sailors by an anti-aircraft gun and torpedo tubes.

Blyskawica_na_AtlantykuThe Błyskawica in the North Atlantic during the war.

Blyskawica MW 061314I couldn’t resist. Thanks to my friend Tomasz Borszcz for taking this photo on the Błyskawica.

An evening of good food, games and talk deep in an Eastern European forest

June 12th, 2014

Polish bbq 061214SOPOT, POLAND — Our surprise dinner this evening was a Polish barbecue in the forest outside Sopot. I am impressed with how much forested land has been preserved around the three connected cities of Gdansk, Sopot and Gydnia. With a half-hour drive we arrived at a campsite well isolated from the urban build-up. The excellent food included wild boar, chicken, fish, cold beet soup, and various permutations of cabbage. I was pleasantly surprised to find that my dish of roasted potatoes were actually baked and sweetened apples. We talked and talked, of course, and played darts and fired hard beans with a slingshot at suspended buckets. (Some people were scary-good at this.) It was a great social event that tied the group together in new ways.
Polish woods 061214Nope, nothing spooky about the Polish woods. It’s not like anything happened here …

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