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Never on a Sunday

The SUnday Stone. Photo courtesy, Oxford University Museum


Careful study of rock sections can reveal a surprisingly detailed record of environments over millions of years. But, as Francis Trevelyan (Frank) Buckland, son of the eminent geologist, palaeontologist and Anglican priest, William Buckland, noted in his book The Curiosities of Natural History, the rock record can also reveal much more.

Geoscientist 18.8 August 2008

Nina Morgan writes: His case in point was the Sunday Stone, a fragment of a calcareous deposit consisting of alternating layers of black and white limestone recovered from a pipe used to drain water from a colliery. The black layers were deposited when coal dust blackened the water in the pipe. The white deposits were laid down at night, when there was no coal dust. Thus, Buckland argued, the pattern of black and white stripes "represented a week; for during the day the men were working, and during the night they were at rest. Then came a white layer as large as a black and white one put together. This was Sunday – during which, there being no work, the water was clean for forty-eight hours."

When a 48-hour mark appeared in the middle of one of the weeks, Buckland also had a ready answer. "The [clerk's] books tell the tale. This was the day when a cock fight took place in the neighbourhood; and all the colliers went by permission to it." Thus, he concludes, "the workmen unconsciously recorded, literally in black and white, their times of work and of rest". And they also demonstrated how well exceptions can prove a rule.


Thanks to Philip Powell of the Oxford University Museum of Natural History, for alerting me to this story. The source for this vignette is: The Curiosities of Natural History by Frank Buckland, first published in four volumes between 1857 and 1872.

If the past is the key to your present interests, visit the History of Geology Group (HOGG) website at: