Plant & Equipment

What the Dickens does quarrying have to do with Christmas?

As we’re on the cusp of the festive season and another new year (where’d 2017 go?), I thought I’d channel my inner “Bill Langer” and discuss links between Christmas and quarrying/geology. A Google search brought up some fascinating results.

Did you know that the plastic in Lego sets (a popular Christmas gift) is the end product of a process that begins with the extraction and cracking of crude oil? Or that wrapping paper, which dates to the second century BC, originally used dyes and metallic pigments from mined raw materials?

In the biblical account of Christ’s birth, three wise men gifted him with gold, frankincense and myrrh. Frankincense and myrrh originate in the rocks and soils of the Arabian peninsula and northeastern Africa. They are respectively aromatic resins from the Boswellia sacra and Commiphora myrrha trees that rely heavily on limy, chalky soil to prosper in harsh conditions.

{{quote-A:R-W:300-Q:"The more you think on it, the more you realise some christmas traditions have roots in geology as well as culture."}}Similarly, iconic Christmas fir trees thrive on nutrients in fertile soil (eg nitrogen, phosphor, potassium, calcium, manganese, zinc) or fertilisers deriving from mined phosphate. Logically, no earth, ergo, no trees.

The more you think about it, the more you realise that some Christmas traditions have as many roots in geology as in culture.

Charles Dickens’ literature is strongly associated with Christmas but much of the scenery he describes in his works can also be traced to his interest in geology.

A Christmas Carol and other popular festive tales refer to bleak wintery conditions and landscapes that were typical of the Little Ice Age that afflicted Europe from the early 14th century to the mid-19th century. Volcanic activity is attributed to much of the cold snaps of that time frame – including the Tambora eruption of 1815 that lifted two million tonnes of debris and sulphur into the atmosphere.

Dickens also wrote positively of the geology discipline in a review of Robert Hunt’s A Poetry of Science in The London Examiner in 1848:

Science has gone down into the mines and coal-pits, and before the safety lamp the Gnomes and Genii of those dark regions have disappeared … Science … points to our own chalk cliffs and limestone rocks as made of the dust of myriads of generations of infinitesimal beings that have passed away …

Drawing closer to home, the Australian territory of Christmas Island is a geological phenomenon.

The island, christened by the East India Company’s Captain William Mynors on Christmas Day in 1643, is the peak of a basalt volcanic seamount that over time was covered by layers of coral reefs, resulting in a limestone surface rock. The island was settled in 1888 and phosphate has been mined there since 1899.

It is doubtful the territory today would have more than 2000 residents without the island’s early extractive activities.

So that’s my potted version of Christmas from a geological/ extractive perspective.

Some of these examples reinforce the notion – championed time and again – that much of the customs and infrastructure we enjoy today would not be possible without the blood, sweat and tears of quarrying and extractive professionals past and present the world over.

The challenge, as ever, is to convince a sceptical public – the beneficiaries of mineral products – that the industry has their back.

Best wishes for the season!

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