Sea of Galilee Cairn

The big news in the world of cairns, which as you can imagine is truly mind-boggling in scale, scope, and power, is the discovery of the giant cairn found at the bottom of the Sea of Galilee. Archaelogists report (International Journal of Nautical Archaeology Vol 42, pg. 189-193, March 2013) that the pile of basalt cobbles and boulders has a diameter of 230 feet and rises more than 30 feet off the floor of the lake (the sea is actually a lake, in fact the lowest freshwater lake on Earth). The “Monumental Structure” was found in 2003 during a detailed mapping of the lake’s bottom morphology. With boulders up to a meter long, the rock pile provides good habitat for Tilapia fish. Other possibly similarly aged structures are found nearby in the water, though not enough research has been done to determine if they date from the same time.Archaeologists offer several interpretations for the cairn. The first, and the one I like best, is that it was built underwater to attract fish. Other similar structures described as fish nurseries occur throughout the Sea of Galilee, though they are smaller. It is also possible that it was built on land and that either rising water or a lowered ground surface, due to tectonics, lead to cairn’s present subaqueous location. There is evidence for the latter from a 23,000-old-site that apparently was buried during rapid subsidence. I like this theory, too.

Dating the structure is also challenging. People did live in the area between the 4th and 1st centuries BCE, with active building of megalithic structures over the first 1,000 years of that era. These include stone circles, menhirs and dolmens, now found in the Jordan Valley. Archaeologists hope that further study will shed light on the cairn.

Pretty cool story.



Confession of a basalt addict

They say the first step in addiction is to admit it. Okay, I like basalt. I like to travel to see it. I like to know how it has influenced our planetary history. I like how it creates such wonderful scenery so rich in color and texture. I like how it shows that nature bats first, and in many places last and clean-up. In essence I am what you might call a basaltophile.

I realized this recently on a vacation to Hawaii’s big island. This was the second time in less than a year that I spent time on an island of basalt. The first was last year on a trip to Iceland. In each place, basalt dominated the landscape. I don’t use dominated lightly. I mean it in the dictionary definition of “to bear rule over, control, sway; to have a commanding influence on.”

When you travel in Hawaii and Iceland, you quickly learn that basalt is what rules these islands. Drive down a road and you will discover how it weaves through lava flows, unless, of course, it simply disappears under the lava. Read stories about the islands’ histories and you will learn how basalt has shaped the actions of where and how people lived. Look at tourist brochures and you will see how promoters exploit the splendor of basalt to draw in visitors.

[nggallery id=22]Part of the attraction is the beauty of the basalt, but part of it is the raw nature of the rock. On Iceland and Hawaii, you feel the primal personality of the planet. Exploding geysers, bubbling hot springs, oozing molten rock, this is how Earth was in its earliest days. It was a harsh and dangerous place, and yet seeing how life has taken root on these islands, it takes little imagination to envision some form of existence starting to evolve and flourish those billions of years ago.

Because of the youth of the basalt—on Hawaii we saw flows less than a year or so old—both islands have a dynamic feel. On Iceland, we experienced the eruption of Grimsvötn, which shut down the airport and curtailed our travel plans. On Hawaii, the ongoing spewing of toxic gases from Halema’uma’u crater prevented us from hiking several trails. Where else would you see signs that read “Stay on trail. Dangerous earth cracks in park area”?

That dynamic also gives Iceland and Hawaii a raw and unformed feel. The islands are in a constant state of change, growing with new lava flows and disemboweling themselves with eruptions. Hiking around Iceland, I was struck by how moss was often the lone plant life, as if only primitive vegetation veneered a primitive land. Hawaii does have its tropical rainforests, which at times made the island seem far older, but I also saw huge areas devoid of any plant, or even any animal. When driving, I found you could not always trust a map, as some geologic disaster might have simply erased a road or bridge.

The story of basalt is one that stretches back to the earliest days of Earth and continues unabated to the present. It is a story that shapes our planet and our species. It is a story that shows that geology is alive and well, and often kicking some butt. What more could a basaltophile want?