Stories in Stone – Virtual Tours Now Available

Booking for Groups Everywhere

Brooklyn Brownstone - 200 million years old!
Brooklyn Brownstone – 200 million years old

Most people do not think of looking for geology from the sidewalks they travel, but for the intrepid geologist any good rock can tell a fascinating story. On this virtual tour, which incorporates illustrations and photographs, you will explore a range of rocks equal to any assembled by plate tectonics, such as:
— 3.5-billion-year-old gneiss and 120,000-year-old Italian travertine;
— a fossil-rich limestone that is the most commonly used building stone in the US;
— and the granite that led to the construction of the first commercial railroad in America.

3.5 bya Morton Gneiss
Morton Gneiss – 3.5 billion years old

In this virtual exploration of  building stone from across the United States and Italy, I discuss history, transportation, and architecture to give you a new way to appreciate urban geology. Plus, we’ll even “visit” a couple of quarries and see where the stone originates.

Please contact me to book me live for a one-hour program (includes time for Q&A). Up to 25 people on a Zoom talk.

“David’s talk “Stories In Stone” is a fascinating ‘virtual field trip’ on the quarrying and use of building stone across our urban landscapes and even in historic structures, such as the Roman Coloseum. It is an entertaining and informative presentation for both geologists and non-geologists alike.”
Rob Dietrich, Rocky Mountain Association of Geologists

“David B. Williams’ virtual Stories In Stone tour is engaging, entertaining, and educational. As you’d expect from a naturalist of Williams’ caliber, the tour is multifaceted- weaving together geology, geography, architecture, and history. The virtual tour has the added benefit of “visiting” national and international locations. Mr. Williams’ humor and personality contribute to the experience and make for a welcoming question and answer session at the end. I highly recommend it.”
Kim Owens, Program Director, Seattle Architecture Foundation

Stories In Stone Clip from dbw on Vimeo. From a program presented to Seattle Architecture Foundation.

My talk is a Zoom meeting format of a PowerPoint presentation with me as a live narrator. To try to make it feel more in-person, I incorporate video and Google Earth to travel to different locations, including Minnesota, Massachusetts, Indiana, and Italy. I am available for questions throughout and after the talk.

For more information on booking me to make a presentation to your group, please send me an email: geologywriter at gmail dot com.

Plants and Stone: The Colosseum

One of my favorite little books about building stone was published in 1855. The author, an erudite English chap named Richard Deakin, turned his attention to the Colosseum, which he called “the most remarkable, the grandest, and the most imposing of all the vast ruins of Ancient Rome.” Deakin reveled in the “noble and graceful animals” who tore “each other to pieces,” and who also made meals of “numberless human beings.” But his real focus was on the plants that had taken over the great structure. In The Flora of the Colosseum, he described 420 species.

For better or worse, the modern Colosseum is a cleaned and sanitized version of its historic past. Gone are the plants that once made the building basically a big nursery. For hundreds of years, flowers, shrubs, and trees sprouted from the travertine and tuff walls. The first list appeared in 1643 and included 336 species, although this historic list does not correspond well with modern names. A study in 1815 dropped the number to 260 but then came Deakin, who appears to have combed every square foot of the Colosseum.

One of Deakin’s 420. From Smithsonian Institution Library web site.

Filled with wonderful drawings, the book is also a delight to read. Like the best interpretive writing, Deakin delves into history and science, giving each plant a story, and something for the inquisitive botanist to discover. For example, said plant lover could find cures for dysentery, gout, and rheumatism, dine on strawberries, lettuce, onions, and asparagus, and alleviate the effects of “too great potations” of wine. If you are interested in testing Deakin’s hangover cure, all you have to do is find some Hedera helix, better known as English ivy.

Alas, archaeologists in the 1870s recognized how damaging plants were to the structure and stripped the green mantle. Diversity also decreased with the loss of grazing animals and their contributions to soil fertility. Not all plants have fared poorly in modern times: the most recent floristic study, conducted in 2002, reported that alien species, particularly those associated with humans, have flourished. The 2002 study described 242 species, and total diversity for all studies is 684 species.

Although I understand why workers in Rome remove the plants, I wish they didn’t have to. At least the plants grow fast enough that I can still see this wonderful link between geology and botany.