Part 1: Like messages in a bottle, stones can tell us wonderful stories. They whisper of the mysteries of deep time and deep space and introduce us into our own Big History.
In and around our house and garden there are many stones. They are my friends, my guests. I have invited them from all over the globe and will introduce them to you.
What makes stones so fascinating to me? Why am I interested?
I still walk and have often walked in mountains over rocks. I see and saw all those fascinating structures and felt utterly stupid. I couldn’t read their story! I knew nothing about what had happened to them. That didn’t and doesn’t feel right at all! They are great story tellers and I happen to be a curious man, so we are a perfect match. They tell us a lot about the history of this planet, they contain The Chronicle of the Earth.
So I started studying, Big History, the history of our planet from the Big Bang up to now…and I still do.
These little stones and the meteorite in our house nurture in me a sense of wonder. They whisper of the mysteries of deep time and deep space.
Like messages in a bottle they tell wonderful stories, stories that I hope we will all come to know and cherish. They are the stories of science, of today’s Golden Age of scientific research. By understanding ourselves as a part of the natural world, as part of the unfolding of a remarkable and mysterious universe, these stories can make us feel more at home.
The more we understand our origin, our evolution and our place in the universe, the more we can feel that we are part of it, that we are partakers. In fact, it can make us feel downright religious, a word coming from the Latin religare, to fasten again, to be united and one again.
These are the greatest gifts offered to me, by studying the Big History of our planet and the new scientific findings of astronomy, geology and biology: the feeling of being at home in the universe and the realization that this is our own history, mine, yours, everyone’s.
In about 44 little sketches, to be published here as one continuous story over a period of about a year, I write with great joy about (50%) and illustrate (50%) what I understand from these fascinating new tales of science. When you participate by reading them, you will know your own history and your unique place in time and space within a year from now: promised!
There is one good reason to publish them in Osho News, a newsletter on living a meditative life, on religiousness, music, dance and art. Religion and science may be worlds apart, but religiousness and science are close friends, at least that’s the way it feels to me.
Carl Sagan, astronomer, great presenter of the legendary series Cosmos and author of Varieties of Scientific Experience greatly admired William James, his Varieties of Religious Experience and especially his definition of religion as the feeling of being at home in the universe.
And now to the stones – showing them here in chronological order:
The youngest ones, not older than 8 million years, are fossils of freshwater snails, found in Steinheim am Albuch, in Baden-Württemberg, Germany. They were resting there in a lake, a former impact crater with a diameter of 3,5 kilometres, formed 15 million years ago by a meteorite, most probably a piece of a much larger meteorite, the one who formed a much larger crater, Nördlinger Ries, with a diameter of 22 to 24 kilometres.
Scientists studied the freshwater snail fossils from Myanmar shown here. By analyzing the type of oxygen they contained, the scientists could establish whether they lived in periods of wet or dry conditions. What they found was evidence of a monsoon system, a pattern of wet summers and dry winters.
Credit to Alexis Licht
Next comes a tooth of a saurian, a marine reptile, a Mosasaurus Beaugei to be more precise, about 70 million years old, found in Oued Zem, Morocco, a sea in those days.
The next one is a slice cut from a petrified tree fern from Brazil, about 270 million years old.
Next comes a stone called Rhombenporfier, a lava stone, 275 to 295 million years old, a boulder found along the coast of Denmark or Germany, transported toward that place all the way from the Oslo region in Norway by ice traveling south, during the Saalian period, the next to last Ice Age, that lasted from 200.000 to 130.000 years ago.
Even a bit older is the next stone, containing the fossilized leaves of a seed fern, called Glossopteris. Glossopteris arose in the Southern Hemisphere about 300 million years ago and disappeared in almost all places about 250 million years ago, during the days of the ‘Great Dying’, with up to 96% of all marine species and 70% of all terrestrial vertebrate species becoming extinct.
The distribution of these leaves across now-detached landmasses has led my fellow-geologists to propose that the continents were once amalgamated into a single supercontinent, called Pangea. By the way, I am not a geologist by profession, I am just a passionate student.
My next 3 stones, found in the Sahara, are also about 300 million years old. They contain the fossilized left-overs of cuttlefish, who used to swim at that time in this place in the sea, which is a desert now.
Researching these so called belemnites gives us lots of information about the temperature of the sea at that time and about the age of the rocks in which they are found.
Our next friend is a stone from the Carboniferous period, which lasted from 300 to 360 million years ago. It is a fossil of the Lepidodendron, a tree-like plant reaching heights of over 30 metres. Their trunks were often over 1 meter in diameter and they were the first large plants on the land of our Earth.
Even older is a stone, shaped into a plate, dating from the Devonian period, which lasted from 360 to 415 million years ago. It contains the fossils of the vertebrae of an orthoceras, an ancient mollusk. Orthoceras fossils are common and have a global distribution, occurring in any marine rock, especially in limestone. When we have friends staying in our house, we always ask them jokingly to be careful with our antique plate!
Next comes a small stone, about 425 million years old, found in Gotland, Sweden, called oolite, a sedimentary rock formed from ooids, spherical grains composed of concentric layers. Ooids are most commonly composed of calcium carbonate. The name derives from the ancient Greek word ᾠόν for egg.
Our next to last stone comes also from Sweden. It contains fossils of trilobites called Peltura Scarabaeoides, who were alive and kicking about 520 million years ago.
The last one, but not the least one in this row, is a part of a meteorite of unknown age, found in the Gardnos Crater in Hallingdal, South Central Norway. The meteorite cratered that place probably 650 to 700 million years ago. The enormous kinetic energy it carried was enough to form a crater with a diameter of 5 to 6 kilometres and a depth of 800 to 1000 metres. Research by the University of Oslo and experience from similar impact structures makes it probable that this meteorite had a diameter of circa 200 metres and a speed of 20 to 30 km/second, close to 100.000 km an hour. Approximately 160 terrestrial impact structures are currently known.
This new Golden Age of astrophysics, particle physics, evolutionary biology and plate tectonics has the potential, next to meditation, art, dance, music, action and devotion, to be a great contribution to that feeling of being at home in the universe.
All articles of this series can be found here