The wide range of stones used for memorials makes cemeteries potential geological treasure troves, as is demonstrated in a new book, The Geology of Oxford Gravestones.
In it, the authors, Nina Morgan and Philip Powell, present geological trails through six Oxford cemeteries.
Nina is a science writer with a DPhil in Geology. Philip is a former Curator of Geology at the Oxford University Museum of Natural History, with special interests in fossils, building stones and local geology. He is the author of The Geology of Oxfordshire.
The geological trails in this new book highlight the wide variety of rock types and geological features that can be seen not just in these six cemeteries but in graveyards throughout Britain. It is an introduction to geology that anyone can enjoy.
And that’s not all. Cemeteries not only provide a peaceful place of contemplation, they also serve as refuges for insects, wildlife, lichens and flowering plants, offering opportunities to study many aspects of environmental science as well as geology.
And they are great places for the study of local history and art. The six cemeteries featured in this book provide an insight into the people who lived and worked in the Oxford area from the 17th century to modern times.
The Geology of Oxford Gravestones, ISBN 978-1-91058-53-1, is published by Geologica Press. It has 140 pages, including a glossary and index, seven maps and 389 colour photographs. Copies are £14.99 + £2.05 p&p from bit.ly/oxford-gravestones. There is also a digital version for each cemetery that can be downloaded for £2.99.
NSS columnist David Francis says of this book:
It is interesting to discover how a geologist sees the materials we know and take for granted. This gives the mason a different angle of interest and can help towards understanding the stones we sell. The study is of five small churchyards and one larger cemetery.
The book is informative, well written and easy to understand, with good quality photographs and data presentation.
Not many books about burial grounds look at memorials in terms of their geology in preference to the history of the people buried underneath or the inscriptions and decorations on them. The Geology of Oxford Gravestones, however, majors on the study of the stones, although not without putting that into a wider context.
The colleges of Oxford are well represented and some of the inscriptions relate to historically famous people.
This book will encourage visitors to these burial grounds, I’m sure. It is a book that can be dipped into and used for reference, with the details of each monument usually contained on a single page, making the layout easy to follow. And although it is geographically specific, it also encourages readers from outside the area to look at their own local cemeteries in a different way, because the information relates to burial grounds all over the country.
I recommend the book for its clarity, especially in identifying different stones in their weathered states as well as when they and new.