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Topical Tuesday: Archaeology and Geology News

Matthew Brady picture of stockpiles of cannonballs. Image Credit: National Archives and Records Administration

Matthew Brady picture of stockpiles of cannonballs. Image Credit: National Archives and Records Administration

There is so much rock news going on in the world, it’s hard to keep up with it all. So from now on, on Tuesdays, I’m going to try to aggregate some of the rock-based stories that may or may not be making headlines, but are all worth taking at least a brief look at.


Obviously, the big geo story today is the earthquake in Iran. The BBC reports that the 6.3 earthquake killed at least 37 and injured 800, but apparently the nuclear plant in that area is still working just fine, according to officials there. The USGS, LiveScience, and Paleoseismicity have more information.


  • More bad news from Syria on the archaeology front. The NYT has the story of Ebla, an archaeological site now occupied by rebel forces.
  • The discovery of an 149-year-old cannonball at a construction site in Franklin, TN apparently necessitated a call to the local bomb squad, according to an article in The Tennessean:

“On Saturday, a 12-pound cannonball was unearthed by workers excavating land for the future driveway into Franklin’s 110-acre Civil War park, the Eastern Flank Battle Park.City police and fire officers along with a state Highway Patrol bomb expert were called who determined the cannonball was non-explosive and no danger, said Franklin Police Lt. Charles Warner.”

Whew. What a relief. And if you think, as I did, that a 150-year-old cannonball cannot possibly be dangerous unless actually inserted into and subsequently shot out of a cannon, think again. Five years ago, a civil war enthusiast from Virginia was blown up and his neighborhood evacuated after he inadvertently set off a naval cannonball he was restoring. Way to stay safe Tennessee.

The Tennessean article goes on to say that this isn’t the first time munitions and other artifacts have turned up during the construction of this site, and state officials have offered the city of Franklin a choice: either pay for an archaeologist to sit at the site and observe construction, or do an entirely new archeological survey of the site.

Minerals and Mining

Lets face it, while volcanoes and glaciers and earthquakes are the cool popular kids when it comes to geology news, the bread and butter of many professional geologists is resource exploration and mining. It’s not always pretty, but it is really important. One interesting and long-standing trend is the incredibly globalized nature of the industry, especially in the rapidly expanding African market.

  • India and China have made no secret about their intrest in Africa’s resources. India’s latest venture is a pact with Tanzania to explore that country’s mineral wealth, particularly the steel industry. 
  • Meanwhile, Angola, 11 years after the end of a 27-year-long civil war is trying desperately to interest foreign investors in their considerable mineral wealth. They’ve got gold, iron, oil, diamonds, and more, and are trying to lure investors by lowering taxes and investing vast sums of money in infrastructure.
  • Russia is being more cautious. It is reportedly exploring ways to open up their mineral market to foreign investors, but only in a few places, and only if those investors partner with a Russian company, and are willing to deal with high taxes. That’s reallllly appealing, Russia. But who knows, some people might think the restrictions are worth it.
  • Over in South Africa, the government said it plans to focus on ‘mineral beneficiation’ as a way of re-industrializing the country. Beneficiation is apparently a process that ore goes through before smelting, concentrating valuable material, and weeding out less valuable material. Makes sense.
  • New Zealand has seen numerous protests from a variety of groups concerned with the environmental impacts of proposed mining operations. The National Business Review reported that protests targeted specific sites or events linked to oil, natural gas, and gold and silver mining.