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April 21, 2010


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Twain is one of my favourite writers, too. His books and short stories are full of geological references; my favourite is his description (in "The Innocents Abroad") of a fossil oyster bed he found near the top of a mountain in the Middle East. After considering several hypotheses on its origin, he concludes that the only reasonable explanation is that the oysters climbed up there to enjoy the view!


Thanks for that one, Howard - I didn't know it - do you have any other geological gems?


In one of his short stories, "Some Learned Fables for Good Old Boys and Girls" (1875), a team of scientists (bugs, frogs, spiders, etc.) strike out on an exploratory expedition and make all sorts of questionable interpretations based on the "fossils" they come across--including a telegraph pole insulator, which the team's naturalist interprets to be remains of a gigantic spider: "And that evening the naturalist of the expedition built a beautiful model of the colossal spider, having no need to see it in order to do this, because he had picked up a fragment of its vertebrae by the tree, and so knew exactly what the creature looked like and what its habits and its preferences were by this simple evidence alone." There are also references to the Old Red Sandstone, "vertical strata of limestone", and "up-shootings of igneous rock", among others.

There are geological references in his book "Roughing It", in which he describes his failed attempts at gold mining in the southwestern US, and other adventures.


A belated thanks for these further gems, Howard! The spider story reminds me of "The blind men and the elephant," a tale whose accurate reflection on human nature results in its showing up in so many different cultures and contexts.

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