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Rosetta Stones

Rosetta Stones


Adventures in the good science of rock-breaking.
Rosetta Stones Home

From Firey Flow to Cool Art

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.


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Humans have a long tradition of taking rocks and making pretty things with them. Usually, when you think of sculpture, you think of marble, right? I mean, of course, marble – marble’s a wonderful stone for sculptors, very hard and yet amenable to people carving and polishing it.

If I asked you for an igneous rock suitable for making art with, what would you give me? Big ol’ chunk of something in the granite family? Good choice! Polishes up a treat, that does, and it’s very monumental.

Here’s another igneous rock you could use:

A basalt column with its top carved into something abstract and lovely shiny black.

A basalt column with its top carved into something abstract and lovely shiny black.

Yes, you can use the Columbia River Basalts for some very impressive geoart.

You run across them in unexpected places. You’ll be bopping down the street, and suddenly – columns. The images above and below are in a cluster near a Burger King in Burien, Washington.

A cowboy-hatted man emerges from the top of a column.

A cowboy-hatted man emerges from the top of a column.

The columns are quite popular for things like fountains.

Basalt column fountain at the entrance to our apartment complex.

Basalt column fountain at the entrance to our apartment complex.

These are huge, and heavy – this is an iron-rich rock. Some are rather easier to handle:

A very short basalt column fountain outside a Burger King in Lincoln City, OR

A very short basalt column fountain outside a Burger King in Lincoln City, OR

I’m not sure what it is with basalt and Burger King around the Northwest.

If you’re ever walking along the Sammamish River in Woodinville, WA, keep an eye out for this towering beauty.

 

Basalt column art standing beside the trail in Woodinville, WA

Basalt column art standing beside the trail in Woodinville, WA

You can see how well this rock takes a polish – like a mirror up there. It’s a pretty fine-grained stone, and you can do very interesting things with the contrast between weathered, carved, and polished surfaces.

 

Image of a heron with Mount Rainier behind it, carved into the face of a column at Seward Park, Seattle, WA

Image of a heron with Mount Rainier behind it, carved into the face of a column at Seward Park, Seattle, WA

It’s even a suitable surface for cartography.

Map of Seward Park carved into the top of the column.

Map of Seward Park carved into the top of the column.

And when winter comes along, you’ll see ice working to enhance the effect on the fountains.

 

The apartment complex's fountain gets covered in ice during the brief times when it freezes around here.

The apartment complex's fountain gets covered in ice during the brief times when it freezes around here.

Betcha never quite thought of basalt this way, but it’s an example of what I’ve always thought: even the most boring and prosaic old rocks can be beautiful. Sometimes, it’s for their story. Sometimes, it’s because they become a new story in an artist’s hands.

If you want to see these columns in their original context, I have some images here. Your jaw will drop at Dry Falls, guaranteed.

Speaking of geology and art, we’ll be getting on with the Seattle Seahawks Super Bowl Ring story shortly. I got a bit sidetracked by Christianist earth science textbooks for a talk I was supposed to give for FtBConscience. Unfortunately, the con got postponed, but at least I’ll be able to tell you all about the whacked-out version of science being presented to unsuspecting children by creationists. That series will begin this fall. And I’ll post the date for my talk when everything gets rescheduled.

Dana Hunter About the Author: Dana Hunter is a science blogger, SF writer, and geology addict whose home away from SciAm is En Tequila Es Verdad. Follow her on Twitter: @dhunterauthor. Follow on Twitter @dhunterauthor.

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.





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