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Tuesday, June 28, 2022

In these stones lie clues of the past

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Cressbrook Valley, Derbyshire: A slab of dry stone contains remains of marine life from 300 million years ago

The hill called Hay Cop in this national nature reserve offers spectacular views south across Derbyshire. So I forgive myself for not initially noticing the two limestone slabs standing on a dismantled wall.

This dry stone structure is being rebuilt and these two columns, 1.2 meters high, perhaps 35 cm apart, have been left to presumably serve as the stile through which walkers will pass. The stones were probably first cut when there was no engine noise here and the loudest human sounds were the pounding of a hammer on metal as a thick L-shaped iron bar drove into the heart of a rock like a door hinge.

Attached to this detail is a long, whitish, wind-blown thread of wool, and it occurs to me that this hair has a heritage that probably dates back to the Zagros Mountains of Iran, where sheep began their 11,000-year journey of domestication. . to this same place.

In the other stone, however, is evidence of a deeper past. The surface limestone is rippled with fossils of crinoids or sea lilies, echinoderm animals anchored by a central rope-like stem to the seabed and possessed of oscillating algae limbs that sifted planktonic food from currents when this place was an ocean more than 300 million years ago. .

The beautiful remains of crinoids transport me to another time, but there is a detail here that transports me to another galaxy. Surrounding the ancient door hinge is a mass of tarnished gray metal, used to secure the blacksmith’s ironwork and probably quarried from these very slopes, as lead mining here dates back to the Romans.

However, lead originates through stellar nucleosynthesis at the heart of stars called supernovae, whose explosions have dispersed the rare element throughout space, until it was finally stopped at the birth of our solar system some five billion years ago. of years. Lead seeped through the underworld of this landscape and then set as solder around this hinge. So, traveler, the next time you pass through this place, remember that you are seeing a place, but you are brushing against an entire universe.

• Country Diary is on Twitter at @gdncountrydiary

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