2017 Advent Calendar / Advent calendar

Door 20 – Landscapes Below

Behind door 20 of the geoadvent, GSL Education Assistant Will Foreman reviews the University of Cambridge Library’s ‘Landscapes Below’ exhibition, on display until 29 March 2018.


Currently on display at the University of Cambridge library, ‘Landscapes Below’ is an exploration into the development of geological mapping. The exhibition opened in November and runs right into March. It’s free to visit, so as a resident Cantab, I felt inclined to swing by to give it an advent review!

From the revolving doors of the library’s main entrance, the ‘Landscapes Below’ exhibition is found along a corridor to the right and, quite suitably, down some stairs.

Greenough’s 1819 geological map of England and Wales.

The first item that one is greeted with is Greenough’s map of England and Wales. Though this map is also displayed in the foyer of the Geological Society, the additional information provided is very interesting. I was not aware, for instance, that Greenough faced criticism for using colour, some arguing that having to look at a key was too time consuming. The information on display also goes into some detail on the collaboration involved in the creation of the map, which is always nice to hear about in science.

Some of the most interesting items on display were geological maps produced in Europe before Greenough or Smith’s. Cases in the exhibition show geological maps of Saxony and of the Paris Basin, completed some 40 years before England and Wales. As with everything in geology, these maps created their own controversies. While Smith was the first to relatively date rocks using fossils, Charlotte Murchison had been correlating rock units using marine invertebrates in the Paris basin, triggering some to argue that only mineralogy should be considered when mapping. Having completed my own mapping project at university, I can’t imagine using just fossils or just mineralogy; I was desperate for every piece of evidence, however slight!

A geological map of Saxony produced in 1778 by Johann von Charpentier.

A theme that really stuck out for me was the level of wealth that one had to have to pursue geology as an interest. Not only were base maps incredibly expensive (more details on that in the library!) but the money that students put into the study was astounding, some having their lecturers, including Adam Sedgwick himself, accompany them on their grand tour so that they could discuss the geology of Italy and of France as they travelled. I daren’t ask the current Head of the Cambridge Earth Science department how much it would cost for me to employ them to do the same.

Wooden blocks demonstrating geological relationships for Cambridge students

Overall, I found the exhibition very interesting. At first I was surprised by the lack of information on William Smith, there only being half a display case dedicated to his work, but actually, I think this worked really well. Most people interested in geology know of William Smith and his contribution to the science so it was for the better that the information in this exhibition focused on the work of other geologists at around the same time. Well worth a visit for those in the area!

The Great Geoadvent Challenge

If you’re playing along, leave a comment below identifying which site from our 20 plate tectonic stories is represented in today’s window! See our website for the full list of sites – and don’t forget to check their twinned sites too… Yesterday’s site was Alderley Edge in Cheshire.


3 thoughts on “Door 20 – Landscapes Below

  1. Pingback: Door 24 – Quiz answers, challenge winners and a very merry Christmas! | Geological Society of London blog

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