Candide

catholic by birth; scientist by choice; sinner by merit. gaidhlig-speaking neuroscience student at oxford. likes to question everything! @di_macd

That rocky little island is where I live. It’s called Eriskay. I was walking up one of the headlands today, and I remembered this old saying about there being but a bare foot of soil on Eriskay. That’s why the only agriculture that takes place is on lazy beds. You only had stick your spade in once and you’d hit rock - and ancient rock at that. Eriskay is made of Lewisian Gneiss - most of which dates to three BILLION years ago, during the Archaean. These were days when sulphur reducing bacteria dominated the planet. There were no multicellular organisms; there weren’t even any eukaryotes. This was a pre-Nucleic age. 

The Gneiss comes from Volcanic rock that has been buried and crushed over the aeons by the shifting continents, remelted, recrystalized and resculpted into a hard, granite-like rock. Mountain-building events thrust into the open, its white and black banded pattern glittering under Hebridean sunlight. 

These are the oldest rocks in Europe. It’s awe-inspiring to think that when I walk along the headland, each time my foot touches the rock, I’m touching something that is older than eukaryotic life itself, something that pre-dates the nucleus, something thats three quarters of the age of the earth, something thats one fifth the age of the universe. These facts that science teaches us are more beautiful and more profound than anything religion, or art or literature can tell us. They are the truth, and more wonderful for it…

Eriskay is a tiny little rock, waiting to be drowned under the sea. But at least I can console myself with the fact, in some shape or form, this rock has been around for the last 3 billion years, and will probably be here for another 3 billion more.

  • 4 March 2012
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