London Pavement Geology

Fossils in the Portland stone on the Economist Building (photo by seier+seier/Flickr)

The building blocks of urban landscapes are often riddled with fossils, with Jurassic reptile bones and Cretaceous sea creatures sometimes emerging from the stone surfaces. London Pavement Geology is an online interactive map that charts hundreds of such locations in the British capital.

The urban geology project was launched last year, and highlighted this month on Londonist. Feargus O’Sullivan at CityLab reported that an app is planned for release later this summer. London Pavement Geology is a collaboration between geologist Dave Wallis and Ruth Siddall of University College London, who provided the bulk of the data. Users are also welcome to submit their own entries.

The interactive London Pavement Geology map (screenshot by the author for Hyperallergic)

Organized by geological categories (igneous, metamorphic, sedimentary, fossil, and structure), the map plots locations around Greater London, which access details on the stone, quarry, architect, construction year, and photographs of the site. Fossils are actually not that rare. There are no indigenous stones in London’s building as, according to the British Geological Survey, the city has “underlying layers of sand, gravel, and clay” which are “not suitable for use as building stones.”

Much of the stone on London’s stately historic buildings is from the “Jurassic Coast” in southern England. A bone from a marine reptile appears on St. Margaret’s Westminster, fossilized oyster shells materialize from the steps at St. John’s Smith Square, both sites dating to the 18th century, built with Portland stone from the Jurassic Coast.

Meteorite impact melt veins on Irongate House (screenshot by the author for Hyperallergic) (click to enlarge)

More modern architecture demonstrates the international trade and financial boom that brought exotic rock from around the world. Vanga granite from Sweden is on the Atlantic House, Emerald Pearl monzonite from Norway adorns the Holland House, Nero Zimbabwe dolerite is embedded on the Heron building, and brown granite from Finland and India mingles at the Aldgate House.

The 2007 architecture for the V&A Museum of Childhood has red accents from Chinese porphyry quarried in Fujian, and the curl of an Upper Jurassic ammonite from Germany is visible in the white Jura marble on the 1991 Credit Suisse building. The prehistoric traces in the architecture aren’t limited to fossils, such as the crackling black veins caused by an ancient meteorite impact that accent the Parys granite from South Africa on the 1978 Irongate House.

Whether the bodies of gastropods in the courtyard of the British Library, or the crinoids in the Derbyshire fossil marble on the floor of Royal Festival Hall, the London Pavement Geology might spark some unexpected interest in the stories in stone around your own city.

A fossil on Credit Suisse (1 Cabot Square) (screenshot by the author for Hyperallergic)

The interactive London Pavement Geology map (screenshot by the author for Hyperallergic)

Derbyshire fossil marble on the floor of Royal Festival Hall (screenshot by the author for Hyperallergic)

h/t Londonist; CityLab

Explore hundreds of urban geology sites online at London Pavement Geology.

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Allison Meier

Allison C. Meier is a former staff writer for Hyperallergic. Originally from Oklahoma, she has been covering visual culture and overlooked history for print...