New York's Triassic Buildings Are a Window on Deep Time

I've always thought New Yorkers lead a hermit-crab existence, with our dance clubs that used to be banks and our townhouses that used to be stables and our living rooms that used to be factory floors. In the 21st century, many urban lives are lived in shells made by others, for other purposes. But it never occurred to me that this is sometimes literally true, until I came upon the "geologic city" project. Rockefeller Center, I learned there, is made of 340-million-year-old seashells.

Over millions of years, those shells (OK, there were also bits of other sea creatures, like sponges and corals) accumulated at the bottom of a shallow sea, and their calcite eventually formed into limestone. Which substance a highly social mammal then quarried out of the Earth in the now-dry region it called Indiana, and sent to New York City. Where it was turned into a place where said mammal could enjoy the Rockettes around the time of the winter solstice.

Geologic City, a project of the charmingly-named Friends of the Pleistocene, is a field guide to the traces of Deep Time that are visible in New York City's architecture. That red sandstone apartment building that houses your dentist, for instance, is also an artifact of the Triassic. "Materials, colors, and textures that fill our streets are not from the world we inhabit," the GC site explains. "They are from former worlds that existed millions of years ago."

Thanks to Oskar Stein for the link.

Related Articles

A controversial theory claims past, present, and future exist at the same time

Our experience of time may be blinding us to its true nature, say scientists.

Back to the Future.
Surprising Science
  • Time may not be passing at all, says the Block Universe Theory.
  • Time travel may be possible.
  • Your perception of time is likely relative to you and limited.
Keep reading Show less

Six disastrous encounters with the world’s most hostile uncontacted tribe

From questionable shipwrecks to outright attacks, they clearly don't want to be bothered.

Culture & Religion
  • Many have tried to contact the Sentinelese, to write about them, or otherwise.
  • But the inhabitants of the 23 square mile island in the Bay of Bengal don't want anything to do with the outside world.
  • Their numbers are unknown, but either 40 or 500 remain.
Keep reading Show less

Found: second draft of Galileo's argument for a heliocentric model

At least he wasn't burned at the stake, right?

The original letter in which Galileo argued against the doctrine of the Roman Catholic Church has been rediscovered in London. Image credit: The Royal Society
Surprising Science
  • The letter suggests Galileo censored himself a bit in order to fly more under the radar. It didn't work, though.
  • The Royal Society Journal will publish the variants of the letters shortly, and scholars will begin to analyze the results.
  • The letter was in obscurity for hundreds of years in Royal Society Library in London.
Keep reading Show less