A New Publication from Geologica Press

A Story in Stone

The Geology of the Oxford University of Natural History Museum Building

by Nina Morgan and Phillip Powell, iIllustrated with photographs by Mike Tomlinson and Museum archive material.

The Oxford University Museum of Natural History is celebrated as one of the most important Gothic revival buildings of the 19th century. The stated goal of the building was to teach science. Its design was based on the idea that, "no ornament should be employed which had no significance with reference to the object of the building." 

Geology played a key role in achieving this. The 127 polished stone columns, composed of a wide range of British and Irish rocks, are among the most striking features of the Museum interior – and in geological terms the most instructive. But there are many other geological features to explore too.

A Story in Stone highlights the geology on show throughout this iconic building, and provides an introduction to geology that anyone can enjoy. 

Now available from the authors. Cost £18 + P&P.

To purchase a copy, please email us at: info@gravestonegeology.uk.


» A Story in Stone leaflet (PDF)








What is Gravestone Geology?

Cemeteries and graveyards are more than a peaceful place to commemorate the dead. For geologists – whether amateur, student  or professional – almost any urban cemetery is a great place to carry out scientific field work at leisure, right on the doorstep, and at no cost.

Cemeteries offer an excellent opportunity to examine and study a wide range of stone types in a small space. They also serve as a useful field area for studying rock weathering and they are a wonderful resource for learning about art, design, and local and social history.


Nina Morgan and Philip Powell introduce gravestone geology in this short video.


Cemetery science

Because gravestones are made from a wide variety of rock types, formed in a range of geological settings, cemeteries are geological treasure-troves. Many gravestones are made of polished stone, so reveal details – such as minerals and crystal features – that are not easy to see elsewhere.

Some demonstrate the textures and mineral composition of igneous rocks. 



Large feldspar crystal in granite


Others gravestones are happy hunting grounds for lovers of fossils. Some reveal sedimentary structures that show how the rock was originally deposited. Others provide clues to earth movements and environments that occurred hundreds of millions of years ago. 


Fossil brachiopod in Banbury Ironstone


A visit to a cemetery or graveyard also offers a wonderful introduction to other sciences that underpin geology, such as chemistry and physics, and can serve as a source of valuable field data for engineers, architects and conservators.


Holywell Cemetary, Oxford


The examination of gravestones can provide useful information about topics ranging from weathering of stone to atmospheric chemistry, effects of pollution, stability and settling in soils and land drainage.


Gravestones showing different weathering


Gravestones are also great places to study lichens, and churchyards are often wonderful sites to enjoy wildflowers, observe insects and take the opportunity to explore many aspects of natural history, environmental science and the history of transportation and technology.


Weathered gravestone with lichens