Coal Balls

Fern Story 5 hewing copyThe Geological Context of The Garden
The Geology of the area in  which my garden sits consists of Lower Carboniferous (300 million years old) sandstones and mudstones, interbedded with many coal seams. These rocks have led to an  intensive mining and quarrying industry, of which there is plenty of evidence on the moor, shown by spoil tips, tramways, mine entrances and disused quarries. The unique nature of Todmorden Moors geology arises because one of the coal seams contains carbonate nodules with perfect celll-by-cell preservation of Carboniferous plant material. These nodules are called coal balls because they are found in coal seams, not because they are made of coal. Coal balls are rare in the UK because they are confined to just one coal seam and so can be found only in a few mines. Coal balls presented the scientific community of the late nineteenth century with a wonderful opportunity to study Carboniferous plant material. This research established the science of palaeobotony. Much of the early work focused on coal balls from Todmomorden Moor and similar mines in Lancashire. Ownes’ College Manchester was at the forefront of this research. Thin sections of coal balls enabled scientists to see the detail of the plant material through microscopes and extensive collections are still held at Manchester and Bolton Museums. Amongst the famous palaeobotanists working at Manchester during the late nineteenth century was Marie Stopes, who with D.M.S.Watson wrote the seminal paper on the origin of coal balls in 1908. They described the relationship between marine flooding of coal-producing swamps and the formation of coal balls.

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