University of Cambridge Museums

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Hammering it home – tools of the geologist’s trade

‘Tools of the Trade’ – an illustrated booklet on the Sedgwick Museum’s historical collection of geological hammers (photo Rob Theodore, Sedgwick Museum)

‘Tools of the Trade’ – an illustrated booklet on the Sedgwick Museum’s historical collection of geological hammers (photo Rob Theodore, Sedgwick Museum)

Arguably, the geological hammer is by far the oldest trade tool and was first used by our extinct human relatives over 3.3 million years ago. These ancestors also must have also been the first geologists. They evidently had enough knowledge of rock materials to select the best rocks available for making the stone tools upon which the evolution of human culture depended.

The hammer is still a basic tool for any geologist doing field work, which requires the investigation and sampling of Earth’s rock materials. And, human culture still depends upon rock-based Earth materials to a far greater degree than is generally appreciated.

The Sedgwick Museum has a unique historical collection of geological hammers, some of which are currently on display in the Museum. They include hammers that belonged to pre-eminent 19th century geologists, such as the Rev. Dr William Buckland (1784-1856) and the Rev. Professor Adam Sedgwick (1785-1873), and more recent geologists, many of whom had remarkable careers.

Dr Gertrude Elles (1872-1960) was the first female Reader in the University of Cambridge (1936), a Fellow of Newnham College and she was awarded an MBE (1920) for her Red Cross work, running a Cambridge hospital for wounded combatants during World War I. ‘Gertie’ Elles was also an internationally renowned palaeontologist and expert on extinct fossil graptolites. Her hammers and some of her fossils are on display in the Museum.

An illustrated booklet ‘Tools of the Trade’, about the history of the collection and those geologists who donated their hammers, has been published by the Sedgwick Museum and is available from the Museum shop.

Douglas Palmer, Sedgwick Museum

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This entry was posted on September 7, 2016 by in Behind the Scenes, Culture, Goal 1, News, Research and tagged , , .
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