Monday, 26 April 2010

Geologists balk at Yellowknife prospector Mark Brown's plan to sell off the world's oldest rock

RT @Northern_Clips: Geologists balk at Yellowknife prospector Mark Brown's plan to sell off the world's oldest rock #YZF #NWT


He has already removed about 200 kilograms of fallen rock at the site and, if demand is there, is prepared to dynamite the gneiss outcrop itself.

That prospect concerns geologists, who say the rock is a unique window into the world as it once was – and is best studied intact. The study of ancient rock presents one of the few opportunities scientists have to learn about the forces and processes that shaped the Earth billions of years ago, a time when, it's now believed, the first bits of life began to emerge.

"It's a very important location for Canada and for the world and for everyone who is interested in the early Earth," said Robert Creaser, acting chair of the University of Alberta's department of Earth and atmospheric sciences. Older meteorites have been discovered on Earth, as have older mineral grains, but none much bigger than a human hair.

That makes Acasta "quite important from a heritage point of view," Mr. Creaser said.

To anyone but a geologist with sophisticated dating tools, the rock itself is indistinguishable from that in the vast regions of the Canadian Shield.

But the sheer age of the rock is, Mr. Brown said, "a mind-blower" that imparts a metaphysical experience of permanence. He calls it the Rock of Ages, a deliberately religious metaphor for an object whose natural setting carries a mystique so great, he said, that "I can establish my own church there."

Not only that, he believes the rock has all manner of money-making potential. People have talked about using it for headstones or chess pieces. Bits of the gneiss have gone to the Royal Ontario Museum, the Smithsonian in Washington, D.C., and to universities, collectors and researchers from Denmark to Japan. Mr. Brown has even heard from a man so eager for an authentic encounter that he is determined to fly to the site – air charters cost about $4,500 – and collect a piece for himself.

"It's just raw, 100 per cent what-can-you-do-with-it? sort of material," Mr. Brown said.