Fingals Cave – photo: Yackeroeni
We can only speculate on the kind of microbe, plant or animal Thomas Molyneux had in mind when he postulated that the strict geometric configurations of the basalt columns found at the Giants Causeway might in fact be a huge fossil. An immense crystalline kelp or a scaled-up multicellular sodium-phillic slime mould?
Basalt column structures form part of a group of generative landforms known as Pseudocrystals. Aside form the well-known Giants Causeway in Ireland there are countless other fine examples around the world – Here’s a Flickr gallery compiling pictures of these multiform structures.
Fingal’s Cave in Scotland is an excellent example of this kind of polygonal scenography. It provided inspiration for Felix Mendelssohn, who wrote an overture on the spot during a visit in 1830. The cave formation resembles a giant church organ with pipes of varying lengths – perhaps Mendelssohn noted this visual cue? He was not the first to feel its musical overtones. The naturalist Joseph Banks, who landed on the island in August 1772, named it The Cave of Melody.
Devils Tower – photo: Strizich
Iceland has more than its fair share of exceptional Basalt columns. Dverghamrar has a structure which looks like an austere ancient temple relic – a previous home to a sect of non-regular tessellating-polygonal worshipping stone masons. At Kirkjubæjarklaustur you’ll find the remains of a carpet of pentagonal paving stones laid in honour of their megalithic idol.
The Devils Postpile in California, and The Devils Tower in Wyoming proposes an architect of a more malicious and sinister nature – the real story behind these metamorphic patterns had eluded geologists [or appropriately geognostics, as they were originally know] until quite recently.
Basalt columns were actually formed by a heat diffusion process during the cooling of volcanic lava as it interfaced with cold air or water, mostly during the Paleogene era. The process of contraction generates linear cracks and the extensive fracture networks that collectively create these fascinating psuedocrystalline mosaics.