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The oldest profession

4 September 2023

Dear Editors,

In their article, Unearthing success (Geoscientist 33(2), 40-41), Ruth Allington and Viv Russell highlight the importance of minerals in our daily lives. When you think about it, probably timber is the only material used regularly by most people that does not depend critically on mineral resources, either directly, or indirectly though materials manufactured from minerals (including petroleum). 

Bulk aggregate goes into roads and concrete, while asphalt and cement are also of mineral origin.  In our houses, the bricks, roofing, mineral wool insulation and window glass come from minerals. Wool carpet may have been dyed using petroleum-derived dyes, the wood is probably painted with petroleum-derived paint, coloured white by mineral-derived titanium dioxide, and it is difficult to assemble a house without metal nails and screws. Plastics are mineral-derived, as are the multitude of elements that go into all electrical and electronic devices.

Most food relies on fertilisers.  Phosphorus and potassium are directly derived from minerals, and nitrogen fertilisers are made using petroleum. Fertiliser use affects the cotton in our clothing, if it is not made from synthetic, petroleum-derived, fibres.

Geology is unavoidable. There were geologists in the Stone Age, before there was money, so geology may be the oldest profession of all.

John Heathcote
Hydrogeology and radioactively contaminated land expert, previously with Dounreay Site Restoration Ltd.

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