Monday, March 5, 2012

Boulder nicknames

Exposed boulders found in the countryside are called erratics referring to their scattered localities. Such erratic rocks can be very large such as “The Big Rock” (Okotoks Erratic) in Alberta, which is part of the Foothills Erratics Train, a group of rocks carried to their current location by glacial ice movement during the ice age [1]. Erratics are found  in the once glaciated areas of North America between and north of New York and Vancouver as well as further south at higher altitudes in the Rocky Mountains and the Sierra Nevada.

Sometimes, erratics are called rubbing stones because bison scratched up against them [2]. Another nickname is “leaverites,” meaning “leave'er right there.” In context with an article by Hannah Holmes about glacier pushed boulders, photographer Fritz Hoffmann shows glacial erratics at various places in the United States, including a parking lot in Mystic, Connecticut, and Olmsted Point in Yosemite National Park [2]. Not following the leaverites dogma, Frederick Law Olmstedt designed Central Park by rearranging some erratics. Now New Yorkers may climb these boulders or rub them.  

Erratics are also found in northern parts of Eurasia. In Germany, an erratic rock is called Findling. Centuries before Olmstedt, some Findlinge were rearranged to form ritual structures such as Hünengräber  (for example between Nobiskrug and Upjever near Oldenburg [3]). Hünengrab means “grave yard of giants,” indicating the belief that such heavy granite rocks can only have been moved around by giants or that giants are buried underneath them. How such organized boulder assemblies really came together is still a mystery.

Particular erratics in Germany have nicknames too, for example the red-colored shore-line boulder „Klein Helgoland” of the Baltic island of Rügen. „Klein Helgoland” means „little Helgoland,” referring to the small North Sea Island with the name Helgoland, consisting of red sandstone.

Keywords: natural history, landscapes, ice age, geography.

References and more to explore
[1] Government of Alberta > Alberta History > Historic Sites > Oktotoks Erratic - "The Big Rock" [].
[2] Hannah Holmes and Fritz Hoffmann: How the Rock Got to Plymouth. National Geographic March 2012, 221 (3), pp. 90-105.
[3] V. Bleck: Die (bisher bekannte) Geschichte eines Findlings beim Nobiskrug [].
[4] Findlinge Rügen - Der Findling Uskam, bekannt als „Klein Helgoland” [].

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