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Nigel Clark (Lancaster University): ‘Speculative Volcanology, Igneous Becomings’

Nigel Clark (Lancaster University): ‘Speculative Volcanology, Igneous Becomings’


The Earth, observes geologist Jan Zalasiewicz,is `a gigantic machine for producing strata’. A quiescent planet would not have given rise to the concentrations of energy and minerals
through which humankind owes its recent escalation in agency. Nor would it likely have
birthed a beast such as us in the first place. In this talk I visit three episodes of vicious
destratification that may have been instrumental in `our’ fitful emergence and
ascending powers. The first is the uncharacteristically large volume of magma extruded from the Earth’s mantle around 1.9 billion years ago that scientists speculate provided the bumper crop of trace metals
which sparked the proliferation and diversification of eukaryotic life forms – and thus the ascendance of complex bodies,preprogrammed death and sexual reproduction. The second is the extensional
tectonics of the East African rift valley that result from a landmass overlying a ‘superplume’
of rising magma. Not only is this volcanically active landscape the site at which
the genus Homo emerged, it has also been suggested that lava provided hominids with
their original source of fire. The third is the eruption on the Anatolian plateau of the
volcano Hasan Dağı around 7000 BC, which I link to the spatially and temporally adjacent
village of Çatalhöyük, one of the earliest known sites of kiln-fired pottery and metal
smelting: pyrotechnologies that might be seen as the capture and reproduction of the Earth’s
own igneous activity. Through these three events I explore the complicity of violent
destratification and the emergence of new powers of diversification and generativity.  





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