My ’22 Top Ten – 1. Quicksand

Number one in my Top Ten of 2022 is the first thing of note I did in the year, but Emma Gibson’s Quicksand is also number 1 because it was my favourite project of the year.

It marked the first time I was employed as a museum consultant, the first time I worked with a professional artist, and the first time I got to develop a programme of schools’ teaching activities. Oh, and I also got to make videos about sand, lead a Darwin Day sand walk, and convene a sandposium (a pun which wasn’t even mine).

Sand is simply a fascinating substance, but Emma’s megalithic sculptures try to remind people what a huge part it plays in our daily lives. Without sand – for paint, glass, concrete, or computers – human life as we know it simply wouldn’t exist.

“Of course, a beach made out of salt or sugar wouldn’t last very long.”

Quicksand also serves to highlight our vulnerability to the human over-exploitation of sand. Earth has such quantities of sand you’d think we could never run out, but much of our urban infrastructure (especially concrete) requires angular, mixed-size sands from rivers and coastal regions. As Dr Chris Hackney explained at the Sandposium, unregulated sand extraction in places like the Mekong Delta means that sand is being removed far faster than it can be naturally replenished.

Geological sand is also incredibly important. Economically, sandstones make up some of the world’s biggest aquifers, and are the main reservoirs of oil and gas. Environmentally, sandstones tell us about ancient deserts, rivers, beaches and oceans. They can also contain wonderful fossils: the Middle Jurassic sandstones of the Yorkshire Coast are of global significance for plants and dinosaur footprints.

“So, how do we go from sand to sandstone?”

Quicksand may have finished, but Emma’s sculptures have been donated to Scarborough Museums and Galleries, so hopefully they’ll go on public display again in 2023. If you want to come and explore the wonder (and vulnerability) of sand, there are few places better to do it than Scarbados. And if you fancy a sand walk in South Bay on Darwin Day (Sunday February 12th), just drop me a line.

Earth scientist in York, fossilist across Yorkshire. Co-director of the Yorkshire Fossil Festival and palaeontologist for hire. Can be found twittering, facebooking, and instagramming as @fossiliam.