Photo of the Rock Showman on the beach, holding a piece of coal

Episodes of 'What's Beneath Our Feet?'

Episode 1: Finding the Black Stuff
Episode 2: Down in the Dirt
Episode 3: The Greatest Trick Ever Learned
Episode 4: Jurassic Journey

In light of the current circumstances concerning COVID-19, please follow government guidance on outdoor activity before participating in anything shown in the videos. The fossils are millions of years old; they won't disappear overnight!

Unearthing our Geology

The Common Room have an expansive geology collection, which includes a wide selection of both minerals and rocks. Throughout this series, each episode will explore specimens from our collection that help us understand geology and strata, and why they were so important to mining.

Photo of the Rock Showman, showing children a rock

The Rock Showman

Hello, my name is The Rock Showman! I have travelled the world as both a Circus Man and a Geologist but wherever I go, I always question, "What’s beneath my feet?". To discover fossils, you’ve got to understand what’s under where you stand! In this series, we will be exploring the fascinating earth history of North East England. Join me and my Rock Hounds as we find out what’s beneath our feet!

Episode 1:
Finding the Black Stuff

In this episode, The Rock Showman and his Rock Hounds head to the North East coastline in search of coal…because where there is coal, there are fossils!

Using his scientific knowledge and geology tools, The Rock Showman explains how you can find fossils and identify different specimens.

Episode 2:
Down in the Dirt

Join The Rock Showman as he travels back in time using archaeology and geology to uncover some of the ancient history of North-East England.

In this episode, The Rock Showman explores whether his backyard has any Roman remains, visits nearby Hadrian's Wall and takes a trip back in time by visiting the fossilised forest of Low Hauxley in Northumberland.

Episode 3:
The Greatest Trick Ever Learned

What is the Greatest Trick ever learned? See The Rock Showman reveal all in this episode!

Join him and his Rockhounds on an adventure to Woodhorn Museum...

Episode 4:
Jurassic Journey

How are fossils made? How can you find them?

Join The Rock Showman as he explores Yorkshire's Jurassic Coast to answer these questions and more. The Rockhounds can't wait to find a dinosaur...but The Rock Showman has never found one before, could this be his lucky day?

Meet the geologist

Have you ever wondered what it's like to be a geologist (a scientist who studies the Earth, what it's made of and the processes that shape those materials)? What about why geology is important?

If so, read on - we asked Catherine Miller these questions and more!

When I was younger, I loved the outdoors and looking at all the different shells, rocks, coloured glass and fossils on the beach.  I enjoyed maths and science at school and one of my college lectures suggested doing an extra A-level in Geology, as it brought all the sciences together with field trips and can tell you so much about the past.

My days are really varied!  Now I run my own geological business, with my business partner, and have a team of 10 people – who do ground investigations using excavators and drilling rigs. This lets them test and describe the rocks and soils to make sure they’re not contaminated and that they’re strong enough to build new houses, offices and warehouses on.  We also investigate old underground coal workings to see how they would affect a new building on the surface – then we make recommendations to make sure the building won’t fall down!

We need to investigate the ground beneath our feet because it can affect what we build above.  If you want to build a bridge you need to think about how it will affect the ground so that you make sure it doesn’t fall down!

Learning about what’s beneath our feet is important because it is where we live.  We need to investigate, assess and remediate (make better) site areas, such as old factories, old mine sites and historical developments, to test for contamination in the shallow ground.  If there’s contamination, it can affect our long term health – for example if there are heavy metals (things like lead, chromium copper and zinc), hydrocarbons (things like petrol, diesel and oils).  If there are things like sulphate or acidic ground conditions, that can affect the materials, such as concrete, that we use in buildings.

In North East England we also need to learn about the shallow coal mine workings so we can design a suitable foundation and remediation solution for a building.  We also need to assess for mine/soil gas (for example too much carbon dioxide and methane with not enough oxygen) to provide protection measures for the building developments.  When water fills these old mine workings, we can also use the heat energy in the water to heat new homes and offices, which is really exciting as a renewable source of energy.

Geology is a great subject if you enjoy all of the sciences, with a bit of maths, but also enjoy the outdoors – even if it is raining!  Geology is very varied.  I trained in geology and geography and then geotechnical engineering but there are so many different aspects and careers in geology.  It’s not all about just looking at rocks!

Not all schools offer geology but don’t worry too much – there are lots of resources out there to help you to learn about the geology near you.

My favourite mineral is an evaporite (that means it’s formed when water evaporates from a solution) called polyhalite.  To be exact, polyhalite is a type of salt made from a hydrated potassium calcium magnesium sulphate.  It’s not a very pretty rock, but it is very important for food security – it’s used as a fertiliser, to help crops grow stronger and yield more food for the world’s population.

Polyhalite can be found in North Yorkshire (North East England) across to Germany and was formed during the evaporation of the prehistoric Zechstein Sea in the Permian period, 260 million years ago.  The hot and dry conditions of the environment at that time meant the sea evaporated quicker than it could be re-filled, leaving behind polyhalite, halite and potash minerals.

Photo of Catherine in front of stained-glass windows, next to a bookcase with leather-bound books. The 'Institute of Mining and Mechanical Engineers' logo is faintly visible below the window. She is wearing smart-casual clothes.

In light of the current circumstances concerning COVID-19, please follow government guidance on outdoor activity before participating in anything shown in the videos. The fossils are millions of years old; they won’t disappear overnight!

Here at The Common Room, we are passionate about the mining heritage of the North East. Working with our partners, and with thanks to the National Lottery Heritage Fund, we are able to bring to life the geology of the region, and encourage you to explore and be inspired by what's beneath your feet. Thank you to The Rock Showman for this series of videos.

Photo of the Rock Showman pointing to a rock outcrop, while holding a piece of coal