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Journeys From The Centre Of The Earth - Episode guides

Updated Friday, 16th August 2013

Programme-by-programme guides to Iain Stewart's geology series.

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Programme 1: Risky Rocks

Iain enjoys local hospitality Copyrighted  image Icon Copyright: Production team All over the Mediterranean region, earthquakes have created a huge network of cracks in the ground. These faults provide pathways for all kinds of stuff to rise up to the top from deep below – gases, elements, molten lava.

Sometimes what comes up is good for us, sometimes bad. Just as it can be a kill or cure for an individual, so it can contribute to the rise and fall of entire civilisations. As a geologist, Iain sidesteps the tour guides of the Med and shows us how cracks in the Earth have changed the course of human history.

We look at earthquakes in Turkey; the health spa and entrance to hell at Pamukkale (good water and bad gas); a theory that asphalt is behind the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah; how the use of copper and tin brought about the Bronze Age and how lead poisoned the Romans. We also include volcanic eruptions at Santorini.

Programme 2: Architecture

The architectural styles that the ancients used were, to a large extent, dictated by the rocks which were available to them on their doorstep. We look at how rocks influenced the Egyptians to build pyramids, the Greeks to build squares and the Romans to build arches.

It was how the rocks were formed millions of years ago which determined whether they were best suited to be building materials for an Egyptian pyramid, a Greek Parthenon or a Roman Colosseum.

Programme 3: Art

This programme relates rocks and geology to the use of pigments in art. Early cave painters began by scraping their colours from rocks on the Earth’s surface, but civilisations like the Egyptians and Arabs developed ingenious techniques to transform rocks and dramatically broaden the range of their palettes.

Bringing this story up to the present day, Iain shows how advances in our understanding of rocks has given each generation of artists new potential.

Programme 4: Beliefs

Built with what's to hand - the Pyramids Copyrighted  image Icon Copyright: BBC The Mediterranean is full of beautiful vistas. But pretty landscapes are much more than a feast for the eyes. Throughout the ages, they have been a huge influence on our beliefs about the way our planet works.

In the Med, rocks fashioned the way people thought about everything from the existence of God to the extinction of dinosaurs. It was once believed many powerful gods were responsible for everything and that they showed their displeasure with almighty catastrophes such as earthquakes or volcanoes.

Today, most accept the planet is shaped by the laws of nature. We know that whilst some geological processes are indeed catastrophic, others take place over millions and millions of years. Iain shows us how the rocks beneath our feet have been constantly forcing us to rethink our beliefs about life, the universe and everything.

This is largely a story of religion and science, but it is also about the debate over geological timescales. We look at the disappearance of Helike; the conversion of King Constantine – thanks to a comet; the Lisbon earthquake; and we go on to look at the discoveries of pioneers such as Leclerc and Lyell. We finish by going into the more recent understanding of plate tectonics and the KT boundary.

Programme 5: Water

This programme is about man’s struggle with water. Because water is so crucial to us, the really successful civilisations are the ones which have learned how best to exploit it. But whether they can control the water or the water controls them is all down to what’s beneath our feet… the rocks.

We look at: the flooding of the Black Sea when the level of the Med rose 10,000 years ago; the connection between rocks and man’s attempts to navigate; the Greeks’ use of sink holes to control their water supply – including how sink holes were used against them by enemies in the battle of Mantinea, back in 418BC; we go to Ephesus in Greece to look at how silting up left the city stranded inland and we finish with the opposite problem happening on the Costa del Sol where beaches are being washed away.

Programme 6: Salt

In this programme Iain looks at how salt is central to Mediterranean history. Salt is a key part of the Atlantic conveyor which switches ice ages on and off. We examine salt as a means of preservation for the Egyptians in their unpredictable climate, and as preservation and therefore a means of trading for the Phoenicians.

And we see how salt was important to the rise and fall of the Venetians and why that story ultimately influenced the food Italy is famous for today.

This programmes was first broadcast on Tuesday 21 Sep 2004 on BBC Four. For further broadcast details, please visit





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