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Samizdata, derived from Samizdat /n. - a system of clandestine publication of banned literature in the USSR [Russ.,= self-publishing house]

In praise of digging

I love this mighty beast, linked to by David Thompson in his latest batch of ephemera links (which he does every Friday and which I highly recommend):


This rusting hulk is (was) one of the world’s biggest digging machines. It now resides in an open air museum, where the captions and propaganda messages are all about the ecological folly of big digging machines. But for me, this is a glorious monument to man’s continuing and growing ability to impress his imprint upon nature.

And thereby, incidentally, to create all manner of interesting new habitats for other forms of nature beside man, once man has finished with using them for his original purpose. Last night I happened to watch a TV show about some defunct clay-excavation-for-brick-making site, somewhere in the Midlands I think, which has now become one of Britain’s most satisfactory habitats for various particularly interesting sorts of newt. In general, I think the way that the First Industrial Revolution churned up the landscape and thereby made it more varied and interesting, is an under-talked-about topic.

The Norfolk Broads, no less, which I have fond memories of sailing on as a boy, began as peat mining:

It was only in the 1960s that Dr Joyce Lambert proved that they were artificial features, the effect of flooding on early peat excavations. The Romans first exploited the rich peat beds of the area for fuel, and in the Middle Ages the local monasteries began to excavate the “turbaries” (peat diggings) as a business, selling fuel to Norwich and Great Yarmouth. The Cathedral took 320,000 tonnes of peat a year. Then the sea levels began to rise, and the pits began to flood.

So, good for Dr Joyce Lambert, good for the Romans, good for exploitation, and good for rising sea levels. The Romans would have loved that giant digger, even as they would have been amazed and discomforted that it was made by their arch-enemies, the Germans.

In further interesting environment-related speculations Bishop Hill reckons we may be due for a cold winter, on account of the sun taking a bit of a rest just now. Interesting. We shall see.

9 comments to In praise of digging

  • Roger Clague

    the way that the First Industrial Revolution churned up the landscape and thereby made it more varied and interesting

    I live in Birmingham. I find the canals and the lakes created to feed then are more interesting than the empty fields further into the countryside.

  • R C Dean

    Then the sea levels began to rise, and the pits began to flood.

    I thought they only thing that could cause the sea levels to rise was SUV-fueled global warming.

    Are you saying here that the sea actually rose before the advent of the Hummer?

  • R.C,
    In the first century BCE, Herod the Great built the city of Caesarea, with a magnificent harbor.

    Today the Herodian breakwaters are submerged 5m below the water surface.

    (Same is true of the ancient harbor of Alexandria).

    They must have had hummers.

  • Nick M

    I bought a spade at B&Q today and I thought it real nice. Then I get home and bring-up Samizdata and you’ve just gone and relieved yourself on my “digging technology” department.

    I also bought a cordless hedge trimmer so I am content. The missus vetoed the chainsaw, though… Bugger.

  • Kevin B

    There is a seagull out there that was born with a strangely twisted beak which, sadly, is useless for stealing fish from other birds or their eggs and young from their nests.

    Luckily, however, it is the ideal shape for ripping open discarded cartons of KFC on municipal rubbish dumps.

    It is only a matter of time before a new species of gull evolves, and thus Sir David Attenborough’s fears are assuaged. (Unless of course he and his greenie friends succeed in taking us all back to the 16th century.)

    Tragically, the gull whose bill is perfectly adapted for opening discarded pizza boxes is doomed to extinction, since, as everyone knows, cold pizza is perfectly edible to any student on a Saturday morning, but cold KFC or Chicken McNuggets… not so much.

  • Nick M

    Kevin B,

    One of the most wonderfully disgraceful scenes I ever witnessed was Canadian Corporate Law MSc student “re-vitalizing” a McDonald’s Meal-Deal in my microwave and theneating it. He ended-up getting a job in tax-law setting up offshore stuff for folks. He was a true piece of work. Due to the intricacies of the international dateline he could set-up accounts yesterday. Like I said, a piece of work.

  • MentalFloss

    The Broads a product of human engineering/commerce?

    I think I just swallowed my amazon!

  • Bunks

    i just loved it!!!!!!!!!!