Set in Stone

| 1st November 2007
The loveliness, power and strength in stone is the raw beauty of Nature herself. In every piece of stone there is a story told more magnificent than any creation myth; a story that shocked and astonished the Christian geologists of late-1700s England when they first started to decipher, through the fossil record, the history of life on Earth.

Through learning to read the tracks and traces of the cataclysmic and remorseless geological changes that formed the planet, a story was uncovered that led directly to the computing of the true age of the Earth, the solar system, our galaxy and the universe. The science we depend upon for our everyday lives is tied inextricably to that ability to read the fossil record, the stone and the land.

Stones – so slow, silent and long-lived – are made, like us, of particles that were born in starbursts, in galactic winds, in our first Big Bang. There’s a poetry in them. They whisper to us about things older than we can conceive, gloriously mysterious yet hard and real. We can touch them with our hands, look into them with a microscope, and they reveal their stories, encouraging us to consider the brevity of our incarnation here on Earth.

And now, in this millennium, I make my mark on them, creating familiar forms, carrying an emotional charge. The heads I carve have the demeanor of wildness, gravity and beneficence. The discs are like heavenly bodies, stars, whirling in dark space, carrying information about our origins and throwing out light to us. So I call these works – both the heads and the discs – ‘angels’, consciously using the Sanskrit origin of the word angel, ‘Anjiras’, which means ‘messenger’. It’s the best word to describe their function, as kinds of fellow beings, ancient ancestors, speaking to us from aeons ago, truly messengers from the past. They become Earth Angels when they arrive in our midst, and we claim them as our own.

Because of the durability of the material, it is possible to imagine some of theses works lasting far into the future. They could plausibly be seen again millions of years from now by... whom? These old stones, carved now, telling stories about both us and the history of Earth, will outlive us and remain long after we have left this place. And in case technology doesn’t sort our problems and mankind doesn’t make it through to a safe future, as the scientists tell us is possible, these stone carvings will join with other remnants of the past and lie waiting through the millennia to be read again in some unknowable futurescape, a memorial to us.

Emily Young’s ongoing Earth Angel Project consists of placing 12 large – at least three tons – partially carved stone heads or discs around the world, on each continent. Three are already installed, in Paris, London and Italy, and plans are under way for further installations in China, the US, Australia, India and Brazil. See

This article first appeared in the Ecologist November 2007


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