EDUCATION: Halloween Geology

By Chris Kieffer/NEMS Daily Journal

STARKVILLE – Mississippi State University geology students are learning life lessons about respecting the deceased, honoring their memories and discovering how headstones weather the seasons of time.
Members of the university’s GeoMe gathered recently at Starkville’s Odd Fellows Cemetery along University Drive for a “Haunted Geological Cemetery Trip.” While there, they visually examined headstones to learn more about how weather changes rock characteristics over time.
“They were looking at the different types of graves and the different kinds of stones that are used to make stones and how chemical weathering, like acid rain, and natural weathering affects the stone, depending on its age and type,” said graduate student Jeremy Weremeichik, GeoMe’s vice president.
Primarily students in earth science classes and laboratories, the cemetery visitors focused on which types of rocks make good headstones. Because the stones are polished, their individual characteristics and the impacts of weathering are easy to see, said associate professor Brenda Kirkland.
“The cemetery contains some great examples of how some stones weather easily, and some stones are very durable,” Kirkland observed. “As geologists, we respect and love the stones, but not anywhere near as much as the people in this town loved their lost family members who are buried there.
“We realize that and have organized this to be as cautious and respectful as possible, while still allowing students to gain from this wonderful learning opportunity.”
She credited Weremeichik and other graduate students in the geosciences department for their enthusiasm in making the tour a fun, yet respectful, visit. The visitors walked only on the paved pathways as they were escorted by GeoMe members, she said.
As is the case with most professions, budding geologists need to complete field experiences as part of their overall education. Weremeichik and Kirkland agreed that the cemetery tour provided an excellent opportunity to learn by doing.
“It’s a fun, educational geoscience-oriented tour in the spirit of Halloween,” Weremeichik said.
And, Kirkland said, “It is a wonderful teaching opportunity.”