Geomorphology's role in the study of weathering of cultural stone

Gregory A. Pope, Thomas C. Meierding, Thomas R. Paradise

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

106 Scopus citations


Great monumental places-Petra, Giza, Angkor, Stonehenge, Tikal, Macchu Picchu, Rapa Nui, to name a few-are links to our cultural past. They evoke a sense of wonderment for their aesthetic fascination if not for their seeming permanence over both cultural and physical landscapes. However, as with natural landforms, human constructs are subject to weathering and erosion. Indeed, many of our cultural resources suffer from serious deterioration, some natural, some enhanced by human impact. Groups from the United Nations to local civic and tourism assemblies are deeply interested in maintaining and preserving such cultural resources, from simple rock art to great temples. Geomorphologists trained in interacting systems, process and response to thresholds, rates of change over time, and spatial variation of weathering processes and effects are able to offer insight into how deterioration occurs and what can be done to ameliorate the impact. Review of recent literature and case studies presented here demonstrate methodological and theoretical advances that have resulted from the study of cultural stone weathering. Because the stone was carved at a known date to a "baseline" or zero-datum level, some of the simplest methods (e.g., assessing surface weathering features or measuring surface recession in the field) provide useful data on weathering rates and processes. Such data are difficult or impossible to obtain in "natural" settings. Cultural stone weathering studies demonstrate the importance of biotic and saline weathering agents and the significance of weathering factors such as exposure (microclimate) and human impact. More sophisticated methods confirm these observations, but also reveal discrepancies between field and laboratory studies. This brings up two important caveats for conservators and geomorphologists. For the conservator, are laboratory and natural setting studies really analogous and useful for assessing stone damage? For the geomorphologist, does cultural stone data have any real relevance to the natural environment? These are questions for future research and debate. In any event, cultural stone weathering studies have been productive for both geomorphologists and conservators. Continued collaboration and communication between the geomorphic, historic preservation, archaeological, and engineering research communities are encouraged.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)211-225
Number of pages15
Issue number2-4
StatePublished - 2002


  • Cultural resource management
  • Geomorphology
  • Stone conservation
  • Weathering


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