Environmental Tales from the Tomb
October 30, 2001
Grave markers are one of humankind's most enduring testaments to lives past, and often survive for hundreds, even thousands of years. By carefully measuring the rate of deterioration of these exposed, often finely carved slabs of rock, scientists can infer regional patterns and timing of weathering, exacerbated by acid precipitation which dissolves limestone or marble headstones. The effect is most noticeable in urban, coal burning areas. The damage seems to have peaked 60-70 years ago, according to studies by Tom Meierding, Professor of Geography at the University of Delaware. Cleaner air today slows the rate of dissolution, giving hope that future generations will still be able to read inscriptions meant for the living.