Shankland in mineralogy

by Anne Shankland, UK

Googling for "Shankland" recently, I came across a whole new meaning of the word which surprised me greatly. It appears to be a term for a type of geological deposit occurring in various locations including the Downs of southern England and also in the Mississippi valley in North America:

The cretaceous formation in England presents beds chiefly sandy in the lowest part, chiefly clayey in the middle, and chiefly of chalk in the upper part, the chalk beds being never absent, which some of the lower are in several places. In the vale of the Mississippi, again, the true chalk is wholly, or all but wholly absent. In the south of England, the lower beds are, (reckoning from the lowest upwards), 1. Shankland or greensand, " a triple alternation of sands and sandstones with clay ;" 2. Galt, "a stiff blue or black clay, abounding in shells, which frequently possess a pearly lustre ;'' 3. Hard chalk; 4. Chalk with flints, these two last being generally white, but in some districts red, and in others yellow. The whole are, in England, about 1200 feet thick, shewing the considerable depths of the ocean in which the deposits were made.

The quotation is taken from a book, Vestiges of the Natural History of Creation, published in London in 1844. It is represented on two websites, one of which ( the British Library) shows the author as Robert Chambers, while the other ( Electronic Scholarly Publishing) indicates that it is anonymous but published by John Churchill. Strangely, the British Library website includes the book transcript under its Phrenology section!

This book seems to be the only use of the word "Shankland" in a mineralogical sense. "Greensand" is rather more widely used and in fact there is a Wikipedia article about it. Some references indicate that even this term is being outdated. Maybe "Shankland" was a term in relatively common use when the Vestiges book was written but has now fallen into disuse and been forgotten.

But where did the word come from? Did it originally commemorate someone called Shankland whose contribution to the science of mineralogy included his name? Did it describe the geological formation in some way, as being some kind of "Shank" land? Or was it merely a mishearing of a different technical term by the anonymous author of this early work? Theories are warmly invited!


Anne Shankland, March 2007