Monday, September 09, 2013


The term Allochthon in structural geology is used to describe a large block of rock which has been moved from its original site of formation, usually by low angle thrust faulting. From the Greek "allo" meaning other and "chthon" designating the process of the land mass being moved under the earth and connecting two horizontally stacked d├ęcollements and thus "under the earth". . .

An allochthon which is isolated from the rock that pushed it into position is called a klippe. If an allochthon has a "hole" in it so that one can view the autochthon beneath the allochthon, the hole is called a "window" (or Fenster). Etymology: Greek; 'allo' = other, and 'chthon' = earth.

In limnology, allochthonous sources of carbon or nutrients come from outside the aquatic system (such as plant and soil material). Carbon sources from within the system, such as algae and the microbial breakdown of particulate organic carbon, are autochthonous. In streams and small lakes, allochthonous sources of carbon are dominant while in large lakes and the ocean, autochthonous sources dominate. (Eby, 2004)

The term "allochthonous" is also used in the social sciences, as the opposite to autochthonous.

I love all these geological structure words and the concepts they suggest.  I understand them a lot more easily than I can understand structural concepts that come from human geometry and engineering, like cyber-technical stuff.  So let me see what I can do with this great set of words I just found.  They’re right out of the Rocky Mountains.

Since I’m already reflecting about the current situation on the Blackfeet Rez, which is highly emotional and affects individuals in ways that both evoke and justify passion, what might be gained from looking at the forces in terms of huge masses of stone, especially since the rez is on the east slope of the Rockies where the geology is much affected by subterranean forces?  I left in all the links so non-geologists can check out definitions.  You’ll note that much of this is relevant to oil fields and mineral deposits.  I’ll proceed in a simplistic way.

Structural geology is the study of deformations and stresses and the resulting patterns.  This is what “doodlebugs” (exploring geologists) look for: the patterns that are likely to have created underground capture pockets for oil and gas, or that may show igneous intrusions (volcanoes) that pushed up deposits like the gold in the Sweetgrass Hills along the Canadian border.  

One of the phenomena produced by these forces is a huge block of stone that has been pushed along a weak layer of rock to a new place, usually from low down on the block.  It may be a klippe. “A klippe (Danish for cliff or crag) is a geological feature of thrust fault terrains. The klippe is the remnant portion of a nappe after erosion has removed connecting portions of the nappe. This process results in an outlier of exotic, often nearly horizontally translated strata overlying autochthonous strata. Examples of klippes include:  Chief Mountain, Montana.”

“A nappe or thrust sheet is a large sheetlike body of rock that has been moved more than 2 km (1.2 mi)or 5 km (3.1 mi) above a thrust fault from its original position. The term stems from the French word for tablecloth in allusion to a crumpled tablecloth being pushed across a table.”

Autochthonous is a word I use a lot as a synonym for indigenous, something that developed where it is, out of the potential and materials right there.  I haven’t used allocthonous, something that came in from another place like the Euro-culture wave that came in over the top of the pre-existing peoples on the prairie.  In this case, they didn’t "rumple the tablecloth," they burned holes in it and tore it into pieces.  And then, to pick up the reference to limnology, they threw water on it and all sorts of things floated in.

A fenster (you know, fenestration or defestration: windows, holes; jumping out windows) is a place where it’s possible to see through the overlying allocthonous to the indigenous underneath.  I’m trying to think about what a cultural “fenster” on the Blackfeet rez might be.  Is it North American Indian Days when everyone comes to dance to the drum?  Is it Piegan Institute which supports the Immersion Blackfeet Language School?  Is it the Museum of the Plains Indian where artifacts are displayed and explained?  The Catholic church is clearly not one, though Father Ed tries to make places in the European Mass where the indigenous symbols and values are included as “fensters.”  

But who is sophisticated enough to know what are true fensters?  My criteria would be geological: if it relates to life on the prairie in the buffalo days, then it’s a view of the original autochthonous culture.   It might not have anything to do with material culture: a buffalo robe is not necessarily a fenster.  Taking in a child who has no home IS a fenster, a cultural practice arising from the group that traveled together on the prairie.  A discussion circle that included elders (who are now my age and older) might happily identify fensters as guides for future decisions.

Typically, the basal detachment of the foreland part of a fold-thrust belt lies in a weak shale or evaporite at or near the basement.  Rocks above the d├ęcollement are allocthonous, rocks below are autochthonous.  In my view it is clear that the “evaporite” was the buffalo -- that’s what evaporated -- and that the “weak shale” remains economic.  NOT military or even political.  People begin to rebel when they feel they are starving, or shut out from success.  This is a moral issue: all human beings “deserve” enough to eat, a decent place to live, educated children and so on.

When all the supply is on one side (often allocthonous) and the demand is on the other side (often autochthonous) what fensters will help us understand and think of stabilizing the culture “strike and slip”?  Chief Mountain is a klippe that gives us a literally outstanding reference point, in this specific case a guide to where the 49th parallel is, so what are the cultural klippes that will help us all figure out where other “lines” are, even the ones that mark arbitrary allopolitical boundaries? 

At present the tendency is to use strong personalities as guides.  The more prominent they are, the more chief, the more likely to attract attention, but that doesn’t mean they are useful, and often they have become prominent by using the slippage between the allocthonous overburden and the autochthonous substrate.  At the worst they can be Samson in the Temple, which is an old Euro Bible story about a man who pulled the stone temple down on his own head.  It’s in Judges 16.  

But this Samson, Will Sampson, gentle giant, would not have done that.  He bailed out of the cuckoo’s nest. In him was the deep ignited fire of a passionate autochthonous heart.  

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