Warwickshire Museum's Lava Medallions

Medallion stamped from molten lava: Vesuvius 1871 eruption
Image courtesy of Warwickshire Museum

The geological collections of the Warwickshire Museum were initiated by the Warwickshire Natural History and Archaeological Society during the 19th century.

Brave entrepreneurs

Amongst the many curiosities collected back then are a small number of medallions, stamped out of fine-grained basalt lava, collected by brave entrepreneurs from active historic volcanic eruptions. One of our favourites is this one; commemorating the 1871 eruption of Mount Vesuvius in southern Italy. We don’t know how the lava was collected, but no doubt at considerable personal risk. Because they are low in silica, basalt lava flows are very ‘runny’, and can move considerable distances at great speed.

A great heat

They are also very hot, demonstrating temperatures in excess of several hundred degrees celsius.  Presumably the red hot sticky magma, contained in some sort of steel bucket, was subsequently stamped out with engraved steel plates, and quenched in water.

This unusual artefact is typical of those being collected by the Warwickshire Natural History and Archaeological Society during the 19th century. A curiosity from an exotic place, to fascinate, educate and enlighten the first visitors to the Market Hall Museum.

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