Want to learn more about geology?
- Attend one of the Geology Department Seminar Series events at Lafayette that are open and available to the public.
The Nov. 12 tour focused on the geologic nature of the historic space
By Adam Atkinson
Each month, Historic Easton Cemetery and West Ward Community Initiative host a Weekend Wanderers tour that typically focuses on answering questions about the cemetery, its location and its historical “residents.” David Sunderlin, Lafayette College professor of geology, led the Nov. 12 tour and focused on the geologic nature of the historic space.
“This kind of community involvement is very important to me,” Sunderlin says. “Learning goes on everywhere, not only within the walls of a classroom. And learners of all ages with curiosity and some walking shoes can take part in these sorts of things quite often around Easton.”
On the walk, Sunderlin related parallels of the history of human life that are evident in the rocks. His excitement and enthusiasm for the rocks are contagious, and his ability to grab your attention with a single line is enviable.
“I just love being part of these experiences out in the field, either on the teaching side or the learning side,” Sunderlin says. “I had the group consider small things like the minerals that make up rocks and monuments in the cemetery, to big things like the shape of the landscape beyond its walls with valleys and ridges all around. These are interestingly related, and coming to appreciate it all is part of what ties us to this place and our deep history.”
Easton wasn’t carved by glaciers—it was dissolved, he explains. Easton sits on top of a bed of limestone, soft rock easily dissolved by acidic waters over millions of years, and surrounding ridges are made up of hard rock called gneiss, not easily dissolved.
Vanessa Manning ’26, a geology and French double major, demonstrated qualities of native rocks during the tour by pouring acid she carried onto limestone, which caused a reaction. It’s what happens during erosion, as the acidity present in rivers and rainwater washes over rocks, changing the landscape over thousands to millions of years.
“Professor Sunderlin’s teaching style is truly unique,” Manning says. “He makes it a point to get to know every student in the class individually, and he is very determined to help you succeed. He also values learning outside of the classroom, which I was very drawn to as someone who loves travel, the outdoors, and learning something new. He has sent me countless opportunities to be more involved; it is truly never a dull moment in the Geology Department.”
Amy Wolff, a volunteer with the Friends of Historic Easton Cemetery, explains the Weekend Wanderers program is designed to introduce the community to Easton’s largest green space, and the routes and themes of the walks vary by month. Check the Historic Easton Cemetery website for upcoming events.
“We started Weekend Wanderers as a way to invite the general public, especially our neighbors in the West Ward, to explore the cemetery casually, without a formal tour or without a specific purpose,” Wolff says. “Part of our programming strategy is to look at the cemetery in different ways and encourage people to explore the space as a green space, not just as a permanent resting place or a historical site.”
Sunderlin isn’t the first professor to get involved with the cemetery. Paul Barclay, professor of history and Historic Easton Cemetery board member, is working on an ongoing project with the cemetery’s archives. Members of the community can attend a concert 3-4 p.m. Dec. 17, performed by Jorge Torres, associate professor of music, and Heath Hitchcock, visiting instructor of music, in the cemetery’s chapel. Learn more.