The Past is the Key to the Present
A well known quote among geologists is "The present is the key to the past.", which famously summarizes the principal of uniformitarianism. pioneered by James Hutton and popularized by Charles Lyell in the 1800's.
Students in Dr. Rayburn's Surficial Processes class are using monuments from the past to learn the scientific method in the present. Cemeteries provide an ideal location to study weathering rates and processes because tombstones and other rock monuments are typically well dated. The New Paltz Cemetery, within a short walk from campus, provides samples of limestone, marble, quartz pebble conglomerate, and granite which all have differing weathering rates.
The diversity of monument lithologies and ages provides an ideal location for students to participate in an observational study of weathering rates and processes.
Students collect data on lithology, degree of weathering, and age. These observational studies do not require any physical or chemical tests, which is important in respecting these monuments. The data are compiled and analyzed in a spreadsheet, and weathering rates are calculated. The results are then related to regional topography by extrapolating thousands of years back in time - using the present to learn about the past.
Students determine the lithology, evaluate the amount of weathering, and record the date. This provides data on weathering rates in the region, which is related to past climate and rain acidity.