Detail of a polished pallasite meteorite, featured in
          Wales - The Missing Years

Part of a polished slice of a pallasite meteorite - stone and iron, featured in Wales - The Missing Years


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Welcome to the website of John S. Mason
of Machynlleth, Mid-Wales

Scientific Interpretation: The Making of Ynyslas and Wales - The Missing Years - plus other projects

As a writer as well as a scientist, one thing that I see as critically important is the effective understandable and accurate communication of the Natural Sciences to the public. In the past, most such work has been with interpretation signs, books, booklets and websites, although I have also worked in radio and TV at various times. Please email me if you have a project you wish to discuss.

In the interpretation of geology, I aim to bring lost, ancient landscapes back to life through the power of words. My recent book, "The Making of Ynyslas" (ISBN 978-1-9161655-0-2), is a gripping chronicle of deglaciation, sea level rise and the drowning of Cardigan Bay over the past 25,000 years.

The background to the book was that in August 2018, I joined the team employed by Natural Resources Wales, to manage the busy Ynyslas Visitor Centre. I immediately noticed there was an unfilled niche in terms of informing the public about how the place, with its submerged forest, shingle spit and sand dunes, came into existence. In early 2019, I wrote the book. Based on the peer-reviewed literature, it not only tells the story of the place but adds in heaps of good old hard evidence to support the conclusions drawn.

The Making of Ynyslas

Sales (see below for retail outlets) have been encouraging indeed, punctuated of course by the pandemic where many of the outlets, apart from those offering the book online, had to completely close down. Nevertheless, despite the hiatus, I felt confident enough to continue with the series.

The next volume is Wales - The Missing Years (ISBN 978-1-9161655-1-9), published in late 2021. This was my Lockdown Project. The Making of Ynyslas may only cover the last 25,000 years or so but the Lockdown Project goes a lot further back in time, right back to the beginnings of the Solar System. Pagewise, it's over twice as long as Ynyslas, given the sheer amount of material it covers.

Wales - The Nissing Years front

The oldest rocks we know of, here in Wales, are only about 700 million years old, whereas Planet Earth was formed more than 4,500 million years ago. What happened during that lengthy gap, making up those missing years? The answer is that almost everything we all take for granted in our daily lives came into being, bit by bit and often by sheer good fortune. Stuff like breathable air, drinkable water, a mostly life-supporting climate, the diverse range of habitats created by plate tectonics and, indeed, life itself. Without those critically-important events back in our ancient past, we simply wouldn't be here.

Based on the latest peer-reviewed science, Wales - The Missing Years guides the reader on a journey through that deep time, exploring the origins of those vital-to-existence features of our home planet. Long before the first multicellular life-forms made the transition from living in the sea to colonising the land, Earth had already  been transformed - or, if you like, Terraformed. Wales may have been late on the scene in geological terms, but every atom and molecule making up the country, its rocks, seas, skies and diverse inhabitants alike, owes its origin to the Missing Years. This, then, is a story that belongs to everyone in Wales and, indeed, on Earth.

Lots of disasters happened along the time-line, of course. Things like asteroid impacts, Large Igneous Province-type volcanic eruptions and so on: it's dangerous out there, on multi-million year timescales. Even the emergence of widespread photosynthetic microbial life was not without consequences: it allowed Earth's atmosphere to become oxygenated, which was bad news for the anaerobic community. What did impress me, though, was that after each and any such drama, Earth recovered time and time again.

That theme of healing is so recurrent that it makes me doubt if our worst excesses will, given enough time, wipe out all life on Earth. Even if we screw up so totally as to make large parts of the planet uninhabitable, the place will bounce back. It always has done: it just needs a few million years in order to do so. But in celebrating all the things that happened in order to provide us with our only home, it is my hope that the realisation will spread among readers that we live here by geological, biochemical and cosmological consent. Earth is a complex system, its processes all interlinked in diverse and long-established webs, some of which are more sensitive to damage than others, but none of which should be taken for granted.

The Making of Ynyslas and Wales - The Missing Years are available online (price 7.50 and 9.99 respectively plus p&p) via the following links:

Coch-y-Bonddu Books in Machynlleth:

Dyfi Osprey Project's new online shop (they also have Wales - The Missing Years but not in the online shop just yet):!/The-Making-of-Ynyslas-%E2%80%93-John-Mason-SIGNED/p/405107688/category=60678072

Museum of Modern Art Cymru, Machynlleth (likewise, they also have Wales - The Missing Years but not in the online shop just yet):

And at Aberdyfi, community art organisation Artworks has both:

If you are a bookseller and want to stock either title, then please contact me directly. Terms offered are identical for all sellers regardless of size: 35% discount off RRP for wholesale purchase.

For seasonal visitors to the area and locals, Ynyslas Visitor Centre, Cletwr at Tre'r-ddol and the independent bookshops in Machynlleth (Literary Cat, Penrallt Books), Tywyn (Clocktower Books, Talyllyn Railway shop), Llanidloes (Great Oak Books) and Aberystwyth (Ystwyth Books, Ceredigion Museum) also have stocks, on top of the outlets mentioned above.

Meanwhile, more normally....

In more normal times, illustrated talks and guided geological field-trips are both available. North and Central Wales feature some absolute classic features of UK geology and mineralogy, with new things being discovered most years.

Groups I have guided over recent years have included the Open University, Lifelong Learning students, the infectiously-enthusiastic Mid Wales Geology Club and final year undergraduates collaborating in my research. I can always put together an itinerary based on the specific interests of the party - email me for details and prices. The trips involve the shared use of private cars with some short walks, the aim being to minimise travel time and maximise geological time, so to speak!

Click here for an example of an itinerary in the forest of Coed y Brenin (porphyry-copper mineralisation) in central Gwynedd. There is a lot more to this afforested area than I realised on first acquaintance: recent finds have included extraordinarily well-preserved intrusive rocks (typically, the rocks are too altered to give the geologist much information in the field, but not in this case) and, in the same district, the southernmost Palaeogene dyke so far known from Wales.