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"Continental Drift - Colliding Continents, Converging Cultures"


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Preface by
John F. Dewey, FRS. FGS

Foreword by

Prof. Sherban Veliciu

Sample Chapters
Chapter 1 (HTML)
Chapter 4 (PDF Format)


11 Misc. Reviews ...
ISIS Journal
Prof. T. Gallagher
Prof. Sherban Veliciu
Slavonic & E. European Review
Mineralogical Society Bulletin
Resource Geology (Japan)
Times Higher Education Supplement
Geologica Belgica


... of people
... of places, events & sciences

Book Details

ISBN # - 0750306866
Author - Constantin Roman
Publisher - Institute of Physics
Year - June 1, 2000


“Journeys, like artists, are born and not made. A thousand differing circumstances contribute to them, few of themwilled or determined by the will—whatever we may think. They flower spontaneously out of the demands of our natures—and the best of themlead us not outwards in space, but inwards as well. Travel can be one of the most rewarding forms of introspection.” - Lawrence Durrell (Bitter Lemons)


Ever since Adam had a bite at the rotten apple, my ancestors have always made tactical errors, something to make them fall out with the establishment. Not that we came from a family who traced its lineage all the way to Adam, far from it: I came from a family where genealogical trees were scribbled on parchments, made of the skins of lamb foetuses. These scrolls were periodically burnt in the various wars that were waged, first eastwards and then westwards, wiping our lands both ways in the Carpathian foothills. Such cataclysms happened with monotonous regularity, like the ebb and flowof the ocean tide, until everything was wiped out of existence. In the end all that was left standing was the memory of bitterness, which eventually was purged by lost generations.

By the time I was born, woken frommy mother’s womb by the bombs dropped by Allied planes on their way to the Ploiesti oil fields, the family memory, which was not yet reduced to ashes, had been curtailed to the end of the 18th century on my father’s side and to the Thirty Years War, at the beginning of the 17th century, on my mother’s side.

This is not surprising, as women from the slopes of the Carpathian foothills had longer memories than men, as they had to remember with minute accuracy where they had buried the family treasures, hurriedly left behind in the wake of some barbarous invasion. These family trinkets and a few gold coins were assembled in haste in some earthenware pot and hidden in a shallow trench. Often the secret was lost by the end of the war when the folk regained their burnt out hearth and it was not at all unusual for the oxen-driven plough, gently furrowing the rich soil of the family plot, to bring a pot of gold to the surface.

If the Wild West witnessed its gold rush, then each Romanian family had a story of a hidden treasure and to this day they are still looking for the pot of gold. Some ancestors went beyond the confines of their village in search of the lost treasure; foreigners in the new land of promise. More often than not my ancestors gave the treasure search up in despair and went instead to look for some long-lost ideal. They usually fought for the wrong cause, having espoused the wrong ideals. Then, as a result of their misjudgement, my forebears were driven out of their ancestral home. Often, they considered themselves very lucky indeed to be left alive, as they moved their womenfolk and children in wooden carts across the Carpathians to the relative safety of a neighbouring kingdom. Five generations ago, this was the case with Sava, the Transylvanian iron master of F ag aras. In 1848 he busied himself sharpening pick axes for the revolutionaries set to rise against the oppression of the Austrian Emperor: he fought for the ‘wrong cause’ and had to flee some three hundred miles eastwards to the mouth of the Danube. There he married his daughter into another uprooted family, who had fled the Catholic persecution after the 18th century partition of Poland, as these forebears were of the ‘wrong religion’. These were my Roman ancestors, who were Moldavian merchants, of Orthodox faith, trading in Lemberg. As this Galician city changed hands with the change in political boundaries, it was ruled by the Catholic Emperor of Austria: the Roman family were under considerable pressure to renounce their Orthodox religion and convert to Catholicism, which they refused, paying the price of exile. They crossed the border into Moldavia, which was ruled by a prince of their faith.

The family history is full of such political and religious misfits, who preferred to take to the road, rather than compromise. Some of these idealists thought that they were asked to make a stark, if impossible, choice between right and wrong, or between black and white.
In reality the cause of displacement was simply the result of a clash of views of some very strong-headed people. One such ‘strong head’ was my great grandfather Venceslaus, a younger son of a younger son from Bohemia, who, on losing a court case over some family rights (against the whole village!) had his life made untenable. Little wonder that following this inauspicious legal event, Venceslaus resolved to migrate down the Danube, which he negotiated on a wooden raft, and eventually settled in Bucharest, in the middle of the 19th century.

It was here that this Czech great grandfather married another uprooted person, a lady from Transylvania, who had the reputation of being a herbalist and a healer. She was called Ana and she came froma family of minor country squires fromEastern Transylvania, close to the source of the river Mures. Here, for generations, her folk built huge fortified churches on top of solitary hills, like pinnacles surrounded by curtain walls, within the precincts of which they would drive their cattle and store the grain to save it from the ravages of invasion.

Shortly before she died, Ana retired to her native Transylvanian village, which after the treaty of Versailles was no longer under Austria but integrated into the Kingdom of Romania.

Although I was born after this Transylvanian lady had died, I was fascinated by the family tales from this branch of the family to such an extent that, as a youngster of only fourteen, I went in search of my great grandmother’s native roots. By that time, the village cemetery had been ‘moved’ and as the immediate family did not claim the grave, my great grandmother’s remains were dispersed in a field of cultivated sunflowers. As a herbalist, I am certain that Ana would have approved of the change and as I looked incredulously at the field, I wondered frombehind the face of which particular sunflower the old lady would be smiling at me?

There were some extraordinary tales passed down the generations from my Transylvanian ancestors and although I was born across the border, as it were, on the ‘wrong side’ of the Carpathians, I felt in a way that I was an honorary citizen of Transylvania.

That is why whenever I did not want to answer questions about my origins, which were all too often levelled at me, I would simply say that I came from Transylvania. This was not a technically true statement, but I always felt that I had some very strong claims to my roots in Transylvania.

Before the stories of the starving Romanian babies made the headlines of the British Press, Romania was not on the map of the British consciousness, yet many a Briton would nonetheless have heard of Transylvania.

“Does it really exist?” I would be asked in disbelief.

“Yes it does, I assure you.”

“And what have you come here for?” my persistent torturer would always ask.

“Well, I have come here to put false fangs on the National Health Service”, which would usually bring the conversation to an abrupt end, lest my bite prove more effective than my bark.

By the 20th century my family had settled down, or so it seemed. We were no longer in search of the pot of gold, nor were we in political or religious opposition. In the meantime, we came to realize that it was much safer to invest in an education, rather than in perishable property and heirlooms. So, we became a family of professionals, having abandoned the land which had for centuries nurtured so many generations, and reached the relative safety of the towns where we went to school.

After the Second World War, the latest political cataclysm shook my family, as Communismcame to stay, for some forty years and Romania fell on the ‘wrong side’ of the Iron Curtain. My family then hoped to weather the storm by clinging to our education, the only asset which could not be taken away by the Communist regime, as everything else was either nationalized or confiscated, and all our savings were lost.

The yearning for travel was still in the blood and so was the persistence of clinging to the ‘wrong ideals’, an incurable habit passed on to me by many generations of uprooted and of dispossessed. That is why when, as a Romanian student in search of my Czech roots, I was seeking the family archives in Trebon, in Southern Bohemia, the archivist peered at me, behind his old spectacles and exclaimed:

“Young man, this is the call of the blood.”


My first attempt at getting a passport was at the age of fourteen when, on receiving my first ID card, I immediately thought that it would automatically entitle me to obtain a passport: I had some Czech ancestry and was keen to discover my long lost relations in Czecho-Slovakia.

I went to the central police station in Bucharest and found myself in a room with many dejected elderly people, all of whom wanted to emigrate to Israel or America: being so young, I immediately attracted the attention of the police officer, who asked what it was I wanted. I said I wanted a passport to travel to Prague.

“Are you travelling by yourself?”

To give greater weight to my request, I said that I would travel with my father, although he did not know anything about my initiative.

“All right then, ask your father to come here himself.”

This was in 1955. I was in my early teens and felt that my world had fallen apart. I left the police HQ in sombre mood.

I scanned quickly, in the recesses of my mind, the virtues of our social pedigree, to see what chances I might have of being granted the freedom of travelling abroad, as passports were granted on stringent political and social class appurtenance criteria: clearly we were not born revolutionaries. Far from being Communist nomenklaturists our family did not want to compromise by jumping on the Communist bandwagon—quite the contrary they lost all their hard-won savings, their houses, business and chattels, they were marginalized. Our chances of survival were not very good, let alone the luxury of being granted a passport.

My mother Eugenia (Jenny) Velescu was born in Bucharest, in 1912, and came from a prominent professional family. She was the youngest daughter of George Velescu and Ana Zeli ska. Her father, George, graduated in law and pharmacy and chose to profess the latter, on the advice of his close friend, His Beatitude the Patriarch Miron Cristea, Head of the Romanian Orthodox Church. Grandfather George started his career at Bruss, by appointment pharmacist to HM King Carol of Romania, and was decorated, in 1906, for his services to the King. Subsequently my grandfather started a successful pharmacy practice and eventually rose to prominence to become President of the Romanian Pharmacists’ Association, and Editor of the Pharmacopea Romana and the Curierul Farmaceutic magazine in Bucharest, and became sole distributor of Merck’s drugs in Romania.

My mother’s mother, Ana, was of Bohemian (Czech) and Transylvanian (Szekler) parentage. She was born in Bucharest where she was educated at the B ar a tia Catholic Convent. Grandmother Ana spoke four languages fluently, was one of the first women in Romania to graduate (in violin and piano) from the Music Conservatoire in Bucharest and during the First World War took a degree in pharmacy in order to be allowed to run her husband’s practice during his absence on military duty. As a child I vividly remember my grandmother’s huge art collection and library and until the advent of Communism, when family properties were expropriated, I attended Granny Ana’s chamber music recitals held on Sunday afternoons at her home in Bucharest. Ana’s personality was to have the greatest influence on my upbringing, first in learning foreign languages and also in opening my interest in arts and science.

Unlike her parents, Mother was not an academic, but she was educated to converse in several foreign languages and play the piano. At her parents’ home, in Bucharest, Mother was attended by servants, but when Communismcame, she adapted manfully to the harsh conditions imposed on her and did not shrink from her responsibilities as wife and mother, in a climate of political oppression, fear of imprisonment and financially reduced circumstances.

My father, Valeriu Livovschi Roman, was born in Bucharest in 1906, the eldest son of Vicentiu Livovschi Roman, a pharmacist, and of Stefania Burada, only daughter of Rev. Constantin Burada. My grandfather Vicentiu came from a family who served the Romanian Orthodox Church for seven generations and had a strong musical tradition, which produced a composer of Russian liturgical music at the Tzar’s cathedral in St Petersburg. On my paternal grandmother’s side, the Buradas were a landed family of Orthodox clergy who were benefactors and founders of churches and schools in the 19th century, but also produced composers, judges and an anthropologist.

My father, Valeriu, graduated in industrial chemistry at the University of Bucharest, in 1930, and started his career in the chemistry laboratory of ‘Phoenix’, an Anglo-Romanian oil company, with producing fields and a refinery at Ploiesti. Father was soon promoted to become a senior executive responsible for oil export, first at the Company’s terminal at Constanta, a port on the Black Sea, and from 1937 at Giurgiu, a port on the Danube where I was born in 1941. When the Giurgiu terminal was bombed in 1941, my father moved to the company’s HQ in Bucharest, where he became Head of Marketing, but not for long as the Communists nationalized ‘Phoenix’ in 1948 and in the ensuing witch hunt Father was accused of being a ‘collaborator’ with the British. He escaped the Communist prisons only due to the strong backing of the company’s workers, with whom he was very popular and who pleaded for his reprieve. In the process Father was made redundant. After several years as a chemical engineer in industry, his career ended as an editor at the Editura Technic a publishing house in Bucharest. As he refused to join the ranks of the Communist Party, Father’s name was not allowed to appear in print on the back cover of the many science books he produced, and was relegated instead to a relative professional obscurity. Still, in spite of these inauspicious circumstances, he managed to produce several patents in the field of catalysis of sodium chloride and wrote a classic book on the subject.

The political and social scene in Eastern Europe was not going to improve. Although after Stalin’s death, in 1953, a slight relaxation occurred in Romania, with the Moscow-trained Communists being purged from power, by 1956 the Hungarian uprising against the Russian occupation troops and their Communist stooges caused a tremendous backlash throughout neighbouring Romania. I thought for a moment that we too would have been liberated of the Communist-led oppression, Russian in particular, so I slackened my studies of compulsory Russian language and nearly had to repeat the fifth form. I only did well at the subjects where I liked the teachers and neither physics nor geology were favourites of mine. We were taught geology by a female Communist Party activist, who knewnothing of the subject and who ‘politicized’ her classes, by telling us, literally, that:

“The Capitalist’s over-production of hydrocarbons in Romania was criminal, as it did not allow for the oil and gas fields to regenerate.”

“When, in our life time?” I would tease the teacher, but she could not understand the jibe. At the age of 15, when we started to be critical of all values taught and in particular of Communist values, we could not stop laughing and did not take geology seriously for that matter. For my ten A-level exams I merely scraped by, with geology being at the bottom limit. Besides, I had known ever since I was in primary education that I wanted to become an architect, for which geology was superfluous. The Russian repression of the Hungarian Uprising, in 1956, had a long-term negative effect on the selection process for university entry. This was a ruthless, positive discrimination, based on social class criteria. The immediate result was that by the time I had to sit the entrance tests for the School of Architecture, in 1959, only 20% of the places were allocated to sons of ‘professionals’, of whom I was one, as my father had a university degree and worked in a publishing house. Out of the available 60 places for the first year of the School of Architecture, therefore, I could only compete for a mere handful of 12 places, for which there were hundreds of candidates. The two drawing tests were crucial in being short-listed for the second tests of maths and physics. Quite apart from the intrinsic merits of the drawing tests each candidate was given a ‘social weighting’ mark as a function of his parents’ Communist Party membership, nationalized property and the like. As no member of my family had joined the Communist Party and my family’s houses and business were expropriated, I had a negative handicap from the outset. To counteract this inevitable disadvantage, I had prepared for two solid years, with private coaching every week in physics, maths and drawing. But all this was to no avail, as I could never ever be short-listed following the arts eliminatory tests in drawing for the School of Architecture. At this point, Father beseeched me to face up to the political reality, painful as it was, and agree that I had better go for admission exams in science, rather than in arts. It stood to reason that in science, at least, the results of the exams tests were unequivocal and not open to interpretation for political ends.

It was somehow ironic that with poor A-levels in geology and physics, I would sit the following year the admission exams for geophysics, at the Faculty of Geology in Bucharest. On this occasion there were only 5.5 candidates for one place, but as the equations provided unique answers I could prove my strength in the maths and physics tests. My father was relievedto see me through, as educationhadbecome a symbol of survival in a family where all savings were confiscated and all properties and chattels gone. So, in our family, as in many other professional families in Romania and throughout Eastern Europe, education became a symbol of resistance to the Communist system. This is how I became a geophysicist.


To appease my disappointment at training to be a geophysicist, rather than an architect, Father tried to play up the ‘cosmopolitan’ character of the school I joined, where many students came fromAfrica, the Middle East and South America. These were the aspiring Communist r egimes, which would send students to study petroleumgeology and drilling in Romania; all in all, an uninspiring motley group of assorted Syrians, Iraqis, Cubans, Algerians, Nigerians and Albanians, most of whom were Communist sympathizers, which I was definitely not! Besides, what separated the Romanian native student population from their foreign colleagues was the latter’s freedom to travel abroad. By contrast, Romanian citizens had no automatic right to a passport, unless they were from the higher echelons of the Communist party. We resented our foreign colleagues returning from holidays with presents for their Romanian girlfriends, with whom they were very popular. Understandably, for this same reason, the foreign students carried less favour with the native male student population, who were at a definite disadvantage, for lack of cash and travel opportunities. Eventually the world politics of super-powers came to our rescue: the Cuban students were expelled from Romania for demonstrating, without permission, in front of the American Embassy in Bucharest, following the debacle at the Bay of Pigs. The Cubans were soon followed by another wave of expulsions of the Albanian students, this time, because their Government sought a rapprochement with China, at the expense of the Russians, who were still Romania’s staunch allies. Soon after this clean up job, some of the North African Arab contingent withered away in disillusionment at seeing for themselves that Communism did not actually work in practice. So, the Romanian male students found themselves, overnight, masters of their own backyard over the bevy of rudderless girls whose boyfriends were unceremoniously kicked out of the country. We could hardly disguise our jubilant mood: in fact we flouted our hitherto repressed male chauvinism and our newly found self-esteemas unchallenged kings of the Communist castle. The rejoicing was short-lived, as most students had to keep their nose to the grindstone and make sure that they passed all exams by the end of each year.

The whole teaching structure was rather Victorian in practice, with an obsession for technical details, which we had to absorb regardless of their relevance. We had ten compulsory exams every year and in all sixty different courses. These ranged frommaths, physics, chemistry, even combustionengineering, drilling, hydrocarbongeology, structural geology, tectonics, stratigraphy, mineralogy and crystallography, palaeontology, geochemistry, followed by gravity, magnetics, seismology, electric logging and a myriad of other courses, with a sprinkle of languages, economics and politics (Marxist ideology, of course). There were no published textbooks and we were relegated to taking notes during lectures, of which there were six a day plus practicals (laboratory work) and summer field trips.

Faced with what I considered to be a barrage of wanton, oldfashioned teaching I decided to be selective, an attitude which was frowned upon. I needed my space to develop personal interests, some of which were extra-curricular activities, like earning some much-needed money to buy myself basic clothes, which my father’s meagre professional salary could not provide. Although the university education was free, I had no right to a student grant, under a rule of positive discrimination against the sons of professionals. However, some of the mature students, selected from amongst factory workers, did have a sponsorship from their original place of work. The academic going was tough and should we fail exams at the end of the first year, we would be asked to leave. As it happened, by the fourth academic year numbers dwindled from the original sixty to a mere forty or so students, who were still in the race. During the academic year I would earn a little extra cash doing abstracts of science papers from French and English journals, occasionally publishing articles in Via ta Studen teasc a, the Bucharest student rag (travel fiction, interviews), or in high-brownational literary weeklies such as Luceaf arul and Contemporanul. Writing travel fiction became an obsession and escapism, securing a minimum of sanity: as I would not be allowed to travel freely abroad I would do it with the eyes of my imagination and pretend that I did go and visit Copenhagen, Edinburgh, Palermo or London. So I wrote about the spires of Copenhagen, which I never saw, I invented a fictitious interview with Count Tomaso di Lampedusa, the Sicilian grandee, as an excuse for introducing to the Romanian public his best-seller The Leopard. I wrote about the Hogmanay revels in Edinburgh, about the University of Sussex, in order to introduce its architect, Sir Basil Spence, and ‘travelled’ to many more places I had never set foot into, but dreamt of visiting one day. In addition to having fun with such publications, I also had the secret pleasure of ‘educating’ the Romanian public, whilst I would get a bit of pocket money.

As for the summer months, when I had no practicals I took up the job of courier for the National Tourist Agency in Bucharest. This allowed me to visit the 16th century Moldavian painted churches, the castles of Transylvania or the beaches of the Black Sea resorts.

Contacts with foreign visitors from the West were expressly forbidden in Romania, and if they took place at all they had to be ‘reported’ to the police. In my summer job as a tourist guide I found a major loophole in allowing unfettered contacts with the ‘free world’ as well as the ability to practise my English, learn about the West, get some pocket money and have a free holiday which I could otherwise not afford.

Still, I was well aware of the fact that sundry hotel waiters, receptionists and coach drivers were informers of the dreaded Securitate, but I was too young and too reckless to care for such ‘details’, which eventually brought me into conflict with the authorities.

Through my courier activities I made friends abroad, who would subsequently send me much-needed dictionaries or foreign literature unavailable in Romanian book shops for economic or political reasons. In this way I managed to smuggle into Romania (and not without trouble) the 24 Penguin paperback volumes of Churchill’s History of the Second World War. Should I have been caught in possession of such illicit political material I would have risked my freedom for this crazy enterprise and would have been expelled from university, for political and social dereliction, branded an ‘enemy of the people’. Quite so and proud of it too!

The Romanian School of Geology had a long tradition of links with the German, Austrian, Belgian and French schools going back to the 18th and 19th centuries. This was due to the research on the mineral ore deposits of Transylvania, the salt mines and the oil and gas fields of the Carpathians. Gold and silver mines had existed since Roman times. Salt had been an export commodity since the Middle Ages, and oil seepages used since ancient times for lighting homes and oiling cartwheels. By the mid 19th century the oil industry started in earnest, at the same time as in the United States, with the oil fields of Ploiesti looking like a site from wild Texas during the oil rush. It was on the gas fields of Transylvania that Count E otv os tested his gravity method of exploration. The terms ‘diapir’ and ‘diapirism’ were coined at the beginning of the 20th century by Ludovic Mrazek, a professor fromBucharest University, and it is in Romania that salt diapirs were demonstrated to provide an effective seal for hydrocarbons. Until then, geologists were only looking for classical dome structures, or ‘four-way closures’. The new salt sealing concept broadened substantially the areas of investigation worldwide. It was also in Romania, in 1923, that two brothers, Conrad and Marcel Schlumberger, graduates of the Paris School of Mines, tested their electrical resistivity methods for hydrocarbon prospecting. The discovery of the Aricesti oil field, a salt-controlled structure, near Ploiesti, was a turning point in geophysical prospecting. The survey was commissioned by Jules M Denil, the President of the ‘Steaua Romˆan a’ Oil Company. It took several years before the Schlumbergers managed to persuade the Texan oil companies about the advantages of electric prospecting.

The Schlumberger brothers were beckoned to Romania by their contemporary from the Paris School of Mines, Sabba Stefanescu, who put the mathematical foundations to some of the Schlumberger methods. Essentially, the whole idea was going to make famous the Schlumberger brothers and, subsequently, their business empire. They knew that different rock formations drilled in the process of oil search could be identified (lithology, thickness of formation, physical properties, etc) by sending a miniaturized apparatus down the drilling hole. This equipment would take physical measurements of the rock resistivity/conductivity through an induced current, which would register on a paper log the variations in the response of the rocks. These logs would be interpreted and the geology identified. The whole idea was to revolutionize oil exploration and make it more reliable and cost effective, because, prior to that, the only scant knowledge obtained about the subsurface geology was through the bits and pieces of rocks which came to the surface from the drilled material. This was not sufficient to know the depth fromwhich such material came, the thickness of the beds, etc. The first visits to the United States, intended to demonstrate the logging method, were met with scepticism, if not indifference. In the America of the 1920s the prevailing philosophy in oil exploration was one of ‘wildcatting’, that is of drilling new exploration wells on the basis of risk-taking, rather than geological interpretation. It was the time of an upsurge in oil discoveries and understandably science was not needed to become a successful oilman. Besides, how was one going to demonstrate that the results were right or wrong?

The answer was to test the method on a known producing field, which was done in Romania. From then on the Schlumbergers never looked back. The method was established, patented and subsequently used throughout the world on every single oil well drilled. Of course, new methods were introduced to measure other physical parameters (magnetic properties, radioactivity, seismic response, etc) intended to define the porosity, permeability, oil or gas saturation, water saturation of the sub-surface formations. Not one log, but several such logs were registered and compared, which made the method more comprehensive and reliable.

Log analysis became a science in its own right, the bible of the oil geologist and an important course at the University of Bucharest, where I was studying. Stefanescu, later to become a Fellow of the Romanian Academy, taught electrical prospecting at the School of Geology in Bucharest and he was on the board of examiners of my Dissertation.

Amongst the plethora of sixty or so professors and lecturers we had in Bucharest, the Head of Geophysics, Professor Liviu Constantinescu, was odd for a variety of reasons. He combined his patrician-like demeanour with Communist Party membership, where he was an active member. This position allowed himaccess to a passport and foreign travel, generally denied to non-party members. Liviu Constantinescu spoke fluent French, English, Russian and German and was appointed to many national and international committees. This secured for him in addition the extraordinary advantage of regular foreign travel, contacts with western academics and their research topics, as well as a number of subscriptions to foreign scientific journals, which he kept locked up in his office. It is from Constantinescu that I learned for the first time about the methods of physics applied to the history of art and archaeology at Aitken and Hall’s Oxford Laboratory, likewise about the archaeometrical research of the Lerici Foundation in Italy, or the magnetic research on archaeological pottery artefacts of Professor Thellier in Paris. This was exciting stuff for me because it brought art into science, or rather opened the perspective of bringing arts back into my life through the ‘back door’. Essentially, what Lerici did in Italy was to introduce geophysical prospecting methods used in hydrocarbon exploration to the much finer and smaller scale of archaeology. The same methodology used in finding buried oil structures was now applied in discovering buried historical cities, Etruscan tombs, fortifications and so on. Even more riveting was the under-water archaeology which identified, off the coast of Egypt and Greece, sunken ships full of treasure trove. A newworld suddenly unfolded before me and I was entranced: geophysics was not so dull after all!

It was Constantinescu who brought to our attention, during his lectures, the first elements of palaeomagnetic research carried out previously at Cambridge and subsequently at the School of Physics in Newcastle by Runcorn and Creer. Earlier on, in Paris in the 1940s, Professor Thellier established from measuring the magnetic intensity properties of fired bricks from Carthage that their values were a function of age. As the bricks were dated with great accuracy by the archaeologists, it emerged that the Earth’s magnetic field intensity varied in time. In practice, it was discovered that as the clay was fired for the purpose of turning it into bricks, at high temperatures in the kiln, all magnetic iron particles aligned themselves in the prevailing direction of the Earth’s magnetic field, like little compasses, used in navigation. Once the temperature of the brick dropped and the firing process finished the neworientation of the magnetic particles would remain ‘fossilized’ and the whole brick would display the same azimuth as the Earth’s magnetic field of the time. Astandard curve was established from statistical measurements which allowed conversely to date bricks from sites which could not be dated through traditional archaeological methods, by simply plotting their total magnetic intensity on the standard curve.

The methodology was extended from historical to geological times and gradually the Earth’s magnetic field variations were established for each continent for particular geological times. Once the palaeomagnetic variations of the Earth’s field were known in space and time, it emerged that at different geological times continents had had different positions on the surface of the globe. The theory of ‘continental drift’, suggested by Alfred Wegener, at the turn of the century, had practically been ignored after the 1920s but now began to look much more promising. Wegener, a German astronomer turned meteorologist, noticed, as many had before him, that the curves of Africa and South America fitted together rather neatly. He compiled solid observational evidence, both biological and geological, for the concept that the continents had moved apart. His ideas were not accepted when he introduced them first in 1912 and later in his book The Origins of Continents and Oceans, not only because he was regarded as an outsider by the geological establishment, but also because he could not convincingly explain the mechanismof continental drift. This objection persisted until the 1970s and its main proponent was Sir Harold Jeffries.

What Wegener’s intuition suggested at the turn of the century, now became a scientific fact that could be demonstrated in much finer detail. ‘Continental Drift’ got a fresh impetus (the term plate tectonics was not coined until after 1965) and it was the buzzword amongst Western geoscientists. Behind the Iron Curtain, with the paucity of scientific information imposed by ideological censorship, continental drift had the same mysterious attraction as the Sphinx’s riddle to which only Liviu Constantinescu had the answer. Such mystery spurred my curiosity and I soon decided to avail myself of my communication skills in foreign languages to write ‘fan letters’ to the main palaeomagnetism players in Newcastle and Paris. I also wrote to the Oxford laboratory, which dealt with methods of restoration, conservation and dating of archaeological artefacts. It was a pleasant surprise to receive reprints of scientific papers, which until recently were the sole preserve of Constantinescu. This was the beginning of a long and fruitful correspondence with my colleagues in Western Europe, which was eventually going to be my life raft, when stranded in England and France without a return visa to Romania.


I waited another eight years to the age of 22, before I eventually attempted again to obtain a passport to travel to Poland, through Hungary and Czechoslovakia. By this time I was a student in geophysics at the Institute for Oil, Gas and Geology and had many contacts with foreign tourists through my summer job as a courier. Even then the travel was not a straightforward affair. I had to produce to the passport authorities letters of invitation from Poland from my would-be hosts stating that they took entire responsibility for my upkeep during my visit to their country and that I would not ask for any foreign currency for my trip.

I went twice to Poland, Hungary and Czecho-Slovakia. These trips gave me a foretaste of the West, with the Gothic and Baroque churches of Prague, with the broad vistas of the Danube in Budapest, with the avantgarde music and paintings of Poland and French and English books and newspapers available there, but forbidden in Romania. The Theatre of the Absurd of my fellowcountryman Eug`ene Ionesco, an exile in Paris, was not played in Romania, but I could enjoy it, for the first time, in Poland. Now I could read the books of Vintil a Horia, another uprooted Romanian and winner of the 1960 Goncourt prize for his deeply moving historical novel, Dieu est ne en exil. A new world was opening up to me, a world I knew existed, but could only dream of, and I felt almost inebriated.

As for travelling to Western Europe, I knew that I would never be granted a passport. This was immensely frustrating, as my fluent knowledge of French and English gave me access to the latest Goncourt and Renaudot literary prizes in Paris, or the reviews of the Cannes and Venice Film Festivals. I was longing to see for myself the Impressionist paintings in the Courtauld Institute in London and the Orangery in Paris, the churches of Christopher Wren, the Oxford colleges, the modern architecture of Le Corbusier and Sir Basil Spence, and listen to the rock music of the Beatles.


My fledgling contacts with researchers in Oxford, Newcastle and Paris who worked on palaeomagnetismgrewstronger. I found the subject fascinating especially for its applications to dating of archaeological clay artefacts. Oxford’s Laboratory of Physics applied to the history of art and archaeology seemed even more riveting. We had no such facilities at our disposal in Romania. I absorbed ravenously the contents of the scientific paper reprints which were sent to me fromabroad and within a short period of time I had enough confidence to request that my diploma dissertation should be in palaeomagnetism. This sounds an easier choice than it seemed at the time, as it went against the grain of the established system: in effect the Head of the Department had devised forty or so different topics of research, one for each student in his final year. We were supposed to choose the subject in the order of our exam success. I was towards the bottom of this league, for my unorthodox and much frowned upon practice of being selective in my performance, but I still had to jump through the hoops. I found little choice in Constantinescu’s list to fire my imagination for a proposed MA dissertation. I said that I wanted none of the topics on the list and I preferred instead a subject in palaeomagnetism. Far frombeing pleased about the enthusiasm inspired by one of his own lectures, the professor retorted that I could do as I pleased, but that he could not condone it and would not guarantee success. In fact, he used this excuse to wash his hands of all responsibility in what appeared to be an unconventional choice.

Undaunted by this inauspicious beginning, but pleased enough about the green light, with all its gloomy caveats, I contacted the only specialist on the subject at a geophysics laboratory in Bucharest and asked for help. I was soon off to a fresh start on the suggested topic of the ‘Palaeomagnetic properties of the mineral ores in a copper deposit of the Dobrogea district’. I went on site to collect samples for my measurements and here a skilled worker, a former political prisoner who still suffered a ‘forced domicile’, accompanied me down the mine. This was in 1965, a period of relative political relaxation at the beginning of the Ceausescu r egime. Although I considered myself politically and socially aware about the repression suffered by the Romanian professional classes at the hands of the Communist dictatorship, I was numb at the stories I was told by my newlyfound companion. I also lived the frustration of being totally unable to do anything to improve his plight, other than to listen sympathetically and not divulge his confession. Astrong complicity developed between us, which made my odd stay in this mining community an enriching experience. I took the rock samples to Bucharest and started to prepare the specimens for the measurement of remanent magnetism. The brief I had was to comment on the results from two groups of samples from the actual mineral ore and to compare them with similar measurements from samples taken from the sterile rock formation. The study was intended to settle a longdrawn-out dispute between two schools of geological thought, regarding the epigenetic or syngenetic origin of the copper ore deposits. This had a practical implication in the future development of the mine. It was easy to understand that, whichever way the results would tilt the balance, the conclusions would be quite exciting and I plunged myself with great enthusiasm into crunching the numbers and integrating the palaeomagnetic and geomorphologic field data.


The first results of my palaeomagnetic research seemed encouraging enough to present themto a Congress of Geology in Belgrade: I was denied access to a passport and consequently was not allowed to present the paper myself. Yugoslavia had an open border with Trieste and the Romanian apparatchiks, mindful of the possibility of defection to the West, decided that I was not sufficiently ‘reliable’ to be allowed to travel. The refusal came as no great surprise, but I was not to be deterred. If anything, this ‘no confidence’ vote made me even more determined to try again.

The Proceedings of the 9th Carpathian–Balkan Geological Congress, in Belgrade, published my article in 1967: I sent a reprint to Professor Runcorn at the University of Newcastle, one to Professor Thellier in Paris and another to Oxford to Teddy Hall. Soon I had a new article published by the Geophysical Journal of the Romanian Academy and I was glad I could reciprocate the exchange of reprints with my western colleagues, even though I was aware that my contribution was quite modest.

The idea of visiting the specialist university laboratories in France and England started to germinate in my mind and so I arranged to receive an invitation to England from a young British friend. I had no great hope in succeeding in an enterprise in which I had already failed in the previous year, but I felt it was certainly worth trying again. In the event I was inevitably refused. At my suggestion, my English friend tried intervening through his MP whom he asked to impress on the Romanians to grant me a passport—it was a long shot and it did not work. This was 1966. I was 25 and already my request for a passport had been refused three times.

The same summer of 1966 I had my finals and part of these involved the writing of the MA dissertation and an oral presentation to a panel of examiners. To this end I already had several scientific articles to my name, including the Belgrade paper and several articles on physics applied to archaeology. I also took recorded interviews from known geologists presenting contradictory views on the genetics of the copper mine deposits. This put me in the invidious position of being a kind of scientific referee with an undisputed new method of deciding the ‘truth’ and this fired me witha youthful enthusiasm. I shouldhave got 10 out of 10 for my work, but, mindful of my academic past, the examiners could not come to terms with this success and marked me with 9/10. This represented 50% of the whole score with the other 50%being the average of the 60 odd examresults taken over the previous five years. Furthermore, the examiners knewand I knew it too, that I had repeated the fourth year of my studies for having failed the test in seismics. This meant that it took me six years, instead of five, to get an MA degree. Still, my final average mark was much improved, but not enough to improve my job prospects. Here too the system wanted us to choose froma list of available state jobs inthe order of the examleague table: the best graduate having 40 options to choose from, whilst the last one was left with Hobson’s choice. That was not good enough and certainly not too appealing for my future plans. To avoid being labelled a ‘social parasite’ all graduates had to accept a job, regardless of where they came in the queue, so I chose a job as a mining engineer. Within a few months of this choice, and following the compulsory military service, I managed a transfer to a publishing house in Bucharest, where a combined knowledge of science and languages was in demand. I was now an employee of the Romanian Academy’s Publishing House and I could not be happier for it. Its head was Alexander Graur, a distinguished linguist, whose articles and radio shows I much admired. It was 1967 and I had not given up hope of doing a doctorate in geophysics at some point in the future and in the meantime I carried on my professional correspondence with my academic friends abroad.


In the autumn of 1967 I was told by the Newcastle University School of Physics of a forthcoming palaeomagnetism conference at which I was invited to present the results of my Romanian dissertation. This came out of the blue and I was elated.

I was determined this time to wrench a passport fromthe authorities and fired on all cylinders. I told Newcastle that I would not be allowed out of Romania unless they accepted responsibility for my expenses in Britain. I was later to discover that this was a prerequisite not just of the Communist bureaucracy, but ironically, also of the British Home Office.

“What a splendid convergence of minds”, I would have thought years later, but at the time I was just puzzled.

Newcastle sent me the application forms for a travel grant, but very much to my dismay, I discovered that the word ‘NATO’ was printed on the headed paper. I told them that I stood no chance of obtaining a passport if it had a NATO sponsorship: obligingly, all further correspondence from Newcastle carefully deleted all reference to NATO.

Soon I was sent the conference programme, which included my contribution as well as a return train ticket from Bucharest to Newcastle. This was close to a miracle, because no Romanian citizen could buy an international travel ticket without producing a valid passport, which was impossible to get.

Armed with the invitation, the ticket and the conference programme, I made a fresh passport application. I knew that as a matter of strategy the authorities would not give a negative answer until it was too late: as the deadline for the conference would have passed there was no need for the applicant to go at all! It stood to reason, therefore, to press the Romanian passport authorities for an early answer, so that in the event of the inevitable refusal I could still appeal in good time to attend the meeting. in front of their eyes—an extraordinary possession, denied to a Romanian citizen without a passport. On appeal, my letter was skilfully placed on top of the in-tray and with a smile and a wink I was invited to get my passport. The British visa had to be hurried and I did not understand why the British Consul in Bucharest was not best pleased to process the application so quickly. She was truly humourless, in contrast to my high spirits


My friends in Bucharest proved invaluable in affecting the outcome of the application: my English teacher, Madame Jeannette Ulvinianu, had once taught Ceasescu himself, as well as scores of Government ministers. I also remembered that my girlfriend’s mother knew the secretary of the official in the passport office. With the help of these contacts I managed to get some informal interviews, during which I explained that it was an ‘honour to represent my country at such a scientific venue’ and that I ‘had no need for any foreign currency’. I waved the train ticket to Newcastle in front of their eyes—an extraordinary possession, denied to a Romanian citizen without a passport. On appeal, my letter was skilfully placed on top of the in-tray and with a smile and a wink I was invited to get my passport.

The British visa had to be hurried and I did not understand why the British Consul in Bucharest was not best pleased to process the application so quickly. She was truly humourless, in contrast to my high spirits


With the British visa granted and duly endorsed in my new crisp passport of the ‘Socialist Republic of Romania’, I soon realized that, if I were to take the train, the conference would be over. I had to take the plane instead, on a day that ‘TAROM’, the Romanian airlines, did not fly to London. I would have to change planes in Zurich and from then on travel on a western airline to London and Newcastle, which meant asking for foreign currency, which would have been automatically refused.

The Romanian Airlines office in Piata Universitatii was packed with disgruntled passengers, each of them with some problem. The official in charge, whom I was supposed to see for a signature, was just finishing an angry exchange with a ballerina from the Bucharest Opera House, whose colleagues were left stranded in West Berlin after one of them had defected:

“Very grave problem, comrade: why did you allow it to happen?” he thundered. I wondered who he was to be concerned about such questions, as I felt it was none of his business to ask. But then, one found Securitate people, or their stooges, in all these places all the time.

When my turn came, the adrenaline still pumping, the comrade asked dismissively what it was I wanted? My chances of success were very slim indeed, so I quipped, in defiance:

“You will not grant me my ticket, because you are already in a bad mood.” To prove the contrary, he looked at the papers and signed the approval.


It was 2 pm on Thursday 4 April 1968. The one-week NATO Summer School conference in Newcastle had started the previous Monday and there was no way I could make it in time. I decided that I would go, visit the University, apologize in person for missing the meeting, return the unused train ticket and return to Bucharest. I rushed breathlessly to the Banca Nationala, waving my passport and air ticket. It was to no avail, as I had first to obtain a signature fromone of the directors of the Bank: I ran round the corner of the neoclassical building to the main entrance and stopped at the porter’s lodge.

The porter was deep in telephone conversation. He did not appear to notice me. I coughed discreetly to no avail, shuffled with no luck and so concluded that the best way to catch his attention would be to run up the marble staircase provoking him to stop me. He did not respond and I found myself walking on the red, plush carpet of the first floor corridor, lined with impressive mahogany doors:

I knocked at random at one of the doors and the smiling face of a blonde secretary beckoned me in—a far cry from the usual unpleasant world of the common bureaucracy: here we were in the ‘Land of the Almighty’, where things were done politely and without fuss.

“May I help you?”

“I am invited to present a scientific paper in England and I need some sterling.”

“Take this paper and make a request in writing. My boss will sign it.”

She helped me with the text, took the request next door and within two minutes returned beaming with the approval.

“Here you are, darling! You are very lucky indeed—you have got five guineas, more than what the entire Romanian football team ever get on a trip to England.”

I did not know what ‘guineas’ were, but it sounded like a lot to me.

I mumbled confusedly: “How could I thank you?” and tried to reach for the document, but she would not give it to me.

“Now”, she said in a hush, conspiratorial voice, “Tell me darling, who smuggled you into the building, you must have friends in high places?”

“Why?” I protested, “Simply nobody, I promise, I took the grand staircase, as simply as that!”

She would not accept my explanation, as she waved her finger at me, reproachingly: “I do not believe you, young cock, you must know somebody inside!”

She handed over the paper with a wink. I flew down the stairs, past the forgetful porter and got in just in time, only minutes before the bank’s foreign currency desk was shut for the day.


Now I had in my pocket a Romanian passport, a British visa, five guineas and an air ticket to Newcastle. It was 5 pm on Thursday 4 April 1968.

I rushed home to throw a few belongings in a suitcase and arranged to leave by the first plane the following day. I was out of Romania in less than 24 hours from the moment I got my passport. It was not unknown for passports to be withdrawn at the border if one lingered too long. On Friday 5 April 1968 I landed at Heathrow and was granted a visitor’s visa for one month.

The same evening I arrived in Newcastle, the very day the conference had ended. I could not imagine, by the wildest stretch of the imagination, that in my pursuit of science or rather because of it, I would be shut out of the Communist prison for 21 years and would not set foot in Romania again until Ceausescu was brought down!


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