By Dan Oancea


Toponymic research represents a source of information which is largely ignored in the planning process of a reconnaissance program.

Toponym means a place name, a name derived from a place or region. But who named these places anyway? Well, this is a good question if we’re thinking about the place names that appear on a topographic map. Some of them were named by geographers trying to honor explorers, captains, governors and daughters or are just some sort of a poor translation of native toponyms into English. This is the case anyway in North America and Australia, continents where the indigenous population has been displaced and their loss of territory also meant a loss of geographical collective memory for places that had been known by them for thousands of years.

It is a different story in other parts of the world where local people have continuously inhabited their territory for long periods of time and where mountains, valleys and water streams still carry meaningful names, even if these names are not all the time reflected on an official map.

Whatever country your prospecting adventure pushes you, there are plenty of toponyms reflecting a specific feature of the geological assemblage – it might be about a quartz ridge that creates a positive relief, a stained hillside, a dyed water course (sometimes named “bad water”), a fossiliferous rock, a coal seam, an ancient iron quarry, a sulfur vent, a “spotted” rock, etc. Many of the names are actually bearing a geological significance and they deserve our attention. If we really want to realize a cost effective reconnaissance program we should plan to priority visit sites that are already known by locals as having a different characteristic, something that makes them stand out of the regular.

A good place to start collecting preliminary data and information regarding foreign countries’ listing of alternative names for geographic features and lists of alternative translations of names from other languages is the U.S. Board on Geographic Names.

As usual, a certain amount of place names are not finding their way onto the maps. Here come in place the other skills that a field geologist should be known for: diplomacy, patience, courtesy and understanding of local customs. All these would create a level of confidence between the foreign specialist and local people, which will enable the former to tap into their profound knowledge of the geological terrain.

So many times the geologist is approached and questioned by local people about the purpose of his research program. At least for me this proved to be a well spent ten minutes, because they’ve always given me some good piece of advice regarding the unfamiliar territory that lay in front of me. I couldn’t find the next mineable coal seam based on what I was told by a local guy, but I’ve managed indeed to find the mentioned coal occurrence, and I’ve learned some more about the fluvial-deltaic environment, which was responsible for coal deposition in that particular area.

At the end of my traverse, while the sun was setting down I’ve reached an almost deserted small village, where an old guy which I befriended, got so excited hearing a short geological history of the place that I’ve got invited not only for dinner, but also for a special drink. He pulled out of the ground a little oak barrel that laid buried for over16 years, and offered me home made cheese and vegetables. I don’t need to say anything else except that the viscous yellowish 60 degrees oak aged brandy represented the perfect way to end a day in which I was so much in harmony with nature and local people.