Bells have served as communication devices since ancient times. Throughout history, various cultures have reshaped and remodeled them to express different things. Now, an extremely special bell is in the process of being forged for the Mass Extinction Monitoring Observatory (MEMO), a memorial project that’s a collaboration of scientists, sculptors and stonemasons dedicated to building an ongoing monument to the world’s extinct species.
The giant, “geological bell” will be a central piece inside the observatory, located in England. It will ring for two reasons: 1) on May 22 of each year, in celebration of the annual International Day for Biological Diversity, and 2) more somberly, whenever a species is newly declared extinct.
A bell of such import deserves to be unlike any other bell ever made. According to one of the bell’s makers, Seb Brooke, the look of the MEMO bell will be geological: it will be encrusted with fossils and appear as if it had been dredged up from the bottom of the sea or as if it came from a different age. Portland stone, a limestone native to the area where the monument is located, will be used to cast the bell.
Casting a bell in stone, however, presented its challenges. To manufacture a bell, metals are heated until they melt, at a temperature of approximately 1,100 degrees C (2,012 degrees F). Unfortunately, limestone starts to melt at about 825 to 1,000 degrees C (1,517 to 1,832 degrees F). There was also concern about the gases that would be released in the process, so holes needed to be drilled into the rock to allow the vapors to vent off. Then, the bell needed to be buried in the ground for a week to allow the metal to slowly cool down. This traditional bell-making technique is believed to result in a better ring.
And sound is of the utmost importance for the MEMO bell. While the surface of the bell will be visually stunning with its details of 150-million-year-old fossils in positive relief, it’s essential that its tone reflect the theme of extinction and the influence of each loss on our lives.
Watch the video below, titled The Making of the Test MEMO Bell, produced by Moving Content. It charts the making of the final scale model. When finished, the bell—the “speaking” part of the MEMO Project—will be mounted upside down at the base of the monument, with its mouth facing the sky.
And what a voice it has. Just listen to the long reverberation. It echoes of consequences for us all.
Here’s to finding your true places and natural habitats,