The Geology of Skyrim

I read these articals ages ago and stumbeled on them again the other day and given my obsession with Skyrim I thought I would share them with you. The two original articals can be found at:
The Geology of Skyrim!
Mapping the Geology of Skyrim


Find the latest update on this project in my Mapping the Geology of Skyrim post where I have produced a map of all the major rock exposures in Skyrim. 

If you would like to follow the progression of this project please head over to the Dark Creations Forums where I am hosting my project on the Geology of Skyrim. Feel free to join and offer advice or assistance at any point! 

To have a look at a quick summary of the comments on my articles on the geology of Skyrim, take a look at my post on How teaching science through video games can engage new audiences

Here is a transcript of my recent Jan 2013 Science Showoff set on the geology of The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim.

Having seen that no-one has actually done this so far and published it on the web, I decided to put my geological knowledge to the problem and do a set on it! This will hopefully form the basis of a mod I will be making which looks at the geology of Skyrim which I think could be useful for educational purposes – see my initial post on this idea here

Hello! My name is Jane and I love the video game Skyrim! So, to begin with, who actually knows what Skyrim is? (Luckily at this point there was a general excited murmur of consent that most people did actually know the game!) 

For those of you that don’t know then, here is a little run-down of what the game involves…

It is a role playing game that means you can be any person you want and dress up in cool clothes (this is my outfit in Skyrim: Nightingale armour from the Thieves Guild FYI!)

nightingale armour

You get to explore cool places (such as this Dwemer ruin)


Fight awesome monsters like Dragons…


And then of course claim the treasure…


But best of all (for me) is the scenery, and most importantly, the rocks:


So what I want to do tonight is take you through a little tour of what I think the geology would be in Skyrim. Namely, I think looking at the process of questions a geologist asks themselves when working out the geology of an area, and applying this to something cool and accessible like Skyrim.

The first question to ask therefore is what? What kinds of rocks can you find in Skyrim? Luckily, for most of this work, there are a whole host of other people in the world who are much geekier than me who have actually taken and collated and all I have to do is ask the right questions!

Screenshot 2013-01-12 at 11.53.22

Here are the eight different kinds of rocks found in Skyrim. Not all of them are actually real however so the ones I will be discussing today are iron ore, gold ore, moonstone ore and malachite ore. Some notes: malachite is actually an ore in itself (of copper) and you do not get an ore of malachite; moonstone is a mineral and corundum is real (a mineral) but is found in Blackreach which is underground and cannot be shown on the Skyrim map.

So now, the next question we need to ask is where? Now we know what, it is logical to look at where they actually occur. This is taken from the extremely useful Skyrim Wiki, which has a run down of all the different rocks and all the places where you can find them, ordered from most deposits to least. I took the first entry for each rock, the place with the highest number of deposits.

Gold Ore Skyrim

Here we can see the spatial distributions of the four different rocks. The gold coloured one indicates where gold is found, red for iron, green for malachite and cream for moonstone.

Now we want to know how they actually got there. Lets take a look at how each of these rocks can form. There are different ways that each of these rocks can form, but for the purpose of tonight I will just take the most common formations.

Gold ore commonly forms in compression zones where landmasses push together, (commonly associated with mountain building) where metamorphism, or rocks undergoing change through heat and pressure, dehydrate. The release of fluids from the rock will take with it dissolved minerals which can include gold. When these fluids crystallise, in cracks within the rock,, you can find gold alongside other minerals like quartz and sphalerite (pictured). When these mountains that have formed erode over millions of years, the gold in the cracks is found in alluvium, or river sediments where people will then pan for gold.

thrustgold flecks

Iron is most commonly derived from rocks referred to as banded iron formations. These are Precambrian in age – they are at least 2,400 million years old! These rocks are really exciting, because they actually represent the point at which organisms started photosynthesising and producing oxygen. At first, when bacteria began producing oxygen earlier around 2,600 million years ago the oxygen produced was chemically captured, forming iron oxide deposits as seen in the banded iron formations. Later, when much of the iron had been oxidised, free oxygen began to accumulate in the atmosphere until it reached a level similar to today’s. Banded iron formations therefore didn’t occur much after 1,800 million years ago. The banded iron formations commonly formed in the oceans, and the red bands of iron oxide are therefore mingled with oceanic fallout silica. As these rocks are so old, many of them have been deformed through metamorphism.

banded ironBIF form

Malachite is a copper ore. It can be formed via fluid interaction of intrusive magma that has cooled at different times and depths. The fluids pick up dissolved minerals from the magma, and the fluids are later driven off during cooling of the magma. This causes zones of rocks which are enriched with various metals and other minerals precipitated in cracks within the rocks. This type of formation is commonly associated with copper ore and the veins and cracks carrying the mineralised rocks is called stockwork.

malachite Star Mine Zaire 1208 DSC09807porphry

Moonstone is actually a mineral that geologists call feldspar. Feldspar is a rock forming mineral commonly associated with igneous rocks (formed from magma/lava). Shallow melting of the mantle (below the Earth’s crust) produces large volumes of magma that are rich in silica and therefore silica rich minerals including feldspar which is a silicate (contains silicon and oxygen). Cooling of this magma can lead to separation of feldspar which has more potassium and feldspar that has more sodium, forming lamellae of white and pink (to the naked eye) and black and white (under the microscope). This mixing of slightly different composition rock means that to the naked eye the feldspar looks shiny, and is why it is given the name moonstone.

magmachamber-mantle-lava-vents-mantle-plumes-seen-southern-california-8-june-20126feldspar-perthitic1292plagioklasz_fp_mikroszkóp alatt

Great, so now we have the how sorted from the rocks point of view, we should also really ask how they got there from a landscape point of view. To do this we need to take a look at the map and look at the geography – where the hills are and what they can tell us about how the area has formed.

To do this, what we geologists do is scribble over maps. At the moment, this probably all looks pretty incomprehensible, but let me explain in a little detail what these lines and shapes mean.Skyrim Geo-Map

Over in the west, where we see a couple of curvy lines with triangles on them, these mean that the land to the north east has been thrust on top of land to the south west. This is also called compression, which builds mountains, and could explain why we see mountains in the west around Markarth.

In the east, we see the Rift which holds the town of Riften. Maybe unsurprisingly, I see this area as being extended (or rifted apart) between the Throat of the World and the mountains adjacent to Eastmarch. The straight lines with squares indicate extension, where the land to the east has been displaced towards the east. This is also called a normal fault.


If this is the case on the map, then we could also infer that to the west of the Throat of the World there has been some further extension, which is why I have put arrows across the area of mountain building. This could also tell us that the thrusting occurred first, and that the extension occurred later.

The Throat of the World and the town of Solitude are therefore displaced above the rest of Skyrim, which could account for why we see the highest mountains there and the plateau where Solitude sits.

But what does this all mean?! Can we fit this large scale analysis together with the formation of the rocks? Does it all add up? Well, surprisingly the answer is yes.

Gold Ore Skyrim (1)

And here it is! To recap: we have gold occurring over in the west, which is commonly associated with zones of compression and mountain building, found in streams in alluvium from the erosion of these mountains. Iron ore is commonly found in heavily metamorphosed rocks, and metamorphism is very commonly associated with areas of compression and mountain building. The land in the centre would have been thrust towards the south west to form the mountains in the west near Markarth, which therefore seems to make sense. In the east, we have malachite and moonstone occurring near the Rift – a zone of continental extension. It is very common at rifts/extension zones to have increased volcanic activity, as when continents pull apart magma will rise up to fill the space created.


And there you have it, the geology of Skyrim. Of course, this is all hypothetical not least because it is a video game but also because there may be other interpretations of the game, especially if you were to take a closer look at the structural formations in-game and better map the spatial distributions of the ores. However, it’s a start and I hope that this is useful to some interested people! As I also said at the beginning, I think that if this was to be done properly – and a mod made about the geology of Skyrim – then it could be a great educational tool and a fun step for science communication to a new and diverse audience.

Please feel free to contact me about this project by heading over to the Dark Creations Forum linked to at the beginning of this post, or through Twitter (@JLizRob) or email janeliz.robb [at]!

N.B. I do not claim ownership/copyright of  the images (apart from where I have edited over the maps). 


If you have been following this project you will know that I am attempting to develop a mod for the popular video game The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim.

The mod is meant to be educational – but not in a conventional sense. I want people to play it and not feel like they are being forced to learn something, rather for people to play it because they want to and in the process of the game realise that there is something useful here.

For more information on this project and its background check out my initial post, my set at Science Showoff and also where I am hosting the project over at Dark Creations – with a detailed project outline.

I have now completed the initial mapping of the province of Skyrim in the continent of Tamriel. I did this using the immensely helpful UESP map which details the locations of the major types of ore veins to be found in Skyrim. The most common ore veins (in order of abundance) are iron, corundum, ornichalcum, quicksilver, silver, moonstone and malachite. Malachite unfortunately barely even occurs on the UESP map as it is found in so few places, so I have not included it in this map.

The map here is very rough. It is hard to get accurate locations from one map to another, but I have tried my best. This means that every location is likely to be relatively inaccurate. In addition, because of the nature of geologically mapping a hypothetical location, there is not much possibility of identifying ‘contacts’ between different rock types.

Why are ‘contacts’ so important? The location that two or more rock types are in contact with each other is crucial for mapping in the field. It is through identification of contacts between rocks that geologists are able to define where a body of rock is below the surface. In nature you will see exposures of rocks at the surface – when you are walking along and you see some rock sticking out of the grass that is obviously part of the hill you are walking on, or a road that has cut away at the rock around it. These rocks don’t just occur there though. The rock goes below the ground where you can’t see it, and the purpose of geological mapping is to find out where the rock is below the surface. If you know where the rocks are below the surface this is one of the keys to understanding how they got there.

To do this requires an understanding of the type of rock you are looking at – is it hard or soft – which will determine whether you are likely to see it on a hill or on flat land. Contacts between one rock and another provide definite boundaries that you can mark off on your map and are one of the most important pieces of information for geologists in the field.

We can’t do this on the Skyrim map because 1) it is imaginary 2) the scale of the maps means that this kind of observation is difficult 3) I am not going to spend hours and hours in Skyrim looking at rocks and veins which ultimately, because it is imaginary, won’t have a beautiful contact visible there and 4) I would rather spend my time in Skyrim plundering ruins, killing dragons and doing cool quests.

And of course,when I come to develop a storyline around the geology of the area, the geology will need to be simplified – and because this is a game and imaginary I am allowed a certain amount of creative license!

I have grouped where one or more ore locations of the same type can be found into ‘blobs’ that you can see on the map. Each blob is colour coded to represent a specific ore.

Red = iron

Blue = corundum

Purple = ornichalcum

White = quicksilver

Grey = silver

Yellow = moonstone


Above is the map I have created with the locations of various types of ores (blobs drawn on over the coloured contour map). It might be difficult to see, so I recommend clicking on it and trying to zoom in. Unfortunately, when you get to this level of detail on the map of Skyrim, there is less consistency in the geological data. However, this was to be expected.

What I now aim to do is open this project up a bit to other geologists out there who I know are interested in mapping Skyrim. I would like to call on your expertise to come up with hypotheses about the geological evolution of Skyrim. I am going to leave you the option to try to come up with something highly accurate, or to use your own artistic license in interpreting this geology to develop a hypothesis that makes sense but also includes some fun and interesting geological processes. I will not determine how the particular rocks/minerals mapped here were formed, because I would like to leave this open to geologists’ own interpretations.

Leave your ideas in the comments below (or you can always email me at janeliz.robb at and I will collate them together and see what I think would be most suitable for making into a storyline for a new quest in Skyrim. For this, I will take into account the simplicity of the geological evolution if the area – I want to make something that is simple and easy to create a geological map of and that allows the creation of a viable new mineral that can be mined. Once a final hypothesis has been determined, I will write a post that describes this in a simple way for others who don’t know about geology to keep up to date with the project.

So, have a bit of fun with it and let me know your ideas!

Greetings, I'm Dr Ravenholm, (or DR Yuill-Kirkwood to people that know me). Welcome to my site to the uninitiated our name is in reference to one of my favourite things, Star Trek. My site was created mainly to showcase my photographic work, and my random expeditions and adventures. Other than my photography I love movies and gaming on my Xbox and reading. Some of my favourites being Star Trek, Lord Of The Rings, Serenity, Firefly (Jewel Staite being the most beautiful girl in the verse), Mass Effect, Halo, and Skyrim, I could go on. I hope you enjoy my site and I can also be found in the following places... Twitter: @DRYuillKirkwood on Xbox Live: Dr Ravenholm, on Google+ and on Facebook.

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Dr. Ravenholm

Dr. Ravenholm

Greetings, I’m DR Yuill-Kirkwood (Dr Ravenholm) and welcome to my site I keep a small flock of Chickens and you can follow their stories in Tales From The Coop. I love movies, gaming on my XBOX and reading. Some of my favourites being Star Trek, Lord Of The Rings, Serenity, Firefly (Jewel Staite being the most beautiful girl in the verse), Mass Effect, Halo, Skyrim, and Minecraft, I could go on. You can also find me meeting all the celebrities at Comic-Con. In addition to my business my website and blog showcase my photography, YouTube videos, and expeditions & adventures. I hope you enjoy your visit to and we look forward to talking to you so please comment and share with your friends and drop by and see us on all your favourite social media websites.

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