THE CARBONIFEROUS PERIOD.
Overlying the Devonian formation is the great and important series of the Carboniferous Rocks, so called because workable beds of coal are more commonly and more largely developed in this formation than in any other. Workable coal-seams, however, occur in various other formations (Jurassic, Cretaceous, Tertiary), so that coal is not an exclusively Carboniferous product; whilst even in the Coal-measures themselves the coal bears but a very small proportion to the total thickness of strata, occurring only in comparatively thin beds intercalated in a great series of sandstones, shales, and other genuine aqueous sediments.
Stratigraphically, the Carboniferous rocks usually repose conformably upon the highest Devonian beds, so that the line of demarcation between the Carboniferous and Devonian formations is principally a palaeontological one, founded on the observed differences in the fossils of the two groups. On the other hand, the close of the Carboniferous period seems to have been generally, though not universally, signalised by movements of the crust of the earth, so that the succeeding Permian beds often lie unconformably upon the Carboniferous sediments.
Strata of Carboniferous age have been discovered in almost every large land-area which has been sufficiently investigated; but they are especially largely developed in Britain, in various parts of the continent of Europe, and in North America. Their general composition, however, is, comparatively speaking, so uniform, that it will suffice to take a comprehensive view of the formation without considering any one area in detail, though in each region the subdivisions of the formation are known by distinctive local names. Taking such a comprehensive view, it is found that the Carboniferous series is generally divisible into a Lower and essentially calcareous group (the “Sub-Carboniferous” or “Carboniferous Limestone"); a Middle and principally arenaceous group (the “Millstone Grit"); and an Upper group, of alternating shales and sandstones, with workable seams of coal (the “Coal-measures").
I. The Carboniferous, Sub-Carboniferous, or Mountain Limestone Series constitutes the general base of the Carboniferous system. As typically developed in Britain, the Carboniferous Limestone is essentially a calcareous formation, sometimes consisting of a mass of nearly pure limestone from 1000 to 2000 feet in thickness, or at other times of successive great beds of limestone with subordinate sandstones and shales. In the north of England the base of the series consists of pebbly conglomerates and coarse sandstones; and in Scotland generally, the group is composed of massive sandstones with a comparatively feeble development of the calcareous element. In Ireland, again, the base of the Carboniferous Limestone is usually considered to be formed by a locally-developed