The Ancient Life History of the Earth eBook

Henry Alleyne Nicholson
This eBook from the Gutenberg Project consists of approximately 483 pages of information about The Ancient Life History of the Earth.
into a house of stone.  Many other fossils besides wood—­such as shells, corals, sponges, &c.—­are often found silicified; and this may be regarded as the commonest form of fossilisation by replacement.  In other cases, however, though the principle of the process is the same, the replacing substance may be iron pyrites, oxide of iron, sulphur, malachite, magnesite, talc, &c.; but it is rarely that the replacement with these minerals is so perfect as to preserve the more delicate details of internal structure.



Fossils are found in rocks, though not universally or promiscuously; and it is therefore necessary that the palaeontologist should possess some acquaintance with, at any rate, those rocks which yield organic remains, and which are therefore said to be “fossiliferous.”  In geological language, all the materials which enter into the composition of the solid crust of the earth, be their texture what it may—­from the most impalpable mud to the hardest granite—­are termed “rocks;” and for our present purpose we may divide these into two great groups.  In the first division are the Igneous Rocks—­such as the lavas and ashes of volcanoes—­which are formed within the body of the earth itself, and which owe their structure and origin to the action of heat.  The Igneous Rocks are formed primarily below the surface of the earth, which they only reach as the result of volcanic action; they are generally destitute of distinct “stratification,” or arrangement in successive layers; and they do not contain fossils, except in the comparatively rare instances where volcanic ashes have enveloped animals or plants which were living in the sea or on the land in the immediate vicinity of the volcanic focus.  The second great division of rocks is that of the Fossiliferous, Aqueous, or Sedimentary Rocks.  These are formed at the surface of the earth, and, as implied by one of their names, are invariably deposited in water.  They are produced by vital or chemical action, or are formed from the “sediment” produced by the disintegration and reconstruction of previously existing rocks, without previous solution; they mostly contain fossils; and they are arranged in distinct layers or “strata.”  The so-called “aerial” rocks which, like beds of blown sand, have been formed by the action of the atmosphere, may also contain fossils; but they are not of such importance as to require special notice here.

For all practical purposes, we may consider that the Aqueous Rocks are the natural cemetery of the animals and plants of bygone ages; and it is therefore essential that the palaeontological student should be acquainted with some of the principal facts as to their physical characters, their minute structure and mode of origin, their chief varieties, and their historical succession.

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The Ancient Life History of the Earth from Project Gutenberg. Public domain.
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