THE BREAKS IN THE GEOLOGICAL AND PALAEONTOLOGICAL RECORD.
The term “contemporaneous” is usually applied by geologists to groups of strata in different regions which contain the same fossils, or an assemblage of fossils in which many identical forms are present. That is to say, beds which contain identical, or nearly identical, fossils, however widely separated they may be from one another in point of actual distance, are ordinarily believed to have been deposited during the same period of the earth’s history. This belief, indeed, constitutes the keystone of the entire system of determining the age of strata by their fossil contents; and if we take the word “contemporaneous” in a general and strictly geological sense, this belief can be accepted as proved beyond denial. We must, however, guard ourselves against too literal an interpretation of the word “contemporaneous,” and we must bear in mind the enormously-prolonged periods of time with which the geologist has to deal. When we say that two groups of strata in different regions are “contemporaneous,” we simply mean that they were formed during the same geological period, and perhaps at different stages of that period, and we do not mean to imply that they were formed at precisely the same instant of time.
A moment’s consideration will show us that it is only in the former sense that we can properly speak of strata being “contemporaneous;” and that, in point of fact, beds containing the same fossils, if occurring in widely distant areas, can hardly be “contemporaneous” in any literal sense; but that the very identity of their fossils is proof that they were deposited one after the other. If we find strata containing identical fossils within the limits of a single geographical region—say in Europe—then there is a reasonable probability that these beds are strictly contemporaneous, in the sense that they were deposited at the same time. There is a reasonable probability of this, because there is no improbability involved in the idea of an ocean occupying the whole area of Europe, and peopled throughout by many of the same species of marine animals. At the present day, for example, many identical species of animals are found living on the western coasts of