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Henry Alleyne Nicholson
This eBook from the Gutenberg Project consists of approximately 391 pages of information about The Ancient Life History of the Earth.

Not only do we find that the animals of each successive formation become gradually more and more like those now existing upon the globe, as we pass from the older rocks into the newer, but we also find that there has been a gradual progression and development in the types of animal life which characterise the geological ages.  If we take the earliest-known and oldest examples of any given group of animals, it can sometimes be shown that these primitive forms, though in themselves highly organised, possessed certain characters such as are now only seen in the young of their existing representatives.  In technical language, the early forms of life in some instances possess “embryonic” characters, though this does not prevent them often attaining a size much more gigantic than their nearest living relatives.  Moreover, the ancient forms of life are often what is called “comprehensive types”—­that is to say, they possess characters in combination such as we nowadays only find separately developed in different, groups of animals.  Now, this permanent retention of embryonic characters and this “comprehensiveness” of structural type are signs of what a zoologist considers to be a comparatively low grade of organisation; and the prevalence of these features in the earlier forms of animals is a very striking phenomenon, though they are none the less perfectly organised so far as their own type is concerned.  As we pass upwards in the geological scale, we find that these features gradually disappear, higher and ever higher forms are introduced, and “specialisation” of type takes the place of the former comprehensiveness.  We shall have occasion to notice many of the facts on which these views are based at a later period, and in connection with actual examples.  In the meanwhile, it is sufficient to state, as a widely-accepted generalisation of palaeontology, that there has been in the past a general progression of organic types, and that the appearance of the lower forms of life has in the main preceded that of the higher forms in point of time.

PART II

HISTORICAL PALAEONTOLOGY

CHAPTER VII.

THE LAURENTIAN AND HURONIAN PERIODS.

The Laurentian Rocks constitute the base of the entire stratified series, and are, therefore, the oldest sediments of which we have as yet any knowledge.  They are more largely and more typically developed in North America, and especially in Canada, than in any known part of the world, and they derive their title from the range of hills which the old French geographers named the “Laurentides.”  These hills are composed of Laurentian Rocks, and form the watershed between the valley of the St Lawrence river on the one hand, and the great plains which stretch northwards to Hudson Bay on the other hand.  The main area of these ancient deposits forms a great

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