(FROM A FIRST BOOK IN GEOLOGY.)
BY N.S. SHALER, S.D.
[Footnote 1: Copyright, 1884, by N.S. Shaler.]
The geologist cannot find his way back in the record of the great stone book, to the far-off day when life began. The various changes that come over rocks from the action of heat, of water, and of pressure, have slowly modified these ancient beds, so that they no longer preserve the frames of the animals that were buried in them.
These old rocks, which are so changed that we cannot any longer make sure that any animals lived in them, are called the “archaean,” which is Greek for ancient. They were probably mud and sand and limestone when first made, but they have been changed to mica schists, gneiss, granite, marble, and other crystalline rocks. When any rock becomes crystalline, the fossils dissolve and disappear, as coins lose their stamp and form when they are melted in the jeweller’s gold-pot.
These ancient rocks that lie deepest in the earth are very thick, and must have taken a great time in building; great continents must have been worn down by rain and waves in order to supply the waste out of which they were made. It is tolerably certain that they took as much time during their making as has been required for all the other times since they were formed. During the vast ages of this archaean the life of our earth began to be. We first find many certain evidences of life in the rocks which lie on top of the archaean rock, and are known as the Cambriani and Silurian periods. There we have creatures akin to our corals and crabs and worms, and others that are the distant kindred of the cuttle-fishes and of our lamp-shells. There were no backboned animals, that is to say, no land mammals, reptiles, or fishes at this stage of the earth’s history. It is not likely that there was any land life except of plants and those forms like the lowest ferns, and probably mosses. Nor is it likely that there were any large continents as at the present time, but rather a host of islands lying where the great lands now are, the budding tops of the continents just appearing above the sea.
Although the life of this time was far simpler than at the present day, it had about as great variety as we would find on our present sea-floors. There were as many different species living at the same time on a given surface.
The Cambrian and Silurian time—the time before the coming of the fishes—must have endured for many million years without any great change in the world. Hosts of species lived and died; half a dozen times or more the life of the earth was greatly changed. New species came much like those that had gone before, and only a little gain here and there was perceptible at any time. Still, at the end of the Silurian, the life of the world had climbed some steps higher in structure and in intelligence.