Geology deals with the rocks of the earth’s crust. It learns from their composition and structure how the rocks were made and how they have been modified. It ascertains how they have been brought to their present places and wrought to their various topographic forms, such as hills and valleys, plains and mountains. It studies the vestiges which the rocks preserve of ancient organisms which once inhabited our planet. Geology is the history of the earth and its inhabitants, as read in the rocks of the earth’s crust.
To obtain a general idea of the nature and method of our science before beginning its study in detail, we may visit some valley, such as that illustrated in the frontispiece, on whose sides are rocky ledges. Here the rocks lie in horizontal layers. Although only their edges are exposed, we may infer that these layers run into the upland on either side and underlie the entire district; they are part of the foundation of solid rock which everywhere is found beneath the loose materials of the surface.
The ledges of the valley of our illustration are of sandstone. Looking closely at the rock we see that it is composed of myriads of grains of sand cemented together. These grains have been worn and rounded. They are sorted also, those of each layer being about of a size. By some means they have been brought hither from some more ancient source. Surely these grains have had a history before they here found a resting place,—a history which we are to learn to read.
The successive layers of the rock suggest that they were built one after another from the bottom upward. We may be as sure that each layer was formed before those above it as that the bottom courses of stone in a wall were laid before the courses which rest upon them.
We have no reason to believe that the lowest layers which we see here were the earliest ever formed. Indeed, some deep boring in the vicinity may prove that the ledges rest upon other layers of rock which extend downward for many hundreds of feet below the valley floor. Nor may we conclude that the highest layers here were the latest ever laid; for elsewhere we may find still later layers lying upon them.
A short search may find in the rock relics of animals, such as the imprints of shells, which lived when it was deposited; and as these are of kinds whose nearest living relatives now have their home in the sea, we infer that it was on the flat sea floor that the sandstone was laid. Its present position hundreds of feet above sea level proves that it has since emerged to form part of the land; while the flatness of the beds shows that the movement was so uniform and gentle as not to break or strongly bend them from their original attitude.
The surface of some of these layers is ripple-marked. Hence the sand must once have been as loose as that of shallow sea bottoms and sea beaches to-day, which is thrown into similar ripples by movements of the water. In some way the grains have since become cemented into firm rock.