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basins, ridges of elevated land, and broad plateaus intervening between the ridges, and which were at some times under water, and at other times land, with many intermediate phases. The settlement and crumpling of the crust were not continuous, but took place at intervals ; and each such settlement produced not only a ridging up along certain lines, but also an emergence of the plains or plateaus. Thus at all times there have been ridges of folded rock constituting mountain-ranges, flat expansions of continental plateau, sometimes dry and sometimes submerged, and deep ocean-basins, never except in some of their shallower portions elevated into land.
By the study of the successive beds, more especially of those deposited in the times of continental submergence, we obtain a table of geological chronology which expresses the several stages of the formation of the earth's crust, from that early time when a solid shell first formed on our nascent planet to the present day. By collecting the fossil remains embedded in the several layers and placing these in chronological order, we obtain in like manner histories of animal and plant life parallel to the physical changes indicated by the beds themselves. The facts as to the sequence we obtain from the study of exposures in cliffs, cuttings, quarries, and mines; and by correlating these local sections in a great number of places, we obtain our general table of succession ; though it is to be observed that in some single exposures or series of exposures, like those in the great cañons of Colorado, or on the coasts of Great Britain, we can often in one locality see nearly the whole sequence of beds. Let us observe here also that, though we can trace these series of deposits over the whole of the surfaces of the continents, yet if the series could be seen in one spot, say in one shaft sunk through the whole thickness of the earth's crust, this would be sufficient for our purpose, so far as the history of life is concerned.
The evidence is similar to that obtained by Schliemann on the site of Troy, where, in digging through successive layers of débris, he found the objects deposited by successive occupants of the site, from the time of the Roman Empire back to the earliest tribes, whose flint weapons and the ashes of their fires rest on the original surface of the ground.
Let us now tabulate the whole geological succession with the history of animals and plants associated with it:
It will be observed, since only the latest of the systems of formations in this table belongs to the period of human history, that the whole lapse of time embraced in the table must be enormous. If we suppose the modern period to have continued for say ten thousand years, and each of the others to have been equal to it, we shall require two hundred thousand years for the whole. There is, however, reason to believe, from the great thickness of the formations and the slowness of the deposition of many of them in the older systems, that they must have required vastly greater time. Taking these criteria into account, it has been estimated that the time-ratios for the first three great ages may be as one for the Kainozoic to three for the Mesozoic and twelve for the Palæozoic, with as much for the Eozoic as for the Palæozoic. This is Dana's estimate. Another, by Hull and Houghton, gives the following ratios : Azoic, 34:3 per cent. ; Palæozoic, 42.5 per cent. ; Mesozoic and Kainozoic, 23-2 per cent. It is further held that the modern period is much shorter than the other periods of the Kainozoic, so that our geological table may have to be measured by millions of years instead of thousands.
We cannot, however, attach any certain and definite value in years to geological time, but must content ourselves with the general statement that it has been vastly long in comparison to that covered by human history.
Bearing in mind this great duration of geological time, and the fact that it probably extends from a period when the earth was intensely heated, its crust thin, and its continents as yet unformed, it will be evident that the conditions of life in the earlier geologic periods may have been very different from those which obtained later. When we further take into account the vicissitudes of land and water which have occurred, we shall see that such changes must have produced very great differences of climate. The warm equatorial waters have in all periods, as superficial oceanic currents, been main agents in the diffusion of heat over the surface of the earth, and their distribution to north and south must have been determined mainly by the extent and direction of land, though it may also have been modified by the changes in the astronomical relations and period of the earth, and the form of its orbit.* We know by the evidence of
Croll, “ Climate and Time.”
fossil plants that changes of this kind have occurred so great as, on the one hand, to permit the plants of warm temperate regions to exist within the Arctic Circle; and, on the other, to drive these plants into the tropics and to replace them by Arctic forms. It is evident also that in those periods when the continental areas were largely submerged, there might be an excessive amount of moisture in the atmosphere, greatly modifying the climate, in so far as plants are concerned.
Let us now consider the history of the vegetable kingdom as indicated in the few notes in the right-hand column of the table.
The most general subdivision of plants is into the two great series of Cryptogams, or those which have no manifest flowers, and produce minute spores instead of seeds; and Phænogams, or those which possess flowers and produce seeds containing an embryo of the future plant.
The Cryptogams may be subdivided into the following
three groups :
1. Thallogens, cellular plants not distinctly distinguishable into stem and leaf. These are the Fungi, the Lichens, and the Algæ, or sea-weeds.
2. Anogens, having stem and foliage, but wholly cellular. These are the Mosses and Liverworts.
3. Acrogens, which have long tubular fibres as well as cells in their composition, and thus have the capacity of attaining a more considerable magnitude. These are the Ferns (Filices), the Mare’s-tails (Equisetaceæ), and the Club-mosses (Lycopodiaceæ), and a curious little group of aquatic plants called Rhizocarps (Rhizocarpec).
The Phænogams are all vascular, but they differ mach in the simplicity or complexity of their flowers or seeds. On this ground they admit of a twofold division :
1. Gymnosperms, or those which bear naked seeds not enclosed in fruits. They are the Pines and their allies, and the Cycads.
2. Angiosperms, which produce true fruits enclosing the seeds. In this group there are two well-marked subdivisions differing in the structure of the seed and stem. They are the Endogens, or inside growers, with seeds having one seed-leaf only, as the grasses and the palms; and the Exogens, having outside-growing woody stems, and seeds with two seed-leaves. Most of the ordinary foresttrees of temperate climates belong to this group.
On referring to the geological table, it will be seen that there is a certain rough correspondence between the order of rank of plants and the order of their appearance in time. The oldest plants that we certainly know are Algæ, and with these there are plants apparently with the structures of Thailophytes but the habit of trees, and which, for want of a better name, I may call Protogens. Plants akin to the Rhizocarps also appear very early. Next in order we find forests in which gigantic Ferns and Lycopods and Mare's-tails predominate, and are associated with pines. Succeeding these we have a reign of Gymnosperms, and in the later formations we find the higher Phænogams dominant. Thus there is an advance in elevation and complexity along with the advance in geological time, but connected with the remarkable fact that in earlier times low groups attain to an elevation unexampled in later times, when their places are occupied with plants of higher type.
It is this historical development that we have to trace in the following pages, and it will be the most simple and at the same time the most instructive method to consider it in the order of time.