The Great Stone Book
"The crust of our earth is a great cemetery where the rocks
are tombstones on which the buried dead have written their
own epitaphs. They tell us who they were, and when and where
D EEP in the ground, and high and dry on the sides of mountains, belts of limestone and sandstone and slate lie on the ancient granite ribs of the earth. They are the deposits of sand and mud that formed the shores of ancient seas. The limestone is formed of the decayed shells of animal forms that flourished in shallow bays along those shores. And all we know about the life of these early days is read in the epitaphs written on these stone tables.
Under the stratified rocks, the granite foundations tell nothing of life on the earth. But the sea rolled over them, and in it lived a great variety of shellfish. Evidently the earliest fossil-bearing rocks were worn away, for the rocks that now lie on the granite show not the beginnings, but the high tide of life. The "lost interval" of which geologists speak was a time when living forms were few in the sea.
In the muddy bottoms of shallow, quiet bays lie the shells and skeletons of the creatures that live their lives in those waters and die when they grow old and feeble. We have seen the fiddler crabs by thousands on such shores, young and old, lusty and feeble. We have seen the rocks along another coast almost covered by the coiled shells of little gray periwinkles, and big clumps of black mussels hanging on the piers and wharfs. All these creatures die, at length, and their shells accumulate on the shallow sea bottom. Who has not spent hours gathering dead shells which the tide has thrown up on the beach? Who has not cut his foot on the broken shells that lie in the sandy bottom we walk on whenever we go into the surf to swim or bathe?
Read downward from the surface toward the earth's
Table Of Contents
It is by dying that the creatures of the sea write their epitaphs. The mud or sand swallows them up. In time these submerged banks may be left dry, and become beds of stone. Then some of the skeletons and shells may be revealed in blocks of quarried stone, still perfect in form after lying buried for thousands of years.
The leaves of this great stone book are the layers of rock, laid down under water. Between the leaves are pressed specimens—fossils of animals and plants that have lived on the earth.