WONDERS OF GEOLOGY (from Robert Merry’s Museum, January 1842, pp. 3-7)
There are few things more curious, strange, and wonderful than the facts revealed by geology. This science is occupied with the structure of the surface of the earth; it tells us of the rocks, gravel, clay, and soil of which it is composed, and how they are arranged.
In investigating these materials, the geologists have discovered the bones of strange animals, imbedded either in the rocks or the soil, and the remains of vegetables such as do not now exist. These are called fossil remains; the word fossil meaning dug up. This subject has occupied the attention of many very learned men, and they have at last come to the most astonishing results. A gigantic skeleton has been found in the earth near Buenos Ayres, in South America; it is nearly as large as the elephant, its body being nine feet long and seven feet high. Its feet were enormous, being a yard in length, and more than twelve inches wide. They were terminated by gigantic claws; while its huge tail, which probably served as a means of defence, was larger than that of any other beast, living or extinct.
This animal has been called the Megatherium: mega, great, therion, wild beast. It was of the sloth species, and seems to have had a very thick skin, like that of the armadillo, set on in plates resembling a coat of armor. There are no such animals in existence now; they belong to a former state of this earth,—to a time before the creation of man.
Discoveries have been made of the remains of many other fossil animals belonging to the ancient earth. One of them is called the Ichthyosaurus, or fish lizard. It had the teeth of a crocodile, the head of a lizard, and the fins or paddles of a whale. These fins, or paddles were very curious, and consisted of above a hundred small bones, closely united together. This animal used to live principally at the bottoms of rivers, and devour amazing quantities of fish,
and other water animals, and sometimes its own species; for an ichthyosaurus has been dug out of the cliff at Lyme Regis, England, with part of a small one in his stomach. This creature was sometimes thirty or forty feet long.
The jaws of the Ichthyosaurus.
Another of these fossil animals is called the Plesiosaurus, a word which means, like a lizard. It appears to have formed an intermediate link between the crocodile and the ichthyosaurus. It is remarkable for the great length of its neck, which must have been longer than that of any living animal. In the engraving at the beginning of this number, you will see one of these animals swimming in the water. The following is a view of his skeleton; the creature was about fifteen feet long.
Skeleton of the Plesiosaurus.
But we have not yet mentioned the greatest wonder of fossil animals; this is the Iguanodon, whose bones have been found in England. It was a sort of lizard, and its thigh bones were eight inches in diameter. This creature must have been from seventy to a hundred feet long, and one of its thighs must have been as large as the body of an ox. I have given a portrait of this monster, drawn by Mr. Billings, an excellent young artist, whom you will find at No. 10, Court st., Boston. I cannot say that the picture is a very exact likeness; for as the fellow has been dead some thousands of years, we can only be expected to give a family resemblance. We have good reason to believe, however, that it is a tolerably faithful representation, for it is partly copied from a design by the celebrated John Martin, in London, and to be found in a famous book on the wonders of geology, by Mr. Mantel [sic].
There was another curious animal, called the Pterodactyle, with gigantic wings. The skull of this animal must have been very large in proportion to the size of the skeleton, the jaws themselves being almost as large as its body.
Skeleton of the Pterodactyle.
They were furnished with sharp, hooked teeth. The orbits of the eyes were very large; hence it is probable
that it was a nocturnal animal, like the bat, which, at first sight, it very much resembles in the wings, and other particulars.
The word pterodactyle signifies wing-fingered; and, if you observe, ou will find that it had a hand of three fingers at the bend of each of its wings, by which, probably, it hung to the branches of trees. Its food seems to have been large dragon-flies, beetles and other insects, the remains of some of which have been found close to the skeleton of the animal. The largest of the pterodactyles were of the size of a raven. One of them is pictured in the cut with the Iguanodon.
Another very curious animal which has been discovered is the Dinotherium, being of the enormous length of eighteen feet. It was an herbiferous animal, and inhabited fresh water lakes and rivers, feeding on weeds, aquatic roots, and vegetables. Its lower jaws measured four feet in length, and are terminated by two large tusks, curving downwards, like those of the upper jaw of the walrus; by which it appears to have hooked itself to the banks of rivers as it slept in the water. It resembled the tapirs of South America. There appear to have been several kinds of the dinotherium, some not larger than a dog. One of these small ones is represented in the picture with the Iguanodon.
The bones of the creatures we have been describing, were all found in England, France, and Germany, except those of the magatherium, which was found in South America. In the United States, the bones of an animal twice as big as an elephant, called the Mastodon, or Mammoth, have been dug up in various places, and a nearly perfect skeleton is to be seen at Peale’s Museum, in Philadelphia.
Now it must be remembered that the bones we have been speaking of, are found deeply imbedded in the earth, and that no animals of the kind now exist in any part of the world. Beside those we have mentioned, there were many others, as tortoises, elephants, tigers, bears, and rhinoceroses, but of different kinds from those which now exist.
It appears that there were elephants of many sizes, and some of them had woolly hair. The skeleton of one of the larger kinds, was found in Siberia, some years since, partly imbedded in ice, as I have told you in a former number.
The subject of which we are treating increases in interest as we pursue it. Not only does it appear, that, long before man was created, and before the present order of things existed on the earth, strange animals, now unknown, inhabited it, but that they were exceedingly numerous. In certain caves in England, immense quantities of the bones of hyenas, bears, and foxes are found; and the same is the fact in relation to certain caves in Germany.
Along the northern shores of Asia, the traces of elephants and rhinoceroses are so abundant as to show that these regions, now so cold and desolate, were once inhabited by thousands of quadrupeds of the largest kinds. In certain parts of Europe, the hills and valleys appear to be almost composed of the bones of extinct animals; and in all parts of the world, ridges, hills and mountains, are made up of the shells of marine animals, of which no living specimen now dwells on the earth!
Nor is this the only marvel that is revealed by the discoveries of modern geology. Whole tribes of birds and insects, whole races of trees and plants, have existed, and nothing is left of their story save the traces to be found in the soil, or the images depicted in the layers
of slate. They all existed before man was created, and thousands of years have rolled over the secret, no one suspecting the wonderful truth. Nor does the train of curiosities end here. It appears that the climates of the earth must have been different in those ancient and mysterious days from what they are at present; for in England, ferns, now small plants, grew to the size of trees, and vegetables flourished there of races similar to those which now grow only in the hot regions of the tropics.
As before stated, the northern shores of Siberia, in Asia, at present as cold and desolate as Lapland, and affording sustenance only to the reindeer that feeds on lichens, was once inhabited by thousands and tens of thousands of elephants, and other creatures, which now only dwell in the regions of perpetual summer.
The inferences drawn from all these facts, which are now placed beyond dispute are not only interest, but they come upon us like a new revelation. They seem to assure us that this world in which we dwell has existed for millions of years; that at a period, ages upon ages since, there was a state of things totally distinct from the present. Europe was then, probably, a collection of islands. Where England now is, the iguanodon then dwelt, and was, probably, one of the lords of the soil.
This creature was from seventy to a hundred feet long. He dwelt along the rivers and lakes, and had for his companions other animals of strange and uncouth forms. Along the borders of the rivers the ferns grew to the height of trees, and the land was shaded with trees, shrubs, and plants, resembling the gorgeous vegetation of Central America and Central Africa.
This was one age of the world—one of the days in which the process of creation was going on. How long this earth remained in this condition, we cannot say, but probably many thousands of years. After a time, a change came over it. The country of the iguanodon sunk beneath the waters, and after a period, the land arose again, and another age began. Now new races of animals and vegetables appeared.
The waters teemed with nautili, and many species of shell and other fishes, at present extinct; the tropical forests had disappeared, and others took their places. Instead of the iguanodon, and the hideous reptiles that occupied the water and the land before, new races were seen. Along the rivers and marshes were now the hippopotamus, tapir, and rhinoceros; upon the land were browsing herds of deer of enormous size, and groups of elephants and mastodons, of colossal magnitude.
This era also passed away; these mighty animals became entombed in the earth; the vegetable world was changed; swine, horses and oxen were now seen upon the land, and man, the head of creation, spread over the earth, and assumed dominion over the animal tribes.
Such are the mighty results to which the researches of modern geology seem to lead us. They teach us that the six days, spoken of in the book of Genesis, during which the world was created, were probably not six days of twenty-four hours, but six periods of time, each of them containing thousands of years. They teach us also that God works by certain laws, and that even in the mighty process of creation, there is a plan, by which he advances in his work from one step to another, and always by a progress of improvement.
So far, indeed, is geology from furnishing evidence against the truth of the Bible, that it offers the most wonderful confirmation of it. No traces of the bones of man are found among
these remains of former ages, and thus we have the most satisfactory and unexpected evidence that the account given of his creation in the book of Genesis is true. It appears, also, that the present races of animals must have been created at the same time he was, for their bones do not appear among the ancient relics of which we have been speaking.