Like most works published in The Schoolmate, “Wonders of Geology” aimed to educate young readers about the world around them. It is, however, more amusing than it means to be. Like works on fossils for children, it was well illustrated and covered the usual contemporary complement of prehistoric creatures: the megatherium, the dinotherium, the plesiosaur, the ichthyosaur.

However, some details are taken more literally than probably intended. The “snake-lizard”—the plesiosaur—has a neck twice as long as its body; the pterosaur was “web-footed, and had a crocodile’s nose, and wings like a bat; it could therefore fly, swim, and crawl.” Lily-shaped crinoids must have been “brilliant,” and masses of them must of looked “like gardens of tulips.” The trilobite was a “three-bodied” animal with “three bodies joined to one head.” A hint that the plesiosaur might substitute for the sea serpent—a famous New England legend—adds to the charm.

Like most pieces on the prehistoric world, it applied the biblical creation narrative to the geologic record. But this piece takes things further, declaring that God had destroyed the prehistoric world in order to create a world fit for humans, and that the world of humans would be replaced in turn by “a sinless and more glorious world, for still higher and happier beings.”
“Wonders of Geology” (from The Schoolmate, March 1852; pp. 80-83)
the hulking megatherium
FIG. 1.—Skeleton of the Megatherium.

This interesting science explains the structure of our globe, showing the character and arrangement of its rocks and soil, and the changes they have undergone. About fifty years ago men began, for the first time, to realize that the Creator had observed the same regularity in forming the rocky frame of the earth, as in the bodies of animals or the trunks of trees. It is evident to our eyes that an animal or a fruit is formed according to certain laws, and for certain purposes; for we can look upon the entire object at one view, and we know most of the purposes for which it was made; but so vast is our globe, or rather so minute is man compared with it, that to his feeble sight its rocks seem thrown together by chance, without order or design. If we could view the earth as a small ball, we should find it enveloped in three coats of rock, somewhat like the skins of an onion, which may be peeled off one after another. The deepest mines ever dug do not penetrate the earth further than would the puncture of the finest needle, through three of the thin skins of an onion, considering their relative size.

After clearing away the soil and gravel, the miner comes to the upper beds of rocks called the tertiary strata (third layers) counting from the bottom. These consist of sandstone, limestone, and other soft rocks, also clay and pebbles; below these come the secondary strata, formed of the same rocks, and containing beds of metallic ores, chalk, coal, and salt. Last of all come the primary or first strata, of solid granite, and slate. These have been bored to a great depth without finding any new substances. Of what exists in the vast mysterious centre we know nothing except that fire comes from it.

These strata are not now smooth and even, th[ou]gh the primary must have been so once. The terrible action of volcanoes and earthquakes has forced the layers of the two lower strata far above the surface, thus curving and twisting the different beds in every direction. Still they maintain the same relative order, whatever may be their position, that is,—the primary is never found over the secondary; nor that over the upper one, though the granite rock of the loftiest mountains. This apparent confusion is in reality a blessing to man, for it varies and adorns the earth’s surface, and brings the coal and ores of the lower strata within his reach.

three plant stems
Fig. 2.—Cane-tree. Fig. 3.—Moss-tree. Fig. 4.—Fern-tree.

Although the two upper strata extend to a vast depth in many places, yet throughout their whole extent they are filled with the re-

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mains of plants and animals, none of which have ever been found in any primary rocks. These bones and remnants of wood are called fossil remains, the word fossil meaning any thing that is dug up. Coal, which is found in the middle of the secondary strata, is composed of the trees of former ages. Whole trunks of trees with the branches and bark still visible, though turned into solid coal, are often taken from the mines. No trees like them now exist; and, more wonderful still, they are very much like the little canes, mosses, and ferns which we find in swamps. Figures 2, 3, and 4 represent fossil trees which were found in the Pennsylvania coal mines, some of the trunks being four feet in thickness.

The only animal-remains found below the coal beds are various kinds of shell, and other fish of strange and unknown species. Higher up are the bones of amphibious animals, resembling crocodiles and lizards, but of gigantic size. Above these are enormous skeletons of unknown land animals and birds; and the remains of animals whose species still exist are found just under the surface.

The puzzling question is—how did these bones become imbedded in solid rock so deep in the earth? and when did such strange animals exist? By the careful study of Geology learned men have thrown much light on this mysterious subject; and we will briefly state their opinion. It is now about four thousand years since the Deluge, and we know that during that time no change sufficient to bury so many animals thousands of feet under ground has taken place; neither is it possible that it could have occurred during the two thousand years before the flood.

It is absurd to suppose that God made these bones merely for the purpose of easing them in stone so far within the earth. It is evident therefore that those animals and plants lived and died long before our globe was formed into its present appearance for the abode of man, at the time called in the Bible the Creation. Many persons suppose that the matter composing the earth was created out of nothing at that time. But the first verse of the Bible says—“In the beginning God created the Heaven and the Earth.” The word beginning, refers to a time previous to the six days labor; for then, the next verse tells us, “The Earth was without form, and void,” that is,—it was in a state of confusion, and covered with rolling waters in which nothing lived. It was the glorious work of creation to purge that gloomy ocean, let the dry land appear, and adorn it for man’s dwelling. We have the same proofs to show that our globe existed, and was inhabited by living things, ages before that event, as those which foretell that it will again be formed into a lovely world after its destruction by fire.—Read the last chapters of Revelation for information on this subject.

three small marine fossils
Fig. 5.—Three-bodied animal. Fig. 6.—Buckler Fish. Fig. 7.—Lily Encrinite.

All our knowledge of that former world is gained by studying fossil remains, which prove that its land surface was far below ours. There are coal mines thousands of feet under us which were once vast forests above ground; long lines of waving ripple-marks are found on the sandstone beds, just as we see them now on the wave-washed beach. These rocks were evidently the shores of ancient seas. They were once soft like sand or clay, for all over them are seen tracks of strange animals, and the skeletons found among them were evidently those very animals.

In the earliest ages of that world there was probably but little dry land, for in the primary strata no remains of living things have ever been found, and just above them, in the lowest secondary beds, we find nothing but shells and a kind of boneless fish with a hard covering. One kind of shell, called the ammonite, is found in immense numbers. It is like a snail-shell, but of gigantic size, being larger than a barrel, and was formed to swim

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with great swiftness, or sink to the bottom when danger approached. Fig. 5 represents a curious animal which has received its name from the fact that it had three bodies joined to one head. The large fish, Fig. 6, named from its resemblance to an ancient buckler, was longer than a shark, and covered with a thick coat of mail, glittering with purple and gold.

The lily encrinite, Fig. 7, is the strangest fossil ever found; it appears more like a flower than an animal, having a long stalk, composed of little bony rings, through which ran its tail, fastening it to the rocks. Its head was in the cup or flower at the top, which was composed of beautiful pieces of shell work, like the petals of a lily, which it could spread out to grasp its prey, and shut to hold it, while eating. What a wonderful world it must have been, with its primitive rocks scarcely appearing above the deep waters, in which were swimming huge fish, with skins glittering like gold, and great ammonites in their ship-like shells! Where the rocks rose near the surface millions of brilliant lily encrinites were planted, looking like gardens of tulips.

dinosaur and skeleton
Fig. 8.—The Snake-lizard, as it must have appeared. Fig. 9.—Skeleton of the Fish-lizard.

Great changes were continually taking place, by which the rocks were raised above water and covered with marshy soil, under which were buried many of the former shell-fish. Forests of huge trees spread over it, and in its seas and bogs were enormous reptiles called sauria, or lizards. Fig. 8 represents the probable form of one of these, judging from the skeletons which have been found. It had a lizard’s body, fins like a fish, and a serpent’s neck. Such a creature swimming with his head raised above water, must have been a terrible object. No animal like him has lived since man’s creation, unless the SEA-SERPENT really exists. A snake-lizard would realize the most extravagant stories of that modern sea-wonder.

The ichthyosaurus [fish-lizard], Fig. 9, was “half fish and half alligator,” with eyes like a large-sized cannon-ball. He must have made sad havoc among the smaller animals. There were many other species of sauria; one called the iguanodon, was nearly one hundred feet long, with legs as thick as the body of an ox. One of the small lizards was web-footed, and had a crocodile’s nose, and wings like a bat; it could, therefore, fly, swim, and crawl, and was well fitted to live in a turbulent planet, amid the hideous monsters that inhabited its primeval shores and seas.

a tusked animal
Fig. 19.—The Dinotherium, restored.

After this there seems to have been some mighty convulsion, which buried the amphibious monsters beneath the wreck of the earth’s surface, forming the secondary strata of rocks. Perhaps it was destroyed that it might be fitted for a higher order of creatures, for no remains of land animals are ever found in secondary rocks, though in the tertiary, or upper strata, they are very numerous. In them, also, are found the tracks and bones of birds larger than the ostrich.

In many parts of North America are found the bones of an animal larger than an elephant. Thousands of them are seen buried in the mud of the Ohio, and one entire skeleton was dug up near Newburgh on the Hudson; it has been named the mastodon. Some bones of a still larger size were dug up in South America, belonging to a creature which geologists call the megatherium [great beast]. Its thigh bones

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were three times as large as an elephant’s, and its toes were a yard in length. It was of the sloth kind, and moved very slowly, living upon the roots dug by its immense claws. Its tail was larger than that of any other known quadruped, and its whole body was cased in a bony armor, like the armadillo’s, the plates being an inch and a half thick. We see, therefore, that God formed this clumsy creature in the best possible manner for its own happiness. Living on large roots, it needed not the swift feet of the tiger to chase for prey, but great strength was required. Such slow movements would have exposed it to danger, without its impenetrable armor; although one stroke of its paw would demolish a lion or an alligator.

Another animal, Fig. 10, called the dinotherium, was shaped somewhat like a tapir, an outline of which is given below, Fig. 11, that you may compare the two forms. It was about eighteen feet in length. As we ascend above the tertiary rocks, and reach the soil and gravel of our own surface, we find the bones of such animals as now exist. Great changes must have taken place on the earth’s surface during six thousand years; for the waters of the flood washed its loose matter into different places; and rivers, and earthquakes, and volcanoes have torn it in every direction. These upper substances are called diluvium, which word means, A FLOOD.

outline of tapir
Fig. 11.—The Tapir.

We have thus shown our readers some of the wonders of Geology, proving that God created the earth from nothing, ages ago, and that it was inhabited by living beings long before its re-creation, for the dwelling-place of man. There seems to have been a regular progress of improvement, in the forms of the creatures inhabiting it. In the lowest strata are found only the lowest order of animals, like shell-fish; then come the remains of forests, and above them the bones of huge reptiles, and fishes; and still higher the skeletons of unknown land animals; but no fossil bones of human beings have ever been found: that former world was one of plants and animals only, without one intellectual being for its inhabitant. It was finally formed into a beautiful dwelling for us; and after its destruction by fire, the Revelation says, it will again appear as a sinless and more glorious world, for still higher and happier beings. In this short article we could not state half the wonders and truths of Geology, but will say more in some future number; meantime you had better read some of the books on this interesting subject; for in this article we have given you the opinions of the most learned and pious men.

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