Chapter

Explaining erratics (1833–40)

in Worlds Before Adam

Published by University of Chicago Press

Published in print July 2008 | ISBN: 9780226731285
Published online March 2013 | e-ISBN: 9780226731308 | DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.7208/chicago/9780226731308.003.0035
Explaining erratics (1833–40)

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The theory of a geological “deluge,” far from being in retreat during the 1830s, was being improved in the light of new ideas and new evidence. It was now fully uncoupled from its earlier association with the biblical Flood, because geologists recognized that the “diluvial” features were far too old to be the traces of any event in the early history of literate humankind. However, they dated from a geologically very recent time, near the boundary between the present world and the vast expanses of prehuman geohistory. This was the period that Lyell named “Pleistocene,” precisely in order to blend it into the rest of the Tertiary era and to efface any sharp disjunction at the borderline with the present. But most other geologists insisted that this period had been marked by events of a far from ordinary kind. Erosional features such as valleys remained ambiguous, since their very diversity of form suggested that no single causal explanation would be applicable to all. Any adequate interpretation of erratic blocks and scratched bedrock had to account not only for those found in and around the Alps, but also for those spread even more widely across northern Europe and northern North America.

Keywords: geological deluge; geohistory; diluvial theory; Tertiary era; Pleistocene

Chapter.  7665 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: History of Science and Technology

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