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The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 31

An Illustration from Niagara

An Illustration from Niagara.

The progress of research since Curler's time has furnished far stronger cases than those which he drew from the mummified bodies of Egyptian animals. A remarkable case is to be found in your own country, in the neighborhood of the magnificent Falls of Niagara. In the immediate vicinity of the whirlpool, and again upon Goat Island, in the superficial deposits which cover the surface of the soil of the rook in those regions, there are found remains of animals in perfect preservation—shells belonging to exactly the same forms as at present inhabit the still waters of Lake Erie. page 18 It is evident here from the formation of the country that these animal remains were deposited in the beds in which they are found, at the time at which the lake extended over the region in which they are found, and that involves the necessity that they existed and lived and died before the Falls had cut their way back through the gorge of Niagara; and indeed it is possible to determine that at that time the Falls of Niagara must have been at least six miles further down the river than they are at Present. Many computations have been made of the rate at which Niagara is thus cutting its way back. Those computations have varied greatly, but I believe I am speaking within the bounds of prudence, if I assume that at its greatest rate of cutting back the Falls of Niagara have not retreated at a greater pace than about a foot a year. Six miles, speaking roughly, are 30,000 feet; 30,000 feet at a foot a year are 30,000 years, and we are fairly justified in concluding that no less a period than that has passed since these shell-fish, whose remains are left in the beds to which we have referred, were deposited. Admit that it is true that for that immense period of time no change has taken place in these animals, there are still stronger evidences on this point even than this. As we work our way through the great series of the tertiary formation, we find species of animals identical with those which live at the present day, diminishing in numbers it is true, but still existing in a certain number in the oldest of the tertiary rocks. And not only so, but when we examine the rocks of the cretaceous epoch itself, we find the remains of some animals which the closest scrutiny cannot show to be in any respect different from those which live at the present time. That is the case with one of the lamp shells, the terebratula, which is found in chalk, mid which has continued as it was found, or with insignificant variation, through to the present day. Such is the case with the globigerina, the skeletons of which aggregated together form the great mass of our chalk in England. That globigerina can be traced down to the globigerinae, which live at the surface of our great oceans, and the remains of which falling to the bottom of the sea give rise to a chalk material. So that it must be admitted that certain species of creatures living at the present day show no sign of modification or transformation as great as that which carries us back to the period of chalk; and we find some groups or species so closely allied together that it needs the eye of a naturalist to distinguish them one from another. If we pay attention to these, we find that a vastly greater period must be allotted in some cases to these persistent forms. In chalk itself, for example, there is the fish belonging to the highest group of fishes and the most differentiated of osseous fishes, which goes by the name of Berpx. That fish is one of the most beautiful of fossils found in our English chalk. It is an anatomical study, so far as the hard part is concerned, almost as well as if it were a recent fish. We find that that fish is represented at the present day by very closely allied species which are living in the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans. We may go still further back about this evidence of closely allied species, and we find, for example, as I mentioned to you in my first lecture, that the coal deposit in Europe contains the remains of scorpions in an admirable state of preservation, and those scorpions are hardly distinguishable—I do not mean to say that they are not distinguishable, but they require close scrutiny to distinguish them—from the scorpions which exist at the present day.