Monday, July 02, 2012

The view

Ireland's Dingle Peninsula has long been a geological hotspot. In Honey From StoneI told of the eminent British geologists who came here in the 19th century, in their swallowtail coats and top hats, to what was then the back of the beyond, hoping to resolve some long-standing controversies in geochronology. The story I told there included such names as Joseph Beetes Jukes, George Victor Du Noyer, Richard Griffith, Henry De la Beche, Adam Sedgwick, and Roderick Murchinson -– in short, a who's-who of mid-19th-century British geology. These men were intent on establishing the antiquity of the Earth, and the Dingle Peninsula was a major amphitheater of that drama.

It still is.

This past week a group of geologists from the University of Bristol and Aberdeen University were on the Peninsula celebrating recent discoveries in the Dingle rocks. These include the fossilized burrows of two-meter-long millipedes from the late-Devonian, over 350 million years ago, further evidence of volcanic activity, and a major new fault line.

Lined up on the mantel of my fireplace are a collection of rocks I have picked up on my walks around the peninsula, each with some fragmentary evidence of past ages -- fossils, faults, cross-bedding, beach ripples -– each one a tiny clue to be put together into the great puzzle of the past. I am not a geologist, but I know that it was from the accumulation of clues such as these that we have come to understand the yawning chasm of geological time.

"A thousand years in your sight are as yesterday," sings the Psalmist. Here on my hillside of Old Red Sandstone from a long-since ruptured supercontinent, a million years are as of yesterday, or ten million, or a hundred million. An awesome, edifying vista.