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system, as in Russia, Bohemia, the Saar region and Texas. This has led certain geologists to classify the Devonian, Carboniferous and Permian into one grand system; E. Renevier in 1874 proposed to include these three into a single “Carbonique” system, later he retained only the two latter groups. There seems to be sufficient reason, however, to maintain each of these groups as a separate system and limit the term Carboniferous (carbonifèrien) in the manner indicated above. At the same time it must be remembered that there is in India, South Africa, the Urals, in Australasia and parts of North America an important series of rocks, with a “Permo-Carboniferous” fauna, which constitutes a passage formation between the Carboniferous, sensu stricto, and Jurassic rocks.
EB1911 Distribution of Caboniferous Rocks.jpg

Stratigraphy.—No assemblage of stratified rocks has received such careful and detailed examination as the Carboniferous system; consequently our knowledge of the stratigraphical sequence in isolated local areas, where the coals have been exploited, is very full.

In Europe, the system is very completely developed in the British Isles, where was made the first successful attempt at a classification of its various members, although at a somewhat earlier date Omalius d’Halloy had recognized a terrain bituminifère or coal-bearing series in the Belgian region.

The area within which the Carboniferous rocks of Britain occur is sufficiently extensive to contain more than one type of the system, and thus to cast much light on the varied geographical conditions under which these rocks were accumulated. In prosecuting the study of this part of British geology it is soon discovered, and it is essential to bear in mind, that, during the Carboniferous period, the land whence the chief supplies of sediment were derived rose mainly to the north and north-west, as it seems to have done from very early geological time. While therefore the centre and south of England lay under clear water of moderate depth, the north of the country and the south of Scotland were covered by shallow water, which was continually receiving sand and mud from the adjacent northern land. Hence vertical sections of the Carboniferous formations of Britain differ greatly according to the districts in which they are taken.

The Coal-Measures and Millstone Grit are usually grouped together in the Upper Carboniferous, the Carboniferous Limestone series constituting the Lower Carboniferous.

In addition to the above broad subdivisions, Murchison and Sedgwick, when working upon the rocks of Devonshire and Cornwall, recognized, with the assistance of W. Lonsdale, another phase of sedimentation. This comprised dark shales, with grits and thin limestones and thin, impure coals, locally called “culm” (q.v.). These geologists appropriated the term “culm” for the whole of this facies in the west of England, and subsequently traced the same type on the European continent, where it is widely developed in the western centre.

Besides the considerable exposed area of Carboniferous rocks in Great Britain, there is as much or more that is covered by younger formations; this is true particularly of the eastern side of England and the south-eastern counties, where the coal-measures have already been found at Dover.

From England, Carboniferous rocks can be followed across northern and central France, into Germany, Bohemia, the Alps, Italy and Spain. In Russia this system occupies some 30,000 sq. m., and it extends northward at least as far as Spitsbergen. Carboniferous rocks are present in North and South Africa, and in India and Australasia; in China they cover thousands of square miles, and in the United States and British North America they occupy no less than 200,000 sq. m.; they are known also in South America.

The subjoined table expresses the typical subdivisions which can be recognized, with modifications, in the United Kingdom.

Coal Measures.

Upper: Red and grey sandstones, marls and clays with occasional breccias, thin coals and limestones with Spirorbis, workable coals in the South Wales, Bristol, Somerset and Forest of Dean coalfields.

Middle: Sandstones, marls, shales and the most important of the British coals.

Lower: Flaggy hard sandstones (ganister), shales and thin coal seams.

Millstone Grit. Grits (coarse and fine), shales, thin coal seams and occasional thin limestones. The fossil plants connect this group with the coal-measures; the marine fossils have, to some extent, a Carboniferous limestone aspect.

Upper black shales with thin limestones (Pendleside group) connecting this series with the Millstone grit above.

The thick, main or scaur limestone (mountain limestone) of the centre and south of England, Wales and Ireland, which splits up in the Yorkshire dales (Yoredale group) into a succession of stout limestone beds between beds of sandstone and shale, and becomes increasingly detrital in character as it is traced northwards.

Lower limestone shales of the south and centre of England with marine fossils, and the Calciferous Sandstone group of Scotland with marine, estuarine and terrestrial fossils.

(See Bernician, Tuedian and Avonian.)

At an early period, owing to the immense commercial importance of the coal seams, it became the practice to distinguish a “productive” (flotzfuhrend, terrain houiller) and an “unproductive,” barren (flotzleerer) Lower Carboniferous; these two groups correspond in North America to the “Carboniferous” and “Sub-Carboniferous” respectively, or, as they are now sometimes styled, the “Pennsylvanian” and “Mississippian.” But it was soon discovered that the “productive” beds were not regularly restricted to the upper or younger division, and, as E. Kayser points out, the real state of the matter is more accurately represented by the subjoined tabular scheme.

  Continental Type of Deposit.

Marine Type of Formation.

 Upper Carboniferous  Upper Productive Carboniferous   Younger Carboniferous limestone
and the Fusulina limestone
of Russia and Western North America 
 Lower Carboniferous  Lower Productive Carboniferous  Culm (in part)  Lower Carboniferous
limestone series

While the continental type of deposit, with its coal beds, was the earliest to be formed in certain areas, and the marine series came on later, in other regions this order was reversed. It should be observed, however, that the repeated intercalation of marine deposits within the continental series and the frequent occurrence of thin coaly layers in the marine series makes any hard and fast distinction of this kind impossible.

The so-called “unproductive” or barren strata, that is, those without workable coals, are not always limestones; quite as often they are shales, red sandstones and red marls.

In subdividing the strata of the Carboniferous system and correlating the major divisions in different areas, just as in other great systems, use has to be made of the fossil contents of the rocks; stratigraphical units, based on lithology, are useless for this purpose. The groups of organisms utilized for zoning and correlation by different workers include brachiopods, pelecypods, cephalopods, corals, fishes and plants; and the results of the comparison of the faunas and floras of different areas where Carboniferous rocks occur are generalized in the table below.

The relative value of any group of animals or plants for the correlation of distant areas must vary greatly with the varying conditions of sedimentation and with the precise definition of the zonal species and with many other factors. It is found that the subdivisions in this system demanded by palaeobotanists do not always coincide with those acknowledged by palaeozoologists; nevertheless there is general agreement as to the main divisional lines.

Breaks in the Stratigraphic Sequence.—The sequence of Carboniferous strata is not everywhere one of unbroken continuity. From central France eastward towards the Carpathians only later portions of the system are found. These generally rest upon crystalline rocks, but in places they contain evidence of the denuded surfaces of Lower Carboniferous, as in the basin of Charleroi, where the equivalent of