the Millstone Grit contains fragments of chert which can only have come from the waste of the earlier limestones. This unconformity is generally found about the same horizon in the continental Culm areas, and it occurs again in the western part of the English Culm.
Tabular Statement of the Principal Subdivisions of the Carboniferous System.
|Coal Measures =
|Ouralien = (marine type)
|Moscovien = (marine type)
|Dinantien = (marine pelagic,
In the eastern border of the Rhenish Schiefergebirge the Permian rests unconformably upon Lower Carboniferous rocks. In the United States, in Missouri, Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Kentucky, Ohio and elsewhere, there is an unconformable junction between the Lower and Upper Carboniferous, representing an interval of time during which the lower member was strongly eroded; it has even been proposed to regard the Mississippian (Lower Carboniferous) as a distinct geological period, mainly on account of this break in the succession.
Thickness of Carboniferous Rocks.—The great variety of conditions under which the sediments and limestones were formed naturally produced corresponding inequalities in the thickness. In the Eurasian land area the greatest thickness of Carboniferous rocks is in the west; in North America it is in the east. In Britain the Carboniferous limestone series is 2000–3500 ft. thick; in the Ural mountains it is over 4500 ft.; the Culm in Moravia is credited with the enormous thickness of over 42,000 ft. The Upper Carboniferous in Lancashire is from 12,000 to 13,000 ft.; elsewhere in Britain it is thinner. In western Germany this portion attains a thickness of 10,000 ft. In Pennsylvania the sandstone and shale, at its maximum, reaches 4400 ft., but even within the limits of the state this formation has thinned out to no more than 300 ft. in places. In Colorado the Lower Carboniferous is only 400–500 ft. thick; while the limestones of the Mississippi basin amount to 1500 ft. and in Virginia are 2000 ft. thick.
Life of the Carboniferous Period.—We have seen that in the Carboniferous rocks there are two phases of sedimentation, the one marine, the other continental; corresponding with these there are two distinct faunal facies.
(1) Fauna of the Marine Strata.—Numerically, the most important inhabitants of the clear Carboniferous seas were the crinoids, corals, Foraminifera and brachiopods. Each of these groups contributed at one place or another towards the upbuilding of great masses of limestone. For the first time in the earth’s history we find Foraminifera taking a prominent part in the marine faunas; the genus Fusulina was abundant in what is now Russia, China, Japan, North America; Valvulina had a wide range, as also had Endothyra and Archaediscus; Saccammina is a form well known in Britain and Belgium, and many others have been described; some Carboniferous genera are still extant. Radiolaria are found in cherts in the Culm of Devonshire and Cornwall, in Russia, Germany and elsewhere. Sponges are represented by spicules and anchor ropes. Corals, both reef-builders and others, flourished in the clearer waters; rugose forms are represented by Amplexoid, Zaphrentid and Cyathophyllid types, and by Lithostrotion and Phillipsastraea; common tabulate forms are Chaetetes, Chladochonus, Michelinia, &c. Amongst the echinoderms crinoids were the most numerous individually, dense submarine thickets of the long-stemmed kinds appear to have flourished in many places where their remains consolidated into thick beds of rock; prominent genera are Cyathocrinus, Woodocrinus, Actinocrinus; sea-urchins, Archaeocidaris, Palaeechinus, &c., were present; while the curious extinct Blastoids, which included the groups of Pentremitidae and Codasteridae, attained their maximum development.
Annelids (Spirorbis, Serpulites, &c.) are common fossils on certain horizons. The Bryozoa were also abundant in some regions (Polypora, Fenestella), including the remarkable form known as Archimedes.
Brachiopods occupied an important place; most typical were the Productids, some of which reached a great size and had very thick shells. Other common genera are Spirifer, Chonetes, Athyris, Rhynchonellids and Terebratulids, Discina and Crania. Some species had an almost world-wide range with only minor variations; such are Productus semireticulatus, P. cora, P. pustulosus; Orthotetes (Streptorhynchus) crenistria, Dielasma hastata, and many others.
Pelecypods among the true mollusca were increasing in numbers and importance (Aviculopecten, Posidonomya); Nucula, Carbonicola, Edmondia, Conocardium, Modiola. Gasteropods also were numerous (Murchisonia, Euomphalus, Naticopsis). The Pteropods were well represented by Conularia and Bellerophon. Amongst the Cephalopods, the most striking feature is the rise and development of the Goniatites (Glyphioceras, Gastrioceras, &c.); straight-shelled forms still lived on in some variety (Orthoceras, Actinoceras), along with numerous nautiloids.
Trilobites during this period sank to a very subordinate position, but Ostracods (Cythere, Kirkbya, Beyrichia) were abundant.
Many fish inhabited the Carboniferous seas and most of these were Elasmobranchs, sharks with crushing pavement teeth (Psammodus), adapted for grinding the shells of brachiopods, crustaceans, &c. Other sharks had piercing teeth (Cladoselache and Cladodus); some, the petalodonts, had peculiar cycloid cutting teeth. The Arthrodirans, so prominent during the Devonian period, disappeared before the close of the Carboniferous. Most of the sharks lived in the sea continuously, but the ganoids frequenting the coastal waters appear to have migrated inland. About 700 species of Carboniferous fish have been described largely from teeth, spines and dermal ossicles.
(2) Flora and Fauna of the Lagoonal or Continental Facies.—The strata deposited during this period are the earliest in which the remains of plants take a prominent place. The fossil plants which are found in the upper beds of the preceding Devonian system are so closely related to those in the Lower Carboniferous, that from a palaeobotanical standpoint the two form one indivisible period.
In the Lower Carboniferous the flora was composed of six great groups of plants, viz. the Equisetales (Horse-tails), the Lycopodiales (Club mosses), the Filicales (Ferns) and Cycadofilices, the Sphenophyllales and Cordaitales. These six groups were the dominant types throughout the period, but during Upper Carboniferous time three other groups arose, the Coniferales, the Cycadophyta, and the Ginkgoales (of which Ginkgo biloba is the only modern representative). Algae and fungi also were present, but there were no flowering plants. The true ferns, including tree ferns with a height of upwards of 60 ft., were associated with many plants possessing a fern-like habit (Cycadofilices) and others whose affinities have not yet been definitely determined. The fronds of some of these Carboniferous ferns are almost identical with those of living species. Probably many of the ferns were epiphytic. Pecopteris, Cyclopteris, Neuropteris, Alethopteris, Sphenopteris are common genera; Megaphyton and Caulopteris were tree ferns. Our modern diminutive “horse-tails” with scaly leaves were represented in the Carboniferous period by gigantic calamites, often with a diameter of 1 to 2 ft. and a height of 50 to 90 ft. The Carboniferous forerunners of the tiny club-moss were then great trees with dichotomously branching stems and crowded linear leaves, such as Lepidodendron (with its fruit cone called Lepidostrobus), Halonia, Lepidophloios and Sigillaria, the largest plants of the period, with trunks sometimes 5 ft. in diameter and 100 ft. high. The roots of several of these forms are known as Stigmaria. Sphenophyllum was a slender climbing plant with whorls of leaves, which was probably related both to the calamites and the lycopods. Cordaites, a tall plant (20–30 ft.) with yucca-like leaves, was related to the cycads and conifers; the catkin-like inflorescence, which bore yew-like berries, is called Cardiocarpus. Many large trees which have been looked upon as conifers on account of their wood structure may perhaps belong more properly to the Cordaitales. True coniferous trees (Walchia) do appear at the top of the coal measures.
The animals preserved in the continental type of Carboniferous deposit naturally differ markedly from the fossil remains of the purely marine portions of the system. The inhabitants of the waters of this geographical phase include mollusca, which are supposed to have lived in brackish or fresh water, such as Anthracomya, Naiadites, Carbonicola, and many forms of Crustacea, e.g. (Bairdia Carbonia), phyllopods (Estheria), phyllocarids (Acanthocaris, Dithyrocaris), schizopods (Anthrapalaemon), Eurypterids (Eurypterus, Glyptoscorpius). Fishes were abundant, many of the smaller ganoids are beautifully preserved in an entire condition, other larger forms are represented by fin spines, teeth and bones; Ctenodus, Uronemus, Acanthodes, Cheirodus, Gyracanthus are characteristic genera.
Frequently a temporary return of marine conditions permitted the entombment of such salt water genera as Lingula, Orbiculoidea, Productus in the thin beds known as “marine bands.”