Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 23.djvu/849

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by layer, in the manner of aqueous deposits. On the other hand, its chemical composition is quite different from that of the muds, sands, and gravels usually deposited from water. Their special characters are caused by the fact that they have resulted from the slow decay of rocks like these gneisses, under the operation of carbonic acid and water, whereby the alkaline matter and the more soluble part of the silica have been washed away, leaving a residue mainly silicious and aluminous. Such more modern rocks tell of dry land subjected to atmospheric decay and rain-wash. If they have any direct relation to the old gneisses, they are their grandchildren, not their parents. On the contrary, the oldest gneisses show no pebbles, or sand, or limestone—nothing to indicate that there was then any land undergoing atmospheric waste, or shores with sand and gravel. For all that we know to the contrary, these old gneisses may have been deposited in a shoreless sea, holding in solution or suspension merely what it could derive from a submerged crust recently cooled from a state of fusion, still thin, and exuding here and there through its fissures heated waters and volcanic products.

It is scarcely necessary to say that I have no confidence in the supposition of unlike composition of the earth's mass on different sides, on which Dana has partly based his theory of the origin of continents. The most probable conception seems to be that of Lyell; namely, a molten mass, uniform except in so far as denser material might exist toward its center, and a crust at first approximately even and homogeneous, and subsequently thrown into great bendings upward and downward. This question has recently been ably discussed by Mr. Crosby in the London "Geological Magazine."[1]

In short, the fundamental gneiss of the lower Laurentian may have been the first rock ever formed; and in any case it is a rock formed under conditions which have not since recurred, except locally. It constitutes the first and best example of these chemico-physical, aqueous or aqueo-igneous rocks, so characteristic of the earliest period of the earth's history. Viewed in this way, the lower Laurentian gneiss is probably the oldest kind of rock we shall ever know—the limit to our backward progress, beyond which there remains nothing to the geologist except physical hypotheses respecting a cooling, incandescent globe. For the chemical conditions of these primitive rocks, and what is known as to their probable origin, I must refer you to my friend Dr. Sterry Hunt, to whom we owe so much of what is known of the older crystalline rocks,[2] as well as of their literature and the questions which they raise. My purpose here is to sketch the remarkable difference which we meet as we ascend into the middle and upper Laurentian.

In the next succeeding formation, the true lower Laurentian of Logan, the Grenville series of Canada, we meet with a great and sig-

  1. June, 1883.
  2. Hunt, "Essays on Chemical Geology."