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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 44.djvu/171

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161
HOW OLD IS THE EARTH?

Robert Bell, where veins of quartz marked with glacial stride stand out to various heights not exceeding one foot above the weathered surface of the inclosing limestone.

From this wide range of concurrent but independent testimonies we may accept it as practically demonstrated that the icesheets disappeared from North America and Europe some six to ten thousand years ago. But having thus found the value of one term in our ratios of geologic time divisions, we may know them all approximately by its substitution. The two inches assumed to represent the postglacial portion of the Quaternary era may be called eight thousand years; then, according to the proportional estimates by Davis, the Triassic period was probably two million four hundred thousand years ago; the time since the Carboniferous period, in the closing part of the Pal├Žozoic era, has been about four or five million years; and since the middle of the Cambrian period, twice or perhaps four times as long. Continuing this series still further back, the earliest Cambrian fossils may be twenty or twenty-five million years old, and the beginning of life on our earth was not improbably twice as long ago.

Seeking to substitute our measure of postglacial time in Dana's ratios, we are met by the difficulty of ascertaining first its proportion to the preceding Glacial period, and then the ratio which these two together bear to the Tertiary era. It would fill a very large volume to rehearse all the diverse opinions current among glacialists concerning the history of the Ice age, its wonderful climatic vicissitudes, and the upward and downward movements of the lands which are covered with the glacial drift. Many eminent glacialists, as James Geikie, Wahnschaffe, Penck, De Geer, Chamberlin, Salisbury, Shaler, McGee, and others, believe that the Ice age was complex, having two, three, or more epochs of glaciation, divided by long interglacial epochs of mild and temperate climate when the ice-sheets were entirely or mainly melted away. Prof. Geikie claims five distinct glacial epochs, as indicated by fossiliferous beds lying between deposits of till or unstratified glacial drift, and by other evidences of great climatic changes. In this country Mr. McGee recognizes at least three glacial epochs. The astronomic theory of Croll attributes the accumulation of ice-sheets to recurrent cycles which bring the winters of each polar hemisphere of the earth alternately into aphelion and perihelion each twenty-one thousand years during the periods of maximum eccentricity of the earth's orbit. Its last period of this kind was from about two hundred and forty thousand to eighty thousand years ago, allowing room for seven or eight such cycles and alternations of glacial and interglacial conditions. The supposed evidence of interglacial epochs therefore gave to this theory a wide credence; but the recent determina-