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- The Antiquity of Man - 60/91 -

oblonga, before mentioned, and Helix hispida in the Belgian loess at Neerepen, between Tongres and Hasselt, where M. Bosquet had previously obtained remains of an elephant referred to E. primigenius. This pachyderm and Rhinoceros tichorhinus are cited as characterising the loess in various parts of the valley of the Rhine. Several perfect skeletons of the marmot have been disinterred from the loess of Aix-la-Chapelle. But much remains to be done in determining the species of mammalia of this formation and the relative altitudes above the valley-plain at which they occur.

If we ascend the basin of the Neckar, we find that it is filled with loess of great thickness, far above its junction with the Rhine. At Canstadt near Stuttgart, loess resembling that of the Rhine contains many fossil bones, especially those of Elephas primigenius, together with some of Rhinoceros tichorhinus, the species having been lately determined by Dr. Falconer. At this place the loess is covered by a thick bed of travertine, used as a building stone, the product of a mineral spring. In the travertine are many fossil plants, all Recent except two, an oak and poplar, the leaves of which Professor Heer has not been able to identify with any known species.

Below the loess of Canstadt, in which bones of the mammoth are so abundant, is a bed of gravel evidently an old river channel now many feet above the level of the Neckar, the valley having there been excavated to some depth below its ancient channel so as to lie in the underlying red sandstone of Keuper. Although the loess, when traced from the valley of the Rhine into that of the Neckar, or into any other of its tributaries, often undergoes some slight alteration in its character, yet there is so much identity of composition as to suggest the idea that the mud of the main river passed far up the tributary valleys, just as that of the Mississippi during floods flows far up the Ohio, carrying its mud with it into the basin of that river. But the uniformity of colour and mineral composition does not extend indefinitely into the higher parts of every basin. In that of the Neckar, for example, near Tubingen, I found the fluviatile loam or brick-earth, enclosing the usual Helices and Succineae, together with the bones of the mammoth, very distinct in colour and composition from ordinary Rhenish loess, and such as no one could confound with Alpine mud. It is mottled with red and green, like the New Red Sandstone or Keuper, from which it has clearly been derived.

Such examples, however, merely show that where a basin is so limited in size that the detritus is derived chiefly or exclusively from one formation, the prevailing rock will impart its colour and composition in a very decided manner to the loam; whereas, in the basin of a great river which has many tributaries, the loam will consist of a mixture of almost every variety of rock, and will therefore exhibit an average result nearly the same in all countries. Thus, the loam which fills to a great depth the wide valley of the Saone, which is bounded on the west side by an escarpment of Inferior Oolite, and by the chain of the Jura on the east, is very like the loess found in the continuation of the same great basin after the junction of the Rhone, by which a large supply of Alpine mud has been added and intermixed.

In the higher parts of the basin of the Danube, loess of the same character as that of the Rhine, and which I believe to be chiefly of Alpine origin, attains a far greater elevation above the sea than any deposits of Rhenish loess; but the loam which, according to M. Stur, fills valleys on the north slope of the Carpathians almost up to the watershed between Galicia and Hungary, may be derived from a distinct source.


A theory, therefore, which attempts to account for the position of the loess cannot be satisfactory unless it be equally applicable to the basins of the Rhine and Danube. So far as relates to the source of so much homogeneous loam, there are many large tributaries of the Danube which, during the glacial period, may have carried an ample supply of moraine-mud from the Alps to that river; and in regard to grand oscillations in the level of the land, it is obvious that the same movements both downward and upward of the great mountain-chain would be attended with analogous effects, whether the great rivers flowed northwards or eastwards. In each case fine loam would be accumulated during subsidence and removed during the upheaval of the land. Changes, therefore, of level analogous to those on which we have been led to speculate when endeavouring to solve the various problems presented by the glacial phenomena, are equally available to account for the nature and geological distribution of the loess. But we must suppose that the amount of depression and re-elevation in the central region was considerably in excess of that experienced in the lower countries, or those nearer the sea, and that the rate of subsidence in the latter was never so considerable as to cause submergence, or the admission of the sea into the interior of the continent by the valleys of the principal rivers.

We have already assumed that the Alps were loftier than now, when they were the source of those gigantic glaciers which reached the flanks of the Jura. At that time gravel was borne to the greatest distances from the central mountains through the main valleys, which had a somewhat steeper slope than now, and the quantity of river-ice must at that time have aided in the transportation of pebbles and boulders. To this state of things gradually succeeded another of an opposite character, when the fall of the rivers from the mountains to the sea became less and less, while the Alps were slowly sinking, and the first retreat of the great glaciers was taking place. Suppose the depression to have been at the rate of 5 feet in a century in the mountains and only as many inches in the same time nearer the coast, still, in such areas as the eye could survey at once, comprising a small part only of Switzerland or of the basin of the Rhine, the movement might appear to be uniform and the pre-existing valleys and heights might seem to remain relatively to each other as before.

Such inequality in the rate of rising or sinking, when we contemplate large continental spaces, is quite consistent with what we know of the course of nature in our own times as well as at remote geological epochs. Thus in Sweden, as before stated, the rise of land now in progress is nearly uniform as we proceed from north to south for moderate distances; but it greatly diminishes southwards if we compare areas hundreds of miles apart; so that instead of the land rising about 5 feet in a hundred years as at the North Cape, it becomes less than the same number of inches at Stockholm, and farther south the land is stationary, or, if not, seems rather to be descending than ascending.* (* "Principles of Geology" chapter 30 9th edition page 519 et seq.)

To cite an example of high geological antiquity, M. Hebert has demonstrated that, during the Oolitic and Cretaceous periods, similar inequalities in the vertical movements of the earth's crust took place in Switzerland and France. By his own observations and those of M. Lory he has proved that the area of the Alps was rising and emerging from beneath the ocean towards the close of the Oolitic epoch, and was above water at the commencement of the Cretaceous era; while, on the other hand, the area of the Jura, about 100 miles to the north, was slowly sinking at the close of the Oolitic period, and had become submerged at the commencement of the Cretaceous. Yet these oscillations of level were accomplished without any perceptible derangement in the strata, which remained all the while horizontal, so that the Lower Cretaceous or Neocomian beds were deposited conformably on the Oolitic.* (* "Bulletin de la Societe Geologique de France" 2 series volume 16 1859 page 596.)

Taking for granted then that the depression was more rapid in the more elevated region, the great rivers would lose century after century some portion of their velocity or carrying power, and would leave behind them on their alluvial plains more and more of the moraine-mud with which they were charged, till at length, in the course of thousands or some tens of thousands of years, a large part of the main valleys would begin to resemble the plains of Egypt where nothing but mud is deposited during the flood season. The thickness of loam containing shells of land and amphibious mollusca might in this way accumulate to any extent, so that the waters might overflow some of the heights originally bounding the valley and deposits of "platform mud," as it has been termed in France, might be extensively formed. At length, whenever a re-elevation of the Alps at the time of the second extension of the glaciers took place, there would be renewed denudation and removal of such loess; and if, as some geologists believe, there has been more than one oscillation of level in the Alps since the commencement of the glacial period, the changes would be proportionally more complicated and terraces of gravel covered with loess might be formed at different heights and at different periods.


Some of the revolutions in physical geography above suggested for the continent of Europe during the Pleistocene epoch, may have had their counterparts in India in the Recent Period. The vast plains of Bengal are overspread with Himalayan mud, which as we ascend the Ganges extends inland for 1200 miles from the sea, continuing very homogeneous on the whole, though becoming more sandy as it nears the hills. They who sail down the river during a season of inundation see nothing but a sheet of water in every direction, except here and there where the tops of trees emerge above its level. To what depth the mud extends is not known, but it resembles the loess in being generally devoid of stratification, and of shells, though containing occasionally land shells in abundance, as well as calcareous concretions, called kunkur, which may be compared to the nodules of carbonate of lime sometimes observed to form layers in the Rhenish loess. I am told by Colonel Strachey and Dr. Hooker that above Calcutta, in the Hooghly, when the flood subsides, the Gangetic mud may be seen in river cliffs 80 feet high, in which they were unable to detect organic remains, a remark which I found to hold equally in regard to the Recent mud of the Mississippi.

Dr. Wallich, while confirming these observations, informs me that at certain points in Bengal, farther inland, he met with land-shells in the banks of the great river. Borings have been made at Calcutta, beginning not many feet above the sea-level, to the depth of 300 and 400 feet; and wherever organic remains were found in the strata pierced through they were of a fluviatile or terrestrial character, implying that during a long and gradual subsidence of the country the sediment thrown down by the Ganges and Brahmaputra had accumulated at a sufficient rate to prevent the sea from invading that region.

At the bottom of the borings, after passing through much fine loam, beds of pebbles, sand, and boulders were reached, such as might belong to an ancient river channel; and the bones of a crocodile and the shell of a freshwater tortoise were met with at the depth of 400 feet from the surface. No pebbles are now brought down

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