A Geological Miscellany

A Geological Miscellany

by G. Y. Craig, E. J. Jones


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A Geological Miscellany is an entertainment: a book of anecdotes, epigrams, documents, and cartoons, all illustrating (although not all intentionally) the humorous side of the profession.

Originally published in 1985.

The Princeton Legacy Library uses the latest print-on-demand technology to again make available previously out-of-print books from the distinguished backlist of Princeton University Press. These editions preserve the original texts of these important books while presenting them in durable paperback and hardcover editions. The goal of the Princeton Legacy Library is to vastly increase access to the rich scholarly heritage found in the thousands of books published by Princeton University Press since its founding in 1905.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780691611655
Publisher: Princeton University Press
Publication date: 07/14/2014
Series: Princeton Legacy Library , #436
Pages: 214
Product dimensions: 9.90(w) x 6.90(h) x 0.50(d)

Read an Excerpt

A Geological Miscellany

By G.Y. Craig, E.J. Jones


Copyright © 1982 G. Y. Craig and E. J. Jones
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-691-02389-2


Uniformitarian Meanders

One of the Mississippi's oldest peculiarities is that of shortening its length from time to time. If you will throw a long, pliant apple-paring over your shoulder, it will pretty fairly shape itself into an average section of the Mississippi River; that is, the nine or ten hundred miles stretching from Cairo, Illinois, southward to New Orleans, the same being wonderfully crooked, with a brief straight bit here and there at wide intervals. The two-hundred-mile stretch from Cairo northward to St. Louis is by no means so crooked, that being a rocky country which the river cannot cut much.

The water cuts the alluvial banks of the 'lower' river into deep horseshoe curves; so deep, indeed, that in some places if you were to get ashore at one extremity of the horseshoe and walk across the neck, half or three quarters of a mile, you could sit down and rest a couple of hours while your steamer was coming around the long elbow, at a speed of ten miles an hour, to take you aboard again. When the river is rising fast, some scoundrel whose plantation is back in the country, and therefore of inferior value, has only to watch his chance, cut a little gutter across the narrow neck of land some dark night, and turn the water into it, and in a wonderfully short time a miracle has happened: to wit, the whole Mississippi has taken possession of that little ditch, and placed the countryman's plantation on its bank.

Pray observe some of the effects of this ditching business. The Mississippi between Cairo and New Orleans was twelve hundred and fifteen miles long one hundred and seventy-six years ago. It was eleven hundred and eighty after the cut-off of 1722. It was one thousand and forty after the American Bend cut-off. It has lost sixty-seven miles since. Consequently its length is only nine hundred and seventy-three miles at present.

Now, if I wanted to be one of those ponderous scientific people, and 'let on' to prove what had occurred in the remote past by what had occurred in a given time in the recent past, or what will occur in the far future by what has occurred in late years, what an opportunity is here! Geology never had such a chance, nor such exact data to argue from! Nor 'development of species', either! Glacial epochs are great things, but they are vague — vague. Please observe.

In the space of one hundred and seventy-six years the Lower Mississippi has shortened itself two hundred and forty-two miles. This is an average of a trifle over one mile and a third per year. Therefore, any calm person, who is not blind or idiotic, can see that in the Old Oolitic Silurian Period, just a million years ago next November, the Lower Mississippi River was upward of one million three hundred thousand miles long, and stuck out over the Gulf of Mexico like a fishing-rod. And by the same token any person can see that seven hundred and forty-two years from now the Lower Mississippi will be only a mile and three-quarters long, and Cairo and New Orleans will have joined their streets together, and be plodding comfortably along under a single mayor and a mutual board of aldermen. There is something fascinating about science. One gets such wholesale returns of conjecture out of such a trifling investment of fact.

Mark Twain, Life on the Mississippi 173-6 (1883)

4004 BC

James Ussher (1581-1656), Archbishop of Armagh and Primate of All Ireland, was highly regarded in his day as a churchman and as a scholar. Of his many works, his treatise on chronology has proved the most durable. Based on an intricate correlation of Middle Eastern and Mediterranean histories and Holy Writ, it was incorporated into an authorized version of the Bible printed in 1701, and thus came to be regarded with almost as much unquestioning reverence as the Bible itself. Having established the first day of creation as Sunday 23 October 4004 BC, by the arguments set forth in the passage below, Ussher calculated the dates of other biblical events, concluding, for example, that Adam and Eve were driven from Paradise on Monday 10 November 4004 BC, and that the ark touched down on Mt Ararat on 5 May 1491 BC 'on a Wednesday'.

For as much as our Christian epoch falls many ages after the beginning of the world, and the number of years before that backward is not onely more troublesome, but (unless greater care be taken) more lyable to errour; also it hath pleased our modern chronologers, to adde to that generally received hypothesis (which asserted the Julian years, with their three cycles by a certain mathematical prolepsis, to have run down to the very beginning of the world) an artificial epoch, framed out of three cycles multiplied in themselves; for the Solar Cicle being multiplied by the Lunar, or the number of 28 by 19, produces the great Paschal Cycle of 532 years, and that again multiplied by fifteen, the number of the indiction, there arises the period of 7980 years, which was first (if I mistake not) observed by Robert Lotharing, Bishop of Hereford, in our island of Britain, and 500 years after by Joseph Scaliger fitted for chronological uses, and called by the name of the Julian Period, because it conteined a cycle of so many Julian years. Now if the series of the three minor cicles be from this present year extended backward unto precedent times, the 4713 years before the beginning of our Christian account will be found to be that year into which the first year of the indiction, the first of the Lunar Cicle, and the first of the Solar will fall. Having placed therefore the heads of this period in the kalends of January in that proleptick year, the first of our Christian vulgar account must be reckoned the 4714 of the Julian Period, which, being divided by 15. 19. 28. will present us with the 4 Roman indiction, the 2 Lunar Cycle, and the 10 Solar, which are the principal characters of that year.

We find moreover that the year of our fore-fathers, and the years of the ancient Egyptians and Hebrews were of the same quantity with the Julian, consisting of twelve equal moneths, every of them conteining 30 days, (for it cannot be proved that the Hebrews did use lunary moneths before the Babylonian Captivity) adjoying to the end of the twelfth moneth, the addition of five dayes, and every four year six. And I have observed by the continued succession of these years, as they are delivered in holy writ, that the end of the great Nebuchadnezars and the beginning of Evilmerodachs (his sons) reign, fell out in the 3442 year of the world, but by collation of Chaldean history and the astronomical cannon, it fell out in the 186 year of Nabonasar, and, as by certain connexion, it must follow in the 562 year before the Christian account, and of the Julian Period, the 4152. and from thence I gathered the creation of the world did fall out upon the 710 year of the Julian Period, by placing its beginning in autumn: but for as much as the first day of the world began with the evening of the first day of the week, I have observed that the Sunday, which in the year 710 aforesaid came nearest the Autumnal Æquinox, by astronomical tables (notwithstanding the stay of the sun in the dayes of Joshua, and the going back of it in the dayes of Ezekiah) happened upon the 23 day of the Julian "October; from thence concluded that from the evening preceding that first day of the Julian year, both the first day of the creation and the first motion of time are to be deduced.

J. Ussher, The Annals of the World iv (1658)


Brief Thoughts on Maps

Albert Szent-Györgyi, who knew a lot about maps according to which life is on its way somewhere or other, told us this story from the war due to which history is on its way somewhere or other:

The young lieutenant of a small Hungarian detachment in the Alps sent a reconnaissance unit out into the icy wasteland. It began to snow immediately, snowed for two days and the unit did not return. The lieutenant suffered: he had dispatched his own people to death.

But the third day the unit came back. Where had they been? How had they made their way? Yes, they said, we considered ourselves lost and waited for the end. And then one of us found a map in his pocket. That calmed us down. We pitched camp, lasted out the snowstorm and then with the map we discovered our bearings. And here we are.

The lieutenant borrowed this remarkable map and had a good look at it. It was not a map of the Alps but of the Pyrenees.

Goodbye now.


M. Holub, Notes on a Clay Pigeon, transl. J. and I. Milner (1977)

V.E.McK. T.B.N.

Variable Strata

A delightfully clear account by the 'father of stratigraphy' of facies variations in sedimentary rocks, written at Doncaster 12 November 1825.

    Now what has Science not surmounted
    Though Strata vary when they're counted
    Defective some — some matter change
    Yet these recur and those re-range
    Some thicken much while others thin
    And sometimes chance beds may come in
    Some too get hard and others soft
    In many colours change and oft
    Or coarse or fine-grained or round
    So various in their matter found
    That samples which we often see
    From rocks the same will rare agree
    When tried by tests of chemistry
    From different beds in each thick rock
    Of many kinds and what a stock
    Were we to set about Geology
    By meagre-meaning Mineralogy
    But Fossils plainly teach the art
    Of knowing each discordant part.


Unpublished MS, Department of Geology, University of Oxford J.M.E.

Biblical Uniformitarianism

That which hath been is that which shall be; and that which hath been done is that which shall be done; and there is no new thing under the sun.

Ecclesiastes 1:9 (Revised Version) (c. 100 BC)

Geological Literature

I am only too painfully aware how increasingly difficult it is to keep pace with the ever-rising tide of geological literature. The science itself has so widened, and the avenues to publication have so prodigiously multiplied, that one is almost driven in despair to become a specialist, and confine one's reading to that portion of the literature which deals with one's own more particular branch of the science. But this narrowing of our range has a markedly prejudicial effect on the character of our work. The only consolation we can find is the conviction, borne in upon us by ample and painful experience, that a very large mass of the geological writing of the present time is utterly worthless for any of the higher purposes of the science, and that it may quite safely and profitably, both as regards time and temper, be left unread. If geologists, and especially young geologists, could only be brought to realize that the addition of another paper to the swollen flood of our scientific literature involves a serious responsibility; that no man should publish what is not of real consequence, and that his statements when published should be as clear and condensed as he can make them, what a blessed change would come over the faces of their readers, and how greatly would they conduce to the real advance of the science which they wish to serve.

A. Geikie, Founders of Geology 287 (1897)


Excerpted from A Geological Miscellany by G.Y. Craig, E.J. Jones. Copyright © 1982 G. Y. Craig and E. J. Jones. Excerpted by permission of PRINCETON UNIVERSITY PRESS.
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Table of Contents

  • FrontMatter, pg. i
  • Preface, pg. vii
  • Contributors, pg. ix
  • Contents, pg. xi
  • Acknowledgements, pg. xvii
  • Uniformitarian Meanders, pg. 1
  • 4004 BC, pg. 2
  • Brief Thoughts on Maps, pg. 3
  • Variable Strata, pg. 4
  • Biblical Uniformitarianism, pg. 5
  • Geological Literature, pg. 5
  • On the Prospects of Coal near Otakaia, Otago, pg. 6
  • The Discovery of the South Magnetic Pole, pg. 11
  • Geologists in Antarctica, pg. 19
  • Oceanography at Wisconsin, pg. 19
  • Sampling the Sea Floor in 1820, pg. 20
  • The Last Pterodactyl, pg. 24
  • Plain Geology, pg. 26
  • Pardon?, pg. 29
  • Rocks, Whistles and Last Trumps, pg. 30
  • The First Seismograph, pg. 30
  • The San Francisco Earthquake, pg. 31
  • Earthquake in Valdivia, pg. 32
  • Legal Slip, pg. 33
  • Einstein and Gutenberg, pg. 33
  • A Scientific Swindler, pg. 34
  • Alfred Wegener, Meteorologist (1870–1930), pg. 42
  • Et Al., pg. 45
  • On Brevity, pg. 45
  • Poppycock, pg. 46
  • Rock Bottom, pg. 46
  • Annual Mileage, pg. 47
  • Student Field Trip, pg. 48
  • Travelling Expenses, pg. 48
  • Victorian Geology, pg. 49
  • Life on the Ocean Wave, pg. 50
  • Geology in London, pg. 51
  • William Buckland 1784-1856), pg. 51
  • Divining for Metals, pg. 54
  • Proof Spirit, pg. 57
  • Feasting, pg. 58
  • Fasting, pg. 59
  • Struthiomimus, or the Danger of Being Too Clever, pg. 59
  • Burnet and His Critics, pg. 61
  • Expert Advice, pg. 70
  • Compiling Maps, pg. 70
  • Joining-up, pg. 70
  • Theories of the Earth, 1828, pg. 71
  • Pursuing a Line of Thought, pg. 78
  • Petrifications, pg. 78
  • The Excursion, pg. 80
  • Respect for the Director General, pg. 81
  • Bureaucracy, 1885, pg. 81
  • Official Letters, pg. 82
  • Irish Debt, pg. 83
  • The Village and Its Amusements, pg. 84
  • Poor Smith, pg. 85
  • Odd Balls, pg. 86
  • Time and Tide, pg. 86
  • Old Magma, pg. 87
  • Magmafication, pg. 87
  • A Fossil Town, pg. 89
  • In Aquavitae, Veritas, pg. 91
  • On the Effects of Malt Whisky, pg. 91
  • Traits of My Early Childhood, pg. 91
  • Self-esteem, pg. 92
  • Transient Love, pg. 93
  • Haute Cuisine, pg. 94
  • Motivating Research, pg. 96
  • Marsh and Cope, pg. 97
  • A Visit to Dr Woodward, pg. 100
  • Cephalopods Cure Cramp in Cows, pg. 101
  • Ad Infinitum, pg. 102
  • Collecting in 1728, pg. 102
  • The Specimen Hunter, pg. 103
  • Self-possession, pg. 103
  • Mary Anning, pg. 103
  • Welsh Pronunciation: the Sedgwick Way, pg. 105
  • Plesiosaurus triatarsostinus, pg. 106
  • A New Approach, pg. 108
  • Plus Ça Change, pg. 110
  • Geology in 1969, pg. 110
  • The Piltdown Hoax, pg. 111
  • Sedgwick on The Origin of Species, pg. 113
  • Aping the Past, pg. 113
  • Letter to the Earth, pg. 114
  • Geology–the Hypothetical Science, pg. 115
  • A Geologist's Paradise, pg. 116
  • The Great Diamond Hoax, pg. 116
  • Mark Twain–Geologist, pg. 124
  • Theorists, pg. 130
  • Ami Boué, pg. 130
  • Dress and Equipment 100 Years Ago, pg. 132
  • Darwin and Sedgwick in the Field, pg. 134
  • Darwin on Lyell, pg. 135
  • Lyell as Statesman and Gourmand, pg. 136
  • Cabbage Rolls, pg. 140
  • Trace Elements in Food, pg. 141
  • Lab. Work, pg. 142
  • Chemists and Geologists, pg. 142
  • In Situ, pg. 143
  • Cuvier's Study, pg. 144
  • The Jolly Young Trilobite, pg. 145
  • Potted Geology, pg. 146
  • Science and Economists, pg. 147
  • In Memoriam, pg. 148
  • Field Trip–New Mexico, pg. 149
  • Moderation in All Things, pg. 152
  • Storm Warning, pg. 152
  • . . . But Names Can Never Hurt Me, pg. 153
  • Call a Spade a Spade, pg. 154
  • Linnaeus Simplified, pg. 154
  • Musty Dons, pg. 155
  • Rote Learning, pg. 157
  • Practical Demonstrations, pg. 158
  • Student Assessment, pg. 160
  • Rara Avis, pg. 161
  • The Giant's Causeway, pg. 161
  • Triangular Diagrams, pg. 162
  • ‘Frisky Hall’, pg. 162
  • Experimental Folding, pg. 163
  • The Pick and Hammer Club, pg. 164
  • Russian Efficiency, pg. 166
  • Stone Juice, pg. 168
  • Acknowledgement, pg. 168
  • Geological Poachers, pg. 169
  • Pretty Stones, pg. 170
  • Magnetic Attraction, pg. 172
  • E. B. Bailey (1881-1965), pg. 172
  • Ruskin on Rocks, pg. 173
  • The Death of Pliny the Elder, pg. 174
  • Vesuvius, pg. 176
  • Volcanic Moulds, pg. 179
  • Fecal Petrofabrics, pg. 180
  • Suggestions re Field Work, etc., pg. 181
  • AWOL, pg. 183
  • Powell in the Grand Canyon, pg. 184
  • The Min. Mag., pg. 190
  • The Cosmic Achoo!, pg. 191
  • Index, pg. 193

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