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 Home » Tutorials » Zoology » Geological Eras

Geological Eras


Early Periods

The Mesozoic opens in the middle of the great revolution described in the last chapter. Its first section, the Triassic period, is at first a mere continuation of the Permian.

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A few hundred species of animals and hardy plants are scattered over a relatively bleak and inhospitable globe. Then the land begins to sink once more. The seas spread in great arms over the revelled continents, the plant world rejoices in the increasing warmth and moisture, and the animals increase in number and variety. We pass into the Jurassic period under conditions of great geniality. Warm seas are found as far north and south as our present polar regions, and the low-lying fertile lands are covered again with rich, if less gigantic, forests, in which hordes of stupendous animals find ample nourishment. The mammal and the bird are already on the stage, but their warm coats and warm blood offer no advantage in that perennial summer, and they await in obscurity the end of the golden age of the reptiles. At the end of the Jurassic the land begins to rise once more. The warm, shallow seas drain off into the deep oceans, and the moist, swampy lands are dried. The emergence continues throughout the Cretaceous (Chalk) period. Chains of vast mountains rise slowly into the air in many parts of the earth, and a new and comparatively rapid change in the vegetation--comparable to that at the close of the Carboniferous--announces the second great revolution. The Mesozoic closes with the dismissal of the great reptiles and the plants on which they fed, and the earth is prepared for its new monarchs, the flowering plants, the birds, and the mammals.

How far this repeated levelling of the land after its repeated upheavals is due to a real sinking of the crust we cannot as yet determine. The geologist of our time is disposed to restrict these mysterious rises and falls of the crust as much as possible. A much more obvious and intelligible agency has to be considered. The vast upheaval of nearly all parts of the land during the Permian period would naturally lead to a far more vigorous scouring of its surface by the rains and rivers. The higher the land, the more effectively it would be worn down. The cooler summits would condense the moisture, and the rains would sweep more energetically down the slopes of the elevated continents. There would thus be a natural process of levelling as long as the land stood out high above the water-line, but it seems probable that there was also a real sinking of the crust. Such subsidences have been known within historic times.

By the end of the Triassic--a period of at least two million years--the sea had reconquered a vast proportion of the territory wrested from it in the Permian revolution. Most of Europe, west of a line drawn from the tip of Norway to the Black Sea, was under water--generally open sea in the south and centre, and inland seas or lagoons in the west. The invasion of the sea continued, and reached its climax, in the Jurassic period. The greater part of Europe was converted into an archipelago. A small continent stood out in the Baltic region. Large areas remained above the sea-level in Austria, Germany, and France. Ireland, Wales, and much of Scotland were intact, and it is probable that a land bridge still connected the west of Europe with the east of America. Europe generally was a large cluster of islands and ridges, of various sizes, in a semi-tropical sea. Southern Asia was similarly revelled, and it is probable that the seas stretched, with little interruption, from the west of Europe to the Pacific. The southern continent had deep wedges of the sea driven into it. India, New Zealand, and Australia were successively detached from it, and by the end of the Mesozoic it was much as we find it to-day. The Arctic continent (north of Europe) was flooded, and there was a great interior sea in the western part of the North American continent.

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