The tiles rested on a bed of concrete, and the castings in consequence consisted in large part (viz., in the proportion of 19 to 33) of particles of mortar, grains of sand, little fragments of rock, bricks or tile; and such substances could hardly be agreeable, and certainly not nutritious, to worms.

My son dug holes in several places within the former walls of the abbey, at a distance of several yards from the above described bricked squares. He did not find any tiles, though these are known to occur in some other parts, but he came in one spot to concrete on which tiles had once rested. The fine mould beneath the turf on the sides of the several holes, varied in thickness from only 2 to 2.75 inches, and this rested on a layer from 8.75 to above 11 inches in thickness, consisting of fragments of mortar and stone- rubbish with the interstices compactly filled up with black mould. In the surrounding field, at a distance of 20 yards from the abbey, the fine vegetable mould was 11 inches thick.

We may conclude from these facts that when the abbey was destroyed and the stones removed, a layer of rubbish was left over the whole surface, and that as soon as the worms were able to penetrate the decayed concrete and the joints between the tiles, they slowly filled up the interstices in the overlying rubbish with their castings, which were afterwards accumulated to a thickness of nearly three inches over the whole surface. If we add to this latter amount the mould between the fragments of stones, some five or six inches of mould must have been brought up from beneath the concrete or tiles. The concrete or tiles will consequently have subsided to nearly this amount. The bases of the columns of the aisles are now buried beneath mould and turf. It is not probable that they can have been undermined by worms, for their foundations would no doubt have been laid at a considerable depth. If they have not subsided, the stones of which the columns were constructed must have been removed from beneath the former level of the floor.

Chedworth, Gloucestershire.--The remains of a large Roman villa were discovered here in 1866, on ground which had been covered with wood from time immemorial. No suspicion seems ever to have been entertained that ancient buildings lay buried here, until a gamekeeper, in digging for rabbits, encountered some remains. {55} But subsequently the tops of some stone walls were detected in parts of the wood, projecting a little above the surface of the ground. Most of the coins found here belonged to Constans (who died 350 A.D.) and the Constantine family. My sons Francis and Horace visited the place in November 1877, for the sake of ascertaining what part worms may have played in the burial of these extensive remains. But the circumstances were not favourable for this object, as the ruins are surrounded on three sides by rather steep banks, down which earth is washed during rainy weather. Moreover most of the old rooms have been covered with roofs, for the protection of the elegant tesselated pavements.

A few facts may, however, be given on the thickness of the soil over these ruins. Close outside the northern rooms there is a broken wall, the summit of which was covered by 5 inches of black mould; and in a hole dug on the outer side of this wall, where the ground had never before been disturbed, black mould, full of stones, 26 inches in thickness, was found, resting on the undisturbed sub-soil of yellow clay. At a depth of 22 inches from the surface a pig's jaw and a fragment of a tile were found. When the excavations were first made, some large trees grew over the ruins; and the stump of one has been left directly over a party- wall near the bath-room, for the sake of showing the thickness of the superincumbent soil, which was here 38 inches. In one small room, which, after being cleared out, had not been roofed over, my sons observed the hole of a worm passing through the rotten concrete, and a living worm was found within the concrete. In another open room worm-castings were seen on the floor, over which some earth had by this means been deposited, and here grass now grew.

Brading, Isle of Wight.--A fine Roman villa was discovered here in 1880; and by the end of October no less than 18 chambers had been more or less cleared. A coin dated 337 A.D. was found. My son William visited the place before the excavations were completed; and he informs me that most of the floors were at first covered with much rubbish and fallen stones, having their interstices completely filled up with mould, abounding, as the workmen said, with worms, above which there was mould without any stones. The whole mass was in most places from 3 to above 4 ft. in thickness. In one very large room the overlying earth was only 2 ft. 6 in. thick; and after this had been removed, so many castings were thrown up between the tiles that the surface had to be almost daily swept. Most of the floors were fairly level. The tops of the broken-down walls were covered in some places by only 4 or 5 inches of soil, so that they were occasionally struck by the plough, but in other places they were covered by from 13 to 18 inches of soil. It is not probable that these walls could have been undermined by worms and subsided, as they rested on a foundation of very hard red sand, into which worms could hardly burrow.

The Formation of Vegetable Mould Through the Action of Worms Page 43

19th Century English Literature

Charles Darwin

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Charles Darwin

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