Commencing at the south and proceeding northward, the first place at which I landed, was at Cape Tres Montes, in latitude 46 degrees 35'. Here, on the shores of Christmas Cove, I observed in several places a beach of pebbles with recent shells, about twenty feet above high-water mark. Southward of Tres Montes (between latitude 47 and 48 degrees), Byron remarks, "We thought it very strange, that upon the summits of the highest hills were found beds of shells, a foot or two thick." ("Narrative of the Loss of the 'Wager'.") In the Chonos Archipelago, the island of Lemus (latitude 44 degrees 30') was, according to M. Coste, suddenly elevated eight feet, during the earthquake of 1829: he adds, "Des roches jadis toujours couvertes par la mer, restant aujourd'hui constamment decouvertes." ("Comptes Rendus" October 1838 page 706.) In other parts of this archipelago, I observed two terraces of gravel, abutting to the foot of each other: at Lowe's Harbour (43 degrees 48'), under a great mass of the boulder formation, about three hundred feet in thickness, I found a layer of sand, with numerous comminuted fragments of sea-shells, having a fresh aspect, but too small to be identified.


The evidence of recent elevation is here more satisfactory. The bay of San Carlos is in most parts bounded by precipitous cliffs from about ten to forty feet in height, their bases being separated from the present line of tidal action by a talus, a few feet in height, covered with vegetation. In one sheltered creek (west of P. Arena), instead of a loose talus, there was a bare sloping bank of tertiary mudstone, perforated, above the line of the highest tides, by numerous shells of a Pholas now common in the harbour. The upper extremities of these shells, standing upright in their holes with grass growing out of them, were abraded about a quarter of an inch, to the same level with the surrounding worn strata. In other parts, I observed (as at Pudeto) a great beach, formed of comminuted shells, twenty feet above the present shore. In other parts again, there were small caves worn into the foot of the low cliffs, and protected from the waves by the talus with its vegetation: one such cave, which I examined, had its mouth about twenty feet, and its bottom, which was filled with sand containing fragments of shells and legs of crabs, from eight to ten feet above high-water mark. From these several facts, and from the appearance of the upraised shells, I inferred that the elevation had been quite recent; and on inquiring from Mr. Williams, the Portmaster, he told me he was convinced that the land had risen, or the sea fallen, four feet within the last four years. During this period, there had been one severe earthquake, but no particular change of level was then observed; from the habits of the people who all keep boats in the protected creeks, it is absolutely impossible that a rise of four feet could have taken place suddenly and been unperceived. Mr. Williams believes that the change has been quite gradual. Without the elevatory movement continues at a quick rate, there can be no doubt that the sea will soon destroy the talus of earth at the foot of the cliffs round the bay, and will then reach its former lateral extension, but not of course its former level: some of the inhabitants assured me that one such talus, with a footpath on it, was even already sensibly decreasing in width.

I received several accounts of beds of shells, existing at considerable heights in the inland parts of Chiloe; and to one of these, near Catiman, I was guided by a countryman. Here, on the south side of the peninsula of Lacuy, there was an immense bed of the Venus costellata and of an oyster, lying on the summit-edge of a piece of tableland, 350 feet (by the barometer) above the level of the sea. The shells were closely packed together, embedded in and covered by a very black, damp, peaty mould, two or three feet in thickness, out of which a forest of great trees was growing. Considering the nature and dampness of this peaty soil, it is surprising that the fine ridges on the outside of the Venus are perfectly preserved, though all the shells have a blackened appearance.

South American Geology Page 28

19th Century English Literature

Charles Darwin

Free Books in the public domain from the Classic Literature Library ©

Charles Darwin

All Pages of This Book