E is well developed on the south side, but absent on the north side of the valley: though not continuously united with E of Figure 9, it apparently corresponds with it.

F. This is the surface-plain, and is continuously united with that which stretches like a fringe along the coast. In ascending the valley it gradually becomes narrower, and is at last, at the distance of about ten miles from the sea, reduced to a row of flat-topped patches on the sides of the mountains. None of the lower terraces extend so far up the valley.)

We come now to the terraces on the opposite sides of the east and west valley of Coquimbo: the section in Figure 10 is taken in a north and south line across the valley at a point about three miles from the sea. The valley measured from the edges of the escarpments of the upper plain FF is about a mile in width; but from the bases of the bounding mountains it is from three to four miles wide. The terraces marked with an interrogative do not exist on that side of the valley, but are introduced merely to render the diagram more intelligible.

These five terraces are formed of shingle and sand; three of them, as marked by Captain B. Hall (namely, B, C, and F), are much more conspicuous than the others. From the marine remains copiously strewed at the mouth of the valley on the lower terraces, and southward of the town on the upper one, they are, as before remarked, undoubtedly of marine origin; but within the valley, and this fact well deserves notice, at a distance of from only a mile and a half to three or four miles from the sea, I could not find even a fragment of a shell.


The surfaces of these terraces slope in a slight degree, as shown by the sections in Figures 9 and 10 taken conjointly, both towards the centre of the valley, and seawards towards its mouth. This double or diagonal inclination, which is not the same in the several terraces, is, as we shall immediately see, of simple explanation. There are, however, some other points which at first appear by no means obvious,--namely, first, that each terrace, taken in its whole breadth from the summit-edge of one escarpment to the base of that above it, and followed up the valley, is not horizontal; nor have the several terraces, when followed up the valley, all the same inclination; thus I found the terraces C, E, and F, measured at a point about two miles from the mouth of the valley, stood severally between fifty-six to seventy-seven feet higher than at the mouth. Again, if we look to any one line of cliff or escarpment, neither its summit-edge nor its base is horizontal. On the theory of the terraces having been formed during a slow and equable rise of the land, with as many intervals of rest as there are escarpments, it appears at first very surprising that horizontal lines of some kind should not have been left on the land.

The direction of the diagonal inclination in the different terraces being different,--in some being directed more towards the middle of the valley, in others more towards its mouth,--naturally follows on the view of each terrace, being an accumulation of successive beach-lines round bays, which must have been of different forms and sizes when the land stood at different levels: for if we look to the actual beach of a narrow creek, its slope is directed towards the middle; whereas, in an open bay, or slight concavity on a coast, the slope is towards the mouth, that is, almost directly seaward; hence as a bay alters in form and size, so will the direction of the inclination of its successive beaches become changed.


If it were possible to trace any one of the many beach-lines, composing each sloping terrace, it would of course be horizontal; but the only lines of demarcation are the summit and basal edges of the escarpments. Now the summit-edge of one of these escarpments marks the furthest line or point to which the sea has cut into a mass of gravel sloping seaward; and as the sea will generally have greater power at the mouth than at the protected head of the bay, so will the escarpment at the mouth be cut deeper into the land, and its summit-edge be higher; consequently it will not be horizontal.

South American Geology Page 38

19th Century English Literature

Charles Darwin

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Charles Darwin

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