We can thus understand the peculiar corroded appearance of the shells on San Lorenzo, and the great decrease of quantity in the carbonate of lime in the powder on the upper ledge. There is, however, a great difficulty on this view, for the resultant salts should be carbonate of soda and muriate of lime; the latter is present, but not the carbonate of soda. Hence I am led to the perhaps unauthorised conjecture (which I shall hereafter have to refer to) that the carbonate of soda, by some unexplained means, becomes converted into a sulphate.

If the above remarks be just, we are led to the very unexpected conclusion, that a dry climate, by leaving the salt from the sea-spray undissolved, is much less favourable to the preservation of upraised shells than a humid climate. However this may be, it is interesting to know the manner in which masses of shells, gradually upraised above the sea-level, decay and finally disappear.


We have seen that upraised marine remains occur at intervals, and in some parts almost continuously, from latitude 45 degrees 35' to 12 degrees S., along the shores of the Pacific. This is a distance, in a north and south line, of 2,075 geographical miles. From Byron's observations, the elevation has no doubt extended sixty miles further south; and from the similarity in the form of the country near Lima, it has probably extended many leagues further north. (I may take this opportunity of stating that in a MS. in the Geological Society by Mr. Weaver, it is stated that beds of oysters and other recent shells are found thirty feet above the level of the sea, in many parts of Tampico, in the Gulf of Mexico.) Along this great line of coast, besides the organic remains, there are in very many parts, marks of erosion, caves, ancient beaches, sand-dunes, and successive terraces of gravel, all above the present level of the sea. From the steepness of the land on this side of the continent, shells have rarely been found at greater distances inland than from two to three leagues; but the marks of sea-action are evident farther from the coast; for instance, in the valley of Guasco, at a distance of between thirty and forty miles. Judging from the upraised shells alone, the elevation in Chiloe has been 350 feet, at Concepcion certainly 625 feet; and by estimation 1,000 feet; at Valparaiso 1,300 feet; at Coquimbo 252 feet; northward of this place, sea-shells have not, I believe, been found above 300 feet; and at Lima they were falling into decay (hastened probably by the salt) at 85 feet. Not only has this amount of elevation taken place within the period of existing Mollusca and Cirripedes; but their proportional numbers in the neighbouring sea have in most cases remained the same. Near Lima, however, a small change in this respect between the living and the upraised was observed: at Coquimbo this was more evident, all the shells being existing species, but with those embedded in the uppermost calcareous plain not approximating so closely in proportional numbers, as do those that lie loose on its surface at the height of 252 feet, and still less closely than those which are strewed on the lower plains, which latter are identical in proportional numbers with those now cast up on the beach. From this circumstance, and from not finding, upon careful examination, near Coquimbo any shells at a greater height than 252 feet, I believe that the recent elevation there has been much less than at Valparaiso, where it has been 1,300 feet, and I may add, than at Concepcion. This considerable inequality in the amount of elevation at Coquimbo and Valparaiso, places only 200 miles apart, is not improbable, considering, first, the difference in the force and number of the shocks now yearly affecting different parts of this coast; and, secondly, the fact of single areas, such as that of the province of Concepcion, having been uplifted very unequally during the same earthquake. It would, in most cases, be very hazardous to infer an inequality of elevation, from shells being found on the surface or in superficial beds at different heights; for we do not know on what their rate of decay depends; and at Coquimbo one instance out of many has been given, of a promontory, which, from the occurrence of one very small collection of lime-cemented shells, has indisputably been elevated 242 feet, and yet on which, not even a fragment of shell could be found on careful examination between this height and the beach, although many sites appeared very favourable for the preservation of organic remains: the absence, also, of shells on the gravel-terraces a short distance up the valley of Coquimbo, though abundant on the corresponding terraces at its mouth, should be borne in mind.

South American Geology Page 47

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Charles Darwin

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