I have been informed by Lieutenant Holland, R.N., that this incrustation is formed on many parts of the coast, on most of which, I believe, there are likewise great masses of comminuted shells.


(FIGURE 5. AN INCRUSTATION OF CALCAREOUS AND ANIMAL MATTER, coating the tidal-rocks at Ascension.)

In many respects this is a singular deposit; it coats throughout the year the tidal volcanic rocks, that project from the beaches composed of broken shells. Its general appearance is well represented in Figure 5; but the fronds or discs, of which it is composed, are generally so closely crowded together as to touch. These fronds have their sinuous edges finely crenulated, and they project over their pedestals or supports; their upper surfaces are either slightly concave, or slightly convex; they are highly polished, and of a dark grey or jet black colour; their form is irregular, generally circular, and from the tenth of an inch to one inch and a half in diameter; their thickness, or amount of their projection from the rock on which they stand, varies much, about a quarter of an inch being perhaps most usual. The fronds occasionally become more and more convex, until they pass into botryoidal masses with their summits fissured; when in this state, they are glossy and of an intense black, so as to resemble some fused metallic substance. I have shown the incrustation, both in this latter and in its ordinary state to several geologists, but not one could conjecture its origin, except that perhaps it was of volcanic nature!

The substance forming the fronds has a very compact and often almost crystalline fracture; the edges being translucent, and hard enough easily to scratch calcareous spar. Under the blowpipe it immediately becomes white, and emits a strong animal odour, like that from fresh shells. It is chiefly composed of carbonate of lime; when placed in muriatic acid it froths much, leaving a residue of sulphate of lime, and of an oxide of iron, together with a black powder, which is not soluble in heated acids. This latter substance seems to be carbonaceous, and is evidently the colouring matter. The sulphate of lime is extraneous, and occurs in distinct, excessively minute, lamellar plates, studded on the surface of the fronds, and embedded between the fine layers of which they are composed; when a fragment is heated in the blowpipe, these lamellae are immediately rendered visible. The original outline of the fronds may often be traced, either to a minute particle of shell fixed in a crevice of the rock, or to several cemented together; these first become deeply corroded, by the dissolving power of the waves, into sharp ridges, and then are coated with successive layers of the glossy, grey, calcareous incrustation. The inequalities of the primary support affect the outline of every successive layer, in the same manner as may often be seen in bezoar-stones, when an object like a nail forms the centre of aggregation. The crenulated edges, however, of the frond appear to be due to the corroding power of the surf on its own deposit, alternating with fresh depositions. On some smooth basaltic rocks on the coast of St. Jago, I found an exceedingly thin layer of brown calcareous matter, which under a lens presented a miniature likeness of the crenulated and polished fronds of Ascension; in this case a basis was not afforded by any projecting extraneous particles. Although the incrustation at Ascension is persistent throughout the year; yet from the abraded appearance of some parts, and from the fresh appearance of other parts, the whole seems to undergo a round of decay and renovation, due probably to changes in the form of the shifting beach, and consequently in the action of the breakers: hence probably it is, that the incrustation never acquires a great thickness. Considering the position of the encrusted rocks in the midst of the calcareous beach, together with its composition, I think there can be no doubt that its origin is due to the dissolution and subsequent deposition of the matter composing the rounded particles of shells and corals.

Charles Darwin

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