At the Sugar-Loaf quarry, fragments of rock on the adjoining slopes have been thickly coated by successive fine layers of calcareous matter. (In the earthy detritus on several parts of this hill, irregular masses of very impure, crystallised sulphate of lime occur. As this substance is now being abundantly deposited by the surf at Ascension, it is possible that these masses may thus have originated; but if so, it must have been at a period when the land stood at a much lower level. This earthy selenite is now found at a height of between six hundred and seven hundred feet.) It is singular, that many of these pebbles have their entire surfaces coated, without any point of contact having been left uncovered; hence, these pebbles must have been lifted up by the slow deposition between them of the successive films of carbonate of lime. Masses of white, finely oolitic rock are attached to the outside of some of these coated pebbles. Von Buch has described a compact limestone at Lanzarote, which seems perfectly to resemble the stalagmitic deposition just mentioned: it coats pebbles, and in parts is finely oolitic: it forms a far-extended layer, from one inch to two or three feet in thickness, and it occurs at the height of 800 feet above the sea, but only on that side of the island exposed to the violent north-western winds. Von Buch remarks, that it is not found in hollows, but only on the unbroken and inclined surfaces of the mountain. ("Description des Isles Canaries" page 293.) He believes, that it has been deposited by the spray which is borne over the whole island by these violent winds. It appears, however, to me much more probable that it has been formed, as at St. Helena, by the percolation of water through finely comminuted shells: for when sand is blown on a much-exposed coast, it always tends to accumulate on broad, even surfaces, which offer a uniform resistance to the winds. At the neighbouring island, moreover, of Feurteventura, there is an earthy limestone, which, according to Von Buch, is quite similar to specimens which he has seen from St. Helena, and which he believes to have been formed by the drifting of shelly detritus. (Idem pages 314 and 374.)

The upper beds of the limestone, at the above-mentioned quarry on the Sugar-Loaf Hill, are softer, finer-grained and less pure, than the lower beds. They abound with fragments of land-shells, and with some perfect ones; they contain, also, the bones of birds, and the large eggs, apparently of water-fowl. (Colonel Wilkes, in a catalogue presented with some specimens to the Geological Society, states that as many as ten eggs were found by one person. Dr. Buckland has remarked ("Geolog. Trans." volume 5 page 474) on these eggs.) It is probable that these upper beds remained long in an unconsolidated form, during which time, these terrestrial productions were embedded. Mr. G.R. Sowerby has kindly examined three species of land-shells, which I procured from this bed, and has described them in detail. One of them is a Succinea, identical with a species now living abundantly on the island; the two others, namely, Cochlogena fossilis and Helix biplicata, are not known in a recent state: the latter species was also found in another and different locality, associated with a species of Cochlogena which is undoubtedly extinct.


Land-shells, all of which appear to be species now extinct, occur embedded in earth, in several parts of the island. The greater number have been found at a considerable height on Flagstaff Hill. On the N.W. side of this hill, a rain-channel exposes a section of about twenty feet in thickness, of which the upper part consists of black vegetable mould, evidently washed down from the heights above, and the lower part of less black earth, abounding with young and old shells, and with their fragments: part of this earth is slightly consolidated by calcareous matter, apparently due to the partial decomposition of some of the shells. Mr. Seale, an intelligent resident, who first called attention to these shells, gave me a large collection from another locality, where the shells appear to have been embedded in very black earth.

Charles Darwin

All Pages of This Book