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09 - On the Imperfection of the Geological Record 09-04 - On the poorness of our palaeontological collections 10 On the poorness of our Palaeontological collections.

That our Palaeontological collections are very imperfect, is admitted by every one.

The remark of that admirable Palaeontologist, the late Edward Forbes, should not be forgotten, namely, that numbers of our fossil species are known and named from single and often broken specimens, or from a few specimens collected on some one spot.

Edward Forbes
Edward Forbes


Only a small portion of the surface of the earth has been geologically explored, and no part with sufficient care, as the important discoveries made every year in Europe prove.

No organism wholly soft can be preserved.

Shells and bones will decay and disappear when left on the bottom of the sea, where sediment is not accumulating.

I believe we are continually taking a most erroneous view, when we tacitly admit to ourselves that sediment is being deposited over nearly the whole bed of the sea, at a rate sufficiently quick to embed and preserve fossil remains.

Throughout an enormously large proportion of the ocean, the bright blue tint of the water bespeaks its purity.

The many cases on record of a formation conformably covered, after an enormous interval of time, by another and later formation, without the underlying bed having suffered in the interval any wear and tear, seem explicable only on the view of the bottom of the sea not rarely lying for ages in an unaltered condition.

The remains which do become embedded, if in sand or gravel, will when the beds are upraised generally be dissolved by the percolation of rain-water.

I suspect that but few of the very many animals which live on the beach between high and low watermark are preserved.

For instance, the several species of the Chthamalinae (a sub-family of sessile cirripedes) coat the rocks all over the world in infinite numbers: they are all strictly littoral, with the exception of a single Mediterranean species, which inhabits deep water and has been found fossil in Sicily, whereas not one other species has hitherto been found in any tertiary formation: yet it is now known that the genus Chthamalus existed during the chalk period.

cirripede
cirripede

Sicily
Sicily


The molluscan genus Chiton offers a partially analogous case.

With respect to the terrestrial productions which lived during the Secondary and Palaeozoic periods, it is superfluous to state that our evidence from fossil remains is fragmentary in an extreme degree.

For instance, not a land shell is known belonging to either of these vast periods, with one exception discovered by Sir C. Lyell in the carboniferous strata of North America.

In regard to mammiferous remains, a single glance at the historical table published in the Supplement to Lyell's Manual, will bring home the truth, how accidental and rare is their preservation, far better than pages of detail.

Nor is their rarity surprising, when we remember how large a proportion of the bones of tertiary mammals have been discovered either in caves or in lacustrine deposits; and that not a cave or true lacustrine bed is known belonging to the age of our secondary or palaeozoic formations.