Alfred Russel Wallace : Alfred Wallace : A. R. Wallace :
Russel Wallace : Alfred Russell Wallace (sic)

 
 
An Ancient Glacial Epoch in Australia
(S456: 1892)

 
Editor Charles H. Smith's Note: A note printed in the 17 November 1892 issue of Nature. Original pagination indicated within double brackets. To link directly to this page connect with: http://people.wku.edu/charles.smith/wallace/S456.htm


    [[p. 55]] A very interesting "special report" has just been issued by the Department of Mines of Victoria, giving an account of the remarkable evidences of glaciation observed at a locality about twenty miles south-east of Sandhurst, and about the same distance north of the great Dividing Range.1 The report is illustrated by a map and sections on a large scale, and by eight excellent photographic prints, showing the character of the deposit on the surface and in railway cuttings, the striated bed rock, and the striated and grooved blocks and boulders, so that full materials are given for the conclusion that we have here an undoubted glacial deposit. A brief summary of this report will therefore be interesting to all students of the phenomena and problems of terrestrial glaciation.

    The district now specially described is about fifteen miles in one direction by five in another, and over this area of about thirty-six square miles the conglomerate is continuous, overlying the Silurian rocks of the district. It has generally a rounded or undulating surface, but shows cliffs about 100 feet high in some of the gullies, and its maximum thickness is estimated at 300 or 400 feet, while its highest point is about 700 feet above sea-level. As well seen in the cliffs and several railway cuttings, the conglomerate consists of a matrix of sand and clayey matter containing huge boulders, great angular and sub-angular masses of rock, pebbles, and rock-fragments of endless variety of size, form, and material. Many of these masses are planed, scored, striated, or polished. [[p. 56]] Planing is very common, and is either flat or with a hollow or a convex surface. Some of the intensely hard hornfels blocks have been ground on one or more sides, several planes being sometimes ground on the same stone, while some very hard rocks are deeply grooved. In other cases the striations and scratches are so fine as only to be seen with a lens; while one surface block of very hard material has been ground down and polished, so that it glitters in the sun. In fact, every form of surface-grinding produced by recent glaciation appears to be here present.

    The surface of the ground is everywhere strewn with pebbles and boulders, the result of the washing away of the finer materials of the conglomerate; but, besides these, there is a tract of about two and a half miles by one mile near the centre of the conglomerate-area, on the north side of Mount Ida Creek, which is rather thickly strewn with large blocks, termed by the writer "erratics," though they can hardly be erratics in the sense of having been deposited on the present surface by ice. There are forty-five of these blocks, which are either of granite, sandstone, or quartz, and vary in size from 6 feet by 4 feet, to 20 by 12 feet. One of the finest, termed "The Stranger," of coarse-grained granite, is 16 1/2 feet by 10 1/2 feet, and 5 feet thick, the estimated weight being 30 tons. It is planed and scored in a remarkable manner, as are most of the other blocks. It is curious that beyond this limited area only three or four large blocks are found on the surface, while no pebbles or boulders derived from the conglomerate are found more than a hundred yards beyond the present limits of that formation.

    A striking feature of the conglomerate is the great variety of rocks present in it, seeming as if "the débris of a continent" had been here gathered together. There are an almost infinite variety of granites, syenites, gneisses, schists, quartzites, sandstones (hard and soft, coarse and fine), slates, shales, conglomerates, amygdaloids, porphyries, vein quartz, red, yellow, and grey jaspers, and many others. Some of these can be identified with existing rocks, but others are not known in Victoria. In some cases there is what appears to be river shingle, in others the delicate scratches preserved even on soft shale show that the material has not been exposed to any denuding action. There are also sandstone beds of considerable extent and thickness intercalated with the conglomerate, indicating that there were alternating periods of river or current action while the conglomerate was being formed.

    The whole of the phenomena here briefly sketched point unmistakably to glacial action; in fact, there seems to be hardly any part of Wales or Scotland where such action is more clearly indicated. There are, it is true, no moraines, because the period when the conglomerate was laid down is too remote, both newer and older pliocene rocks overlying it in some places. Indeed, from fossils found in shales overlying what appears to be a similar conglomerate at Bacchus Marsh, south of the Dividing Range, the writer of the report is inclined to consider the whole formation to be of Palæozoic age. In one part of the area the bed rock is exposed, and this is covered with abundant striations crossing the stratification lines, indicating either powerful glacier or iceberg action.

    A list of localities where similar conglomerates have been found is given, showing that they occur to the northward for about 250 miles along the foot of the hills bordering the Murray valley, disappearing under the Tertiary deposits of the lowlands; they have also been met with forming the floor of the auriferous deposits in mines at Creswick and Carisbrook, on the northern slopes of the Dividing Range; and also, as already stated, at Bacchus Marsh, and a few other localities on the south side of the range. We are not told, however, whether similar indications of glacial action occur in these localities. If these deposits are really all glacial and contemporaneous, they indicate an extent of glaciated country that would imply either a very lofty mountain range or the occurrence of a real glacial epoch in the southern hemisphere.

    The direct evidence of the superposition of Tertiary rocks of Pliocene age shows that the glacial conglomerate itself is of great antiquity, but no special attention appears to have been given to the question of the age of the so-called "erratics." The fact that they are found in so limited an area seems to show that they are not derived from the conglomerate itself by the process of sub-aerial denudation, and the same thing is indicated by the apparent fact that they all rest upon the present land surface. The photographs seem to indicate this, and nothing is said about their relations to the subjacent conglomerate, or whether any considerable proportion of them still form part of it, merely protruding above the surface, as would certainly be the case if they owe their present position to the mere washing away of the finer parts of the deposit. But, if so, why should they be called "erratics," as distinguished from the blocks and boulders which are still embedded in the formation? If, on the other hand, they are supposed to be true erratics--that is, to have been deposited on the present land-surface by ice agency--they must clearly be much less ancient than the conglomerate itself, or they would hardly retain such fresh-looking striations, grooving, and polishing as some of them exhibit. It is to be hoped that these most interesting deposits will be the subject of very careful study by Australian geologists, since they seem calculated to throw much light on the geological history of the old Australian continent.


Note Appearing in the Original Work

1. "Notes on the Glacial Conglomerate, Wild Duck Creek." By E. Dunn, F.G.S. (R. S. Brain, Government Printer, Melbourne, 1892.) [[on p. 55]]


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