24th August 2010

With Darwin and Fitroy's continued silence -- until they leave Callao on the 7th September -- I am continuing to post relevant entries from Darwin's "The Voyage of the Beagle" published years later. Today's entry is particularly interesting as it gives an insight to Darwin's strictly logical approach to his work.

From “The Voyage of the Beagle”:
On the island of San Lorenzo, there are very satisfactory proofs of elevation within the recent period; this of course is not opposed to the belief, of a small sinking of the ground having subsequently taken place. The side of this island fronting the Bay of Callao, is worn into three obscure terraces, the lower one of which is covered by a bed a mile in length, almost wholly composed of shells of eighteen species, now living in the adjoining sea. The height of this bed is eighty-five feet. Many of the shells are deeply corroded, and have a much older and more decayed appearance than those at the height of 500 or 600 feet on the coast of Chile. These shells are associated with much common salt, a little sulphate of lime (both probably left by the evaporation of the spray, as the land slowly rose), together with sulphate of soda and muriate of lime. They rest on fragments of the underlying sandstone, and are covered by a few inches thick of detritus. The shells, higher up on this terrace could be traced scaling off in flakes, and falling into an impalpable powder; and on an upper terrace, at the height of 170 feet, and likewise at some considerably higher points, I found a layer of saline powder of exactly similar appearance, and lying in the same relative position. I have no doubt that this upper layer originally existed as a bed of shells, like that on the eighty-five-feet ledge; but it does not now contain even a trace of organic structure. The powder has been analyzed for me by Mr. T. Reeks; it consists of sulphates and muriates both of lime and soda, with very little carbonate of lime. It is known that common salt and carbonate of lime left in a mass for some time together, partly decompose each other; though this does not happen with small quantities in solution. As the half-decomposed shells in the lower parts are associated with much common salt, together with some of the saline substances composing the upper saline layer, and as these shells are corroded and decayed in a remarkable manner, I strongly suspect that this double decomposition has here taken place. The resultant salts, however, ought to be carbonate of soda and muriate of lime, the latter is present, but not the carbonate of soda. Hence I am led to imagine that by some unexplained means, the carbonate of soda becomes changed into the sulphate. It is obvious that the saline layer could not have been preserved in any country in which abundant rain occasionally fell: on the other hand, this very circumstance, which at first sight appears so highly favourable to the long preservation of exposed shells, has probably been the indirect means, through the common salt not having been washed away, of their decomposition and early decay.

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