Hoff's Aliner Travels
A Travel Blog for US and Canadian Parks with Geological Notes

Lyell’s Corner

Before the knowledge of dating rock by ratios of isotopes (changing over time by radioactive decay from one element to another), there was a real question of how old the earth was. Many different ways of estimating it were tried and they all came out to many millions of years, a far cry from the 6006 B.C. figure proposed by Bishop Usher.

Before Charles Darwin left on the Voyage of the Beagle in 1831, he obtained a copy of Principles of Geology, written by Sir Charles Lyell in 1830.
Sir Charles Lyell was the principal architect of the principle of geologic uniformity. This principle proposed that slow and gradual processes, operating on a local scale much as are seen today, had sculptured the earth’s surface over vast eons of time. He denied the role of major geologic events, most especially the global Flood of Noah’s day, insisting that “the present is the key to the past.” The idea that the earth was very old helped Darwin postulate the theory of evolution.

In his role as a coal geologist, Lyell traveled far and wide, searching for evidence to support his model. One such site was at Joggins, where upright fossil trees rose from many successive layers of coal. It could hardly be imagined, he argued, that tree trunks could maintain their upright posture during transportation in a watery catastrophe. These trees were still connected to their roots and the multiple layers of these forests would be hard to explain by one giant flood, even if the flood rose gently. The spot at Joggins Cliffs where Charles Lyell studied these fossil trees is still known as Lyell’s corner.


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