Excerpt from The Man Who Found Time by Jack Repcheck, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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The Man Who Found Time

James Hutton and the Discovery of Earth's Antiquity

by Jack Repcheck

The Man Who Found Time by Jack Repcheck
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  • First Published:
    Apr 2003, 256 pages
    Jul 2004, 256 pages

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The team continued south. As the sailors looked up at the rocky cliffs, they saw the angular stone wall of a now roofless and abandoned chapel at the top of one of the hills, probably just a few hundred yards from the edge of the bluff. It was an unusual sight in such a desolate spot. Maybe this previously sacred land would now mark a different kind of shrine.

The boat quickly neared Siccar Point, the next headland on their course. After they rounded the protrusion, Hutton urged the pilot to land the boat. The sand of Pease Bay unfortunately did not extend to Siccar Point, so the boat scraped to a halt on rutted stone. But no one cared much about the boat. As they stood on the rocky beach staring up at the cliff face to their right, it was as if they were looking at a painting left by the Creator to show the wonder of His world. At the bottom of the cliff was the gray-colored primary micaceous schistus exposure, but the layers were not horizontal like the ones seen on a typical quarry wall. They were vertical, standing straight up, like a row of books on a shelf. Above the booklike layers sat a couple of feet of nondescript muddle, composed of large fragments of the schistus. Then, above the hardened muck was another large exposure of layered rocks, but these layers were horizontal and they had the distinct red hue of the exposure just seen at Pease Bay.

Hutton, an animated man at all times, was gleeful. Upon collecting himself, he explained to his companions what they were observing. The schistus that was now vertical had originally been laid down in horizontal deposits, the only way that sediments can form. Eroded grains from an ancient continent had flowed into a sea and settled at the bottom. Since deposits usually settle at a modest rate, perhaps only an inch a year, it took hundreds of thousands of years for enough sediment to build up and apply the pressure to the bottom layers that caused them to be changed to rock. Subterranean heat also assisted in this transformation. Then, the intensity of the heat, and perhaps some other additional force, had caused the once horizontal strata to buckle the way a leather belt would if you held it taut between your hands and then brought your hands together. As a result, the layers folded and became vertical; in the process they also rose above sea level. The once-submerged stratified rocks had become dry land. Immediately, erosion began to work its magic all over again, causing the removal of the tops of the buckled rocks. Over time, this land became covered by water again, either from the sea level rising or the land sinking, because the layer of stony muddle represented the early stages of submersion, when waves broke up rocks along the shore. Then, as the vertical stratified rocks settled deeply under the water, new sediments started piling up, this time formed with red-hued grains from different surface rocks. Eventually, these new sediments also consolidated into rocks, affected by pressure and the same subterranean heat that had once acted on the vertical strata. Hutton and his friends were now looking at this dry-land exposure because the area had been raised above the sea yet again, but with less violence this time since there was no new buckling. Collectively, the making of Siccar Point must have taken an unfathomable length of time—much, much longer than 6,000 years.

Finally, here was irrefutable proof. The earth was immeasurably old.

Excerpted from The Man Who Found Time by Jack Repcheck. Copyrighted by Jack Repcheck 2003, all rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced without written permission from the publisher, Perseus Publishing.

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