The periodic phenomena of land elevation and land sinking characteristic of these times were all gradual and nonspectacular, being accompanied by little or no volcanic action. Throughout all of these successive land elevations and depressions the Asiatic mother continent did not fully share the history of the other land bodies. It experienced many inundations, dipping first in one direction and then another, more particularly in its earlier history, but it does not present the uniform rock deposits which may be discovered on the other continents. In recent ages Asia has been the most stable of all the land masses.
350,000,000 years ago saw the beginning of the great flood period of all the continents except central Asia. The land masses were repeatedly covered with water; only the coastal highlands remained above these shallow but widespread oscillatory inland seas. Three major inundations characterized this period, but before it ended, the continents again arose, the total land emergence being fifteen per cent greater than now exists. The Caribbean region was highly elevated. This period is not well marked off in Europe because the land fluctuations were less, while the volcanic action was more persistent.
340,000,000 years ago there occurred another extensive land sinking except in Asia and Australia. The waters of the world’s oceans were generally commingled. This was a great limestone age, much of its stone being laid down by lime-secreting algae.
A few million years later large portions of the American continents and Europe began to emerge from the water. In the Western Hemisphere only an arm of the Pacific Ocean remained over Mexico and the present Rocky Mountain regions, but near the close of this epoch the Atlantic and Pacific coasts again began to sink.
330,000,000 years ago marks the beginning of a time sector of comparative quiet all over the world, with much land again above water. The only exception to this reign of terrestrial quiet was the eruption of the great North American volcano of eastern Kentucky, one of the greatest single volcanic activities the world has ever known. The ashes of this volcano covered five hundred square miles to a depth of from fifteen to twenty feet.
320,000,000 years ago the third major flood of this period occurred. The waters of this inundation covered all the land submerged by the preceding deluge, while extending farther in many directions all over the Americas and Europe. Eastern North America and western Europe were from 10,000 to 15,000 feet under water.
310,000,000 years ago the land masses of the world were again well up excepting the southern parts of North America. Mexico emerged, thus creating the Gulf Sea, which has ever since maintained its identity.
The life of this period continues to evolve. The world is once again quiet and relatively peaceful; the climate remains mild and equable; the land plants are migrating farther and farther from the seashores. The life patterns are well developed, although few plant fossils of these times are to be found.
This was the great age of individual animal organismal evolution, though many of the basic changes, such as the transition from plant to animal, had previously occurred. The marine fauna developed to the point where every type of life below the vertebrate scale was represented in the fossils of those rocks which were laid down during these times. But all of these animals were marine organisms. No land animals had yet appeared except a few types of worms which burrowed along the seashores, nor had the land plants yet overspread the continents; there was still too much carbon dioxide in the air to permit of the existence of air breathers. Primarily, all animals except certain of the more primitive ones are directly or indirectly dependent on plant life for their existence.
The trilobites were still prominent. These little animals existed in tens of thousands of patterns and were the predecessors of modern crustaceans. Some of the trilobites had from twenty-five to four thousand tiny eyelets; others had aborted eyes. As this period closed, the trilobites shared domination of the seas with several other forms of invertebrate life. But they utterly perished during the beginning of the next period.
Lime-secreting algae were widespread. There existed thousands of species of the early ancestors of the corals. Sea worms were abundant, and there were many varieties of jellyfish which have since become extinct. Corals and the later types of sponges evolved. The cephalopods were well developed, and they have survived as the modern pearly nautilus, octopus, cuttlefish, and squid.
There were many varieties of shell animals, but their shells were not then so much needed for defensive purposes as in subsequent ages. The gastropods were present in the waters of the ancient seas, and they included single-shelled drills, periwinkles, and snails. The bivalve gastropods have come on down through the intervening millions of years much as they then existed and embrace the mussels, clams, oysters, and scallops. The valve-shelled organisms also evolved, and these brachiopods lived in those ancient waters much as they exist today; they even had hinged, notched, and other sorts of protective arrangements of their valves.
So ends the evolutionary story of the second great period of marine life, which is known to your geologists as the Ordovician.