In the agelong struggle between land and water, for long periods the sea has been comparatively victorious, but times of land victory are just ahead. And the continental drifts have not proceeded so far but that, at times, practically all of the land of the world is connected by slender isthmuses and narrow land bridges.
As the land emerges from the last Silurian inundation, an important period in world development and life evolution comes to an end. It is the dawn of a new age on earth. The naked and unattractive landscape of former times is becoming clothed with luxuriant verdure, and the first magnificent forests will soon appear.
The marine life of this age was very diverse due to the early species segregation, but later on there was free commingling and association of all these different types. The brachiopods early reached their climax, being succeeded by the arthropods, and barnacles made their first appearance. But the greatest event of all was the sudden appearance of the fish family. This became the age of fishes, that period of the world’s history characterized by the vertebrate type of animal.
270,000,000 years ago the continents were all above water. In millions upon millions of years not so much land had been above water at one time; it was one of the greatest land-emergence epochs in all world history.
Five million years later the land areas of North and South America, Europe, Africa, northern Asia, and Australia were briefly inundated, in North America the submergence at one time or another being almost complete; and the resulting limestone layers run from 500 to 5,000 feet in thickness. These various Devonian seas extended first in one direction and then in another so that the immense arctic North American inland sea found an outlet to the Pacific Ocean through northern California.
260,000,000 years ago, toward the end of this land-depression epoch, North America was partially overspread by seas having simultaneous connection with the Pacific, Atlantic, Arctic, and Gulf waters. The deposits of these later stages of the first Devonian flood average about one thousand feet in thickness. The coral reefs characterizing these times indicate that the inland seas were clear and shallow. Such coral deposits are exposed in the banks of the Ohio River near Louisville, Kentucky, and are about one hundred feet thick, embracing more than two hundred varieties. These coral formations extend through Canada and northern Europe to the arctic regions.
Following these submergences, many of the shore lines were considerably elevated so that the earlier deposits were covered by mud or shale. There is also a red sandstone stratum which characterizes one of the Devonian sedimentations, and this red layer extends over much of the earth’s surface, being found in North and South America, Europe, Russia, China, Africa, and Australia. Such red deposits are suggestive of arid or semiarid conditions, but the climate of this epoch was still mild and even.
Throughout all of this period the land southeast of the Cincinnati Island remained well above water. But very much of western Europe, including the British Isles, was submerged. In Wales, Germany, and other places in Europe the Devonian rocks are 20,000 feet thick.
250,000,000 years ago witnessed the appearance of the fish family, the vertebrates, one of the most important steps in all prehuman evolution.
The arthropods, or crustaceans, were the ancestors of the first vertebrates. The forerunners of the fish family were two modified arthropod ancestors; one had a long body connecting a head and tail, while the other was a backboneless, jawless prefish. But these preliminary types were quickly destroyed when the fishes, the first vertebrates of the animal world, made their sudden appearance from the north.
Many of the largest true fish belong to this age, some of the teeth-bearing varieties being twenty-five to thirty feet long; the present-day sharks are the survivors of these ancient fishes. The lung and armored fishes reached their evolutionary apex, and before this epoch had ended, fishes had adapted to both fresh and salt waters.
Veritable bone beds of fish teeth and skeletons may be found in the deposits laid down toward the close of this period, and rich fossil beds are situated along the coast of California since many sheltered bays of the Pacific Ocean extended into the land of that region.
The earth was being rapidly overrun by the new orders of land vegetation. Heretofore few plants grew on land except about the water’s edge. Now, and suddenly, the prolific fern family appeared and quickly spread over the face of the rapidly rising land in all parts of the world. Tree types, two feet thick and forty feet high, soon developed; later on, leaves evolved, but these early varieties had only rudimentary foliage. There were many smaller plants, but their fossils are not found since they were usually destroyed by the still earlier appearing bacteria.
As the land rose, North America became connected with Europe by land bridges extending to Greenland. And today Greenland holds the remains of these early land plants beneath its mantle of ice.
240,000,000 years ago the land over parts of both Europe and North and South America began to sink. This subsidence marked the appearance of the last and least extensive of the Devonian floods. The arctic seas again moved southward over much of North America, the Atlantic inundated a large part of Europe and western Asia, while the southern Pacific covered most of India. This inundation was slow in appearing and equally slow in retreating. The Catskill Mountains along the west bank of the Hudson River are one of the largest geologic monuments of this epoch to be found on the surface of North America.
230,000,000 years ago the seas were continuing their retreat. Much of North America was above water, and great volcanic activity occurred in the St. Lawrence region. Mount Royal, at Montreal, is the eroded neck of one of these volcanoes. The deposits of this entire epoch are well shown in the Appalachian Mountains of North America where the Susquehanna River has cut a valley exposing these successive layers, which attained a thickness of over 13,000 feet.
The elevation of the continents proceeded, and the atmosphere was becoming enriched with oxygen. The earth was overspread by vast forests of ferns one hundred feet high and by the peculiar trees of those days, silent forests; not a sound was heard, not even the rustle of a leaf, for such trees had no leaves.
And thus drew to a close one of the longest periods of marine-life evolution, the age of fishes. This period of the world’s history lasted almost fifty million years; it has become known to your researchers as the Devonian.