Just exactly how old are you, Mother Earth?

Mother Earth

Mother Earth

After spending years studying the lives of the Old Testament Patriarchs, Archbishop Usher of Armagh in the year 1662 confidently announced God created the Earth on 6 pm 22 October 4004 BC. Fossils of fish found high in the Alps and skeletons of extinct animals merely seemed to confirm the Biblical account of Noah’s flood.

As the Age of Enlightenment and the scientific method gained pace, it began to dawn on people the Bible did not have all the answers. In 1779 the Comte du Buffon using calculations based on the cooling of a model earth estimated the planet was 75,000 years old. Geological survey maps, looking for coal and other minerals, led William Smith in 1815 to state that certain fossils in the same rocks at different locations must be the same age.

Based on the above, James Lydell, by 1830, had popularised the idea rocks were formed by natural processes of erosion and sedimentation. Given the slow rate of such processes and that sedimentary rocks can be kilometres thick, the earth must be very old. Around 1850 the age of the planet was estimated between 20 and 100 million years. Around 1912 with the discovery of radioactivity making it possible to date the crystallization of minerals, figure was increased to 500 million years. Today we know the planet is around 4.5 billon (thousand million) years old with the first simple life forms arising around 500 million years later.

When Arthur Conan Doyle published his dinosaur adventure story ‘The Lost World’ in 1912, he believed dinosaurs had only been extinct for around a million years. It seemed perfectly logical dinosaurs could still exist on an isolated high South American plateau. Indeed when Doyle saw the rushes of the 1925 silent film version of his novel the Lost World- with stop frame animated dinosaurs – he believed we was seeing footage of actual living creatures. See for yourself… (one of the big dinosaur fights is 1hr 5 mins in)

It would have been an incredible shock to him and his contemporaries to know that in the 65 million years since the extinction event, no physical feature on the face of the earth had remained unaltered. Continents have split apart (Australia, South America and Antarctica); and crashed together (Africa with Europe, India with Asia, North and South America). Oceans have opened (the North Atlantic, the Antarctica Ocean) and dried up (the Tethys Sea & the Great American Interior Seaway). Mountains such as the Rockies, Alps and even the Himalayas have risen to change the world.

Mother Earth

Mother Earth

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