Fossil sequences

1815 Fossil sequences

The book of science

Tom Sharp

William Smith stratigraphy

Fossil sequences

Peculiarities of the strata

Hidden sediments

William Smith was a surveyer and civil engineer, but he is best known for his work as a geologist. He is known as the founder of stratigraphy the father of English geology, but he was recognized for his work only late in life.

Working at Mearns Pit at High Littleton, part of the Somerset coalfield, Smith took an interest in the inclination and succession of strata and surmised that the pattern could be traced eastward and northward across England. His subsequent work as an surveyor's assistant and as an employee of the Somersetshire Coal Canal Company, and later his travels in his private practice as an engineer gave him opportunity to learn more. He was the first to correlate each strata with the fossils that it contained, or as he wrote, the “fossils peculiar to itself.” He published the first large-scale geological map of Britain.

“Peculiarities of the strata” is a title of one of Smith's illustrations, from which the whole of this poem borrows names of strata and fossils and descriptions of materials produced from the strata. Many of the names of the strata were invented by Smith and are still in use today. The layered details above represent Smith’s great breadth of geological knowledge.

I have always been fascinated by glimpses of the masses that underly the surface of this land on which we build and plant.

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