The Student’s Elements of Geology

Author: Charles Lyell

Marine Shells of Scotch Drift.

(FIGURE 107. Astarte borealis, Chem.; (A. arctica, Moll. A. compressa, Mont.)

(FIGURE 108. Leda lanceolata (oblonga), Sowerby.)

(FIGURE 109. Saxicava rugosa, Penn.)

(FIGURE 110. Pecten islandicus, Moll. Northern shell common in the drift of the Clyde, in Scotland. )

(FIGURE 111. Natica clausa, Bred. Northern shell common in the drift of the Clyde, in Scotland.)

(FIGURE 112. Trophon clathratum, Linne. Northern shell common in the drift of the Clyde, in Scotland.)

(FIGURE 113. Leda truncata. a. Exterior of left valve. b. Interior of same.)

(FIGURE 114. Tellina calcarea, Chem. (Tellina proxima, Brown.) a. Outside of left valve. b. Interior of same.)

The greatest height to which marine shells have yet been traced in this boulder clay is at Airdie, in Lanarkshire, ten miles east of Glasgow, 524 feet above the level of the sea. At that spot they were found imbedded in stratified clays with till above and below them. There appears no doubt that the overlying deposit was true glacial till, as some boulders of granite were observed in it, which must have come from distances of sixty miles at the least.

The shells figured in Figures 107 to 112 are only a few out of a large assemblage of living species, which, taken as a whole, bear testimony to conditions far more arctic than those now prevailing in the Scottish seas. But a group of marine shells, indicating a still greater excess of cold, has been brought to light since 1860 by the Reverend Thomas Brown, from glacial drift or clay on the borders of the estuaries of the Forth and Tay. This clay occurs at Elie, in Fife, and at Errol, in Perthshire; and has already afforded about 35 shells, all of living species, and now inhabitants of arctic regions, such as Leda truncata, Tellina proxima (see Figures 113 and 114), Pecten Groenlandicus, Crenella laevigata, Crenella nigra, and others, some of them first brought by Captain Sir E. Parry from the coast of Melville Island, latitude 76 degrees north. These were all identified in 1863 by Dr. Torell, who had just returned from a survey of the seas around Spitzbergen, where he had collected no less than 150 species of mollusca, living chiefly on a bottom of fine mud derived from the moraines of melting glaciers which there protrude into the sea. He informed me that the fossil fauna of this Scotch glacial deposit exhibits not only the species but also the peculiar varieties of mollusca now characteristic of very high latitudes. Their large size implies that they formerly enjoyed a colder, or, what was to them a more genial climate, than that now prevailing in the latitude where the fossils occur. Marine shells have also been found in the glacial drift of Caithness and Aberdeenshire at heights of 250 feet, and in Banff of 350 feet, and stratified drift continuous with the above ascends to heights of 500 feet. Already 75 species are enumerated from Caithness, and the same number from Aberdeenshire and Banff, and in both cases all but six are arctic species.

I formerly suggested that the absence of all signs of organic life in the Scotch drift might be connected with the severity of the cold, and also in some places with the depth of the sea during the period of extreme submergence; but my faith in such an hypothesis has been shaken by modern investigations, an exuberance of life having been observed both in arctic and antarctic seas of great depth, and where floating ice abounds. The difficulty, moreover, of accounting for the entire dearth of marine shells in till is removed when once we have adopted the theory of this boulder clay being the product of land-ice. For glaciers coming down from a continental ice-sheet like that which covers Greenland may fill friths many hundred feet below the sea-level, and even invade parts of a bay a thousand feet deep, before they find water enough to float off their terminal portions in the form of icebergs. In such a case till without marine shells may first accumulate, and then, if the climate becomes warmer and the ice melts, a marine deposit may be superimposed on the till without any change of level being required.

Another curious phenomenon bearing on this subject was styled by the late Hugh Miller the "striated pavements" of the boulder clay. Where portions of the till have been removed by the sea on the shores of the Forth, or in the interior by railway cuttings, the boulders imbedded in what remains of the drift are seen to have been all subjected to a process of abrasion and striation, the striae and furrows being parallel and persistent across them all, exactly as if a glacier or iceberg had passed over them and scored them in a manner similar to that so often undergone by the solid rocks below the glacial drift. It is possible, as Mr. Geikie conjectures, that this second striation of the boulders may be referable to floating ice. (Geikie Transactions of the Geological Society of Glasgow volume 1 part 2 page 68 1863.)


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Chicago: Charles Lyell, "Marine Shells of Scotch Drift.," The Student’s Elements of Geology, ed. Bryant Conant, James and trans. Babington, B. G. (Benjamin Guy), 1794-1866 in The Student’s Elements of Geology Original Sources, accessed March 18, 2019,

MLA: Lyell, Charles. "Marine Shells of Scotch Drift." The Student’s Elements of Geology, edited by Bryant Conant, James, and translated by Babington, B. G. (Benjamin Guy), 1794-1866, in The Student’s Elements of Geology, Original Sources. 18 Mar. 2019.

Harvard: Lyell, C, 'Marine Shells of Scotch Drift.' in The Student’s Elements of Geology, ed. and trans. . cited in , The Student’s Elements of Geology. Original Sources, retrieved 18 March 2019, from