The Student’s Elements of Geology

Author: Charles Lyell

Anticlinal and Synclinal Curves.

Vertical strata, when they can be traced continuously upward or downward for some depth, are almost invariably seen to be parts of great curves, which may have a diameter of a few yards, or of several miles. I shall first describe two curves of considerable regularity, which occur in Forfarshire, extending over a country twenty miles in breadth, from the foot of the Grampians to the sea near Arbroath.

The mass of strata here shown may be 2000 feet in thickness, consisting of red and white sandstone, and various coloured shales, the beds being distinguishable into four principal groups, namely, No. 1, red marl or shale; No. 2, red sandstone, used for building; No. 3, conglomerate; and No. 4, grey paving-stone, and tile-stone, with green and reddish shale, containing peculiar organic remains. A glance at the section (Figure 55.) will show that each of the formations 2, 3, 4 are repeated thrice at the surface, twice with a southerly, and once with a northerly inclination or DIP, and the beds in No. 1, which are nearly horizontal, are still brought up twice by a slight curvature to the surface, once on each side of A. Beginning at the north-west extremity, the tile-stones and conglomerates, No. 4 and No. 3, are vertical, and they generally form a ridge parallel to the southern skirts of the Grampians. The superior strata, Nos. 2 and 1, become less and less inclined on descending to the valley of Strathmore, where the strata, having a concave bend, are said by geologists to lie in a "trough" or "basin." Through the centre of this valley runs an imaginary line A, called technically a "synclinal line," where the beds, which are tilted in opposite directions, may be supposed to meet. It is most important for the observer to mark such lines, for he will perceive by the diagram that, in travelling from the north to the centre of the basin, he is always passing from older to newer beds; whereas, after crossing the line A, and pursuing his course in the same southerly direction, he is continually leaving the newer, and advancing upon older strata. All the deposits which he had before examined begin then to recur in reversed order, until he arrives at the central axis of the Sidlaw hills, where the strata are seen to form an arch, or SADDLE, having an ANTICLINAL line, B, in the centre. On passing this line, and continuing towards the S.E., the formations 4, 3, and 2, are again repeated, in the same relative order of superposition, but with a southerly dip. At Whiteness (see Figure 55) it will be seen that the inclined strata are covered by a newer deposit, a, in horizontal beds. These are composed of red conglomerate and sand, and are newer than any of the groups, 1, 2, 3, 4, before described, and rest UNCONFORMABLY upon strata of the sandstone group, No. 2.

An example of curved strata, in which the bends or convolutions of the rock are sharper and far more numerous within an equal space, has been well described by Sir James Hall. (Edinburgh Transactions volume 7 plate 3.) It occurs near St. Abb’s Head, on the east coast of Scotland, where the rocks consist principally of a bluish slate, having frequently a ripple-marked surface. The undulations of the beds reach from the top to the bottom of cliffs from 200 to 300 feet in height, and there are sixteen distinct bendings in the course of about six miles, the curvatures being alternately concave and convex upward.


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Chicago: Charles Lyell, "Anticlinal and Synclinal Curves.," 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 December 11, 2023,

MLA: Lyell, Charles. "Anticlinal and Synclinal Curves." 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. 11 Dec. 2023.

Harvard: Lyell, C, 'Anticlinal and Synclinal Curves.' in The Student’s Elements of Geology, ed. and trans. . cited in , The Student’s Elements of Geology. Original Sources, retrieved 11 December 2023, from