The Student’s Elements of Geology

Author: Charles Lyell


The English provincial name of Lias has been very generally adopted for a formation of argillaceous limestone, marl, and clay, which forms the base of the Oolite, and is classed by many geologists as part of that group. The peculiar aspect which is most characteristic of the Lias in England, France, and Germany, is an alternation of thin beds of blue or grey limestone, having a surface which becomes light-brown when weathered, these beds being separated by dark-coloured, narrow argillaceous partings, so that the quarries of this rock, at a distance, assume a striped and ribbon-like appearance.

The Lias has been divided in England into three groups, the Upper, Middle, and Lower. The Upper Lias consists first of sands, which were formerly regarded as the base of the Oolite, but which, according to Dr. Wright, are by their fossils more properly referable to the Lias; secondly, of clay shale and thin beds of limestone. The Middle Lias, or marl-stone series, has been divided into three zones; and the Lower Lias, according to the labours of Quenstedt, Oppel, Strickland, Wright, and others, into seven zones, each marked by its own group of fossils. This Lower Lias averages from 600 to 900 feet in thickness.

From Devon and Dorsetshire to Yorkshire all these divisions, observes Professor Ramsay, are constant; and from top to bottom we can not assert that anywhere there is actual unconformity between any two subdivisions, whether of the larger or smaller kind.

In the whole of the English Lias there are at present known about 937 species of mollusca, and of these 267 are Cephalopods, of which class more than two-thirds are Ammonites, the Nautilus and Belemnite also abounding. The whole series has been divided by zones characterised by particular Ammonites; for while other families of shells pass from one division to another in numbers varying from about 20 to 50 per cent, these cephalopods are almost always limited to single zones, as Quenstedt and Oppel have shown for Germany, and Dr. Wright and others for England.

As no actual unconformity is known from the top of the Upper to the bottom of the Lower Lias, and as there is a marked uniformity in the mineral character of almost all the strata, it is somewhat difficult to account even for such partial breaks as have been alluded to in the succession of species, if we reject the hypothesis that the old species were in each case destroyed at the close of the deposition of the rocks containing them, and replaced by the creation of new forms when the succeeding formation began. I agree with Professor Ramsay in not accepting this hypothesis. No doubt some of the old species occasionally died out, and left no representatives in Europe or elsewhere; others were locally exterminated in the struggle for life by species which invaded their ancient domain, or by varieties better fitted for a new state of things. Pauses also of vast duration may have occurred in the deposition of strata, allowing time for the modification of organic life throughout the globe, slowly brought about by variation accompanied by extinction of the original forms.


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Chicago: Charles Lyell, "Lias.," 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 6, 2023,

MLA: Lyell, Charles. "Lias." 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. 6 Dec. 2023.

Harvard: Lyell, C, 'Lias.' in The Student’s Elements of Geology, ed. and trans. . cited in , The Student’s Elements of Geology. Original Sources, retrieved 6 December 2023, from