THE AGE OF BIRDS
The great Cretaceous period derives its name from the predominance of the prolific chalk-making foraminifers in the seas. The period brings Urantia to near the end of the long reptilian dominance and witnesses the appearance of flowering plants and bird life on land. These are also the times of the termination of the westward and southward drift of the continents, accompanied by tremendous crustal deformations and concomitant widespread lava flows and great volcanic activities.
Near the close of the preceding geologic period much of the continental land was up above water, although as yet there were no mountain peaks. But as the continental land drift continued, it met with the first great obstruction on the deep floor of the Pacific. This contention of geologic forces gave impetus to the formation of the whole vast north and south mountain range extending from Alaska down through Mexico to Cape Horn.
This period thus becomes the modern mountain-building stage of geologic history. Prior to this time there were few mountain peaks, merely elevated land ridges of great width. Now the Pacific coast range was beginning to elevate, but it was located seven hundred miles west of the present shore line. The Sierras were beginning to form, their gold-bearing quartz strata being the product of lava flows of this epoch. In the eastern part of North America, Atlantic sea pressure was also working to cause land elevation.
100,000,000 years ago, the North American continent and a part of Europe were well above water. The warping of the American continents continued, resulting in the metamorphosing of the South American Andes and in the gradual elevation of the western plains of North America. Most of Mexico sank beneath the sea, and the southern Atlantic encroached on the eastern coast of South America, eventually reaching the present shore line. The Atlantic and Indian Oceans were then about as they are today.
95,000,000 years ago, the American and European land masses again began to sink. The southern seas commenced the invasion of North America and gradually extended northward to connect with the Arctic Ocean, constituting the second greatest submergence of the continent. When this sea finally withdrew, it left the continent about as it now is. Before this great submergence began, the eastern Appalachian highlands had been almost completely worn down to the water’s level. The many-colored layers of pure clay now used for the manufacture of earthenware were laid down over the Atlantic coast regions during this age, their average thickness being about 2,000 feet.
Great volcanic actions occurred south of the Alps and along the line of the present California coast-range mountains. The greatest crustal deformations in millions upon millions of years took place in Mexico. Great changes also occurred in Europe, Russia, Japan, and southern South America. The climate became increasingly diversified.
90,000,000 years ago, the angiosperms emerged from these Cretaceous seas and soon overran the continents. These land plants suddenly appeared along with fig trees, magnolias, and tulip trees. Soon after this time fig trees, breadfruit trees, and palms overspread Europe and the western plains of North America. No new land animals appeared.
85,000,000 years ago, Bering Strait closed, shutting off the cooling waters of the northern seas. Theretofore the marine life of the Atlantic- Gulf waters and that of the Pacific Ocean had differed greatly, owing to the temperature variations of these two bodies of water, which now became uniform.
The deposits of chalk and greensand marl give name to this period. The sedimentations of these times are variegated, consisting of chalk, shale, sandstone, and small amounts of limestone, together with inferior coal or lignite, and in many regions, they contain oil. These layers vary in thickness from 200 feet in some places to 10,000 feet in western North America and numerous European localities. Along the eastern borders of the Rocky Mountains these deposits may be observed in the up-tilted foothills.
All over the world these strata are permeated with chalk, and these layers of porous semi-rock pick up water at upturned outcrops and convey it downward to furnish the water supply of much of the earth’s present arid regions.
80,000,000 years ago, great disturbances occurred in the earth’s crust. The western advance of the continental drift was coming to a standstill, and the enormous energy of the sluggish momentum of the hinter continental mass up-crumpled the Pacific shore line of both North and South America and initiated profound repercussional changes along the Pacific shores of Asia. This circum-pacific land elevation, which culminated in present-day mountain ranges, is more than twenty-five thousand miles long. And the upheavals attendant upon its birth were the greatest surface distortions to take place since life appeared on Urantia. The lava flows, both above and below ground, were extensive and widespread.
75,000,000 years ago, marks the end of the continental drift. From Alaska to Cape Horn the long Pacific Coast mountain ranges were completed, but there were as yet few peaks.
The back-thrust of the halted continental drift continued the elevation of the western plains of North America, while in the east the worn-down Appalachian Mountains of the Atlantic coast region were projected straight up, with little or no tilting.
70,000,000 years ago, the crustal distortions connected with the maximum elevation of the Rocky Mountain region took place. A large segment of rock was over-thrust fifteen miles at the surface in British Columbia; here the Cambrian rocks are obliquely thrust out over the Cretaceous layers. On the eastern slope of the Rocky Mountains, near the Canadian border, there was another spectacular over-thrust; here may be found the pre-life stone layers shoved out over the then recent Cretaceous deposits.
This was an age of volcanic activity all over the world, giving rise to numerous small isolated volcanic cones. Submarine volcanoes broke out in the submerged Himalayan region. Much of the rest of Asia, including Siberia, was also still under water.
65,000,000 years ago, there occurred one of the greatest lava flows of all time. The deposition layers of these and preceding lava flows are to be found all over the Americas, North and South Africa, Australia, and parts of Europe.
The land animals were little changed, but because of greater continental emergence, especially in North America, they rapidly multiplied. North America was the great field of the land-animal evolution of these times, most of Europe being under water. The climate was still warm and uniform. The arctic regions were enjoying weather much like that of the present climate in central and southern North America.
Great plant-life evolution was taking place. Among the land plants the angiosperms predominated, and many present-day trees first appeared, including beech, birch, oak, walnut, sycamore, maple, and modern palms. Fruits, grasses, and cereals were abundant, and these seed-bearing grasses and trees were to the plant world what the ancestors of man were to the animal world – they were second in evolutionary importance only to the appearance of man himself. Suddenly and without previous gradation, the great family of flowering plants mutated. And this new flora soon overspread the entire world.
60,000,000 years ago, though the land reptiles were on the decline, the dinosaurs continued as monarchs of the land, the lead now being taken by the more agile and active types of the smaller leaping kangaroo varieties of the Carnivorous dinosaurs. But some time previously there had appeared new types of the herbivorous dinosaurs, whose rapid increase was due to the appearance of the grass family of land plants. One of these new grass-eating dinosaurs was a true quadruped having two horns and a cape-like shoulder flange. The land type of turtle, twenty feet across, appeared as did also the modern crocodile and true snakes of the modern type. Great changes were also occurring among the fishes and other forms of marine life.
The wading and swimming pre-birds of earlier ages had not been a success in the air, nor had the flying dinosaurs. They were a short-lived species, soon becoming extinct. They, too, were subject to the dinosaur doom, destruction, because of having too little brain substance in comparison with body size. This second attempt to produce animals that could navigate the atmosphere failed, as did the abortive attempt to produce mammals during this and a preceding age.
55,000,000 years ago, the evolutionary march was marked by the sudden appearance of the first of the true birds, a small pigeon-like creature which was the ancestor of all bird life. This was the third type of flying creature to appear on earth, and it sprang directly from the reptilian group, not from the contemporary flying dinosaurs nor from the earlier types of toothed land birds. And so, this becomes known as the age of birds as well as the declining age of reptiles.
THE END OF THE CHALK PERIOD
The great Cretaceous period was drawing to a close, and its termination marks the end of the great sea invasions of the continents. Particularly is this true of North America, where there had been just twenty-four great inundations. And though there were subsequent minor submergences, none of these can be compared with the extensive and lengthy marine invasions of this and previous ages. These alternate periods of land and sea dominance have occurred in million-year cycles. There has been an agelong rhythm associated with this rise and fall of ocean floor and continental land levels. And these same rhythmical crustal movements will continue from this time on throughout the earth’s history but with diminishing frequency and extent.
This period also witnesses the end of the continental drift and the building of the modern mountains of Urantia. But the pressure of the continental masses and the thwarted momentum of their agelong drift are not the exclusive influences in mountain building.
The chief underlying factor in determining the location of a mountain range is the pre-existent lowland, or trough, which has become filled up with the comparatively lighter deposits of the land erosion and marine drifts of the preceding ages. These lighter areas of land are sometimes 15,000 to 20,000 feet thick; therefore, when the crust is subjected to pressure from any cause, these lighter areas are the first to crumple up, fold, and rise upward to afford compensatory adjustment for the contending and conflicting forces and pressures at work in the earth’s crust or underneath the crust. Sometimes these upthrusts of land occur without folding. But in connection with the rise of the Rocky Mountains, great folding and tilting occurred, coupled with enormous overthrusts of the various layers, both underground and at the surface.
The oldest mountains of the world are located in Asia, Greenland, and Northern Europe among those of the older east-west systems. The mid-age mountains are in the circum-pacific group and in the second European east- west system, which was born at about the same time. This gigantic uprising is almost ten thousand miles long, extending from Europe over into the West Indies land elevations. The youngest mountains are in the Rocky Mountain system, where, for ages, land elevations had occurred only to be successively covered by the sea, though some of the higher lands remained as islands. Subsequent to the formation of the mid-age mountains, a real mountain highland was elevated which was destined, subsequently, to be carved into the present Rocky Mountains by the combined artistry of nature’s elements.
The present North American Rocky Mountain region is not the original elevation of land; that elevation had been long since leveled by erosion and then re-elevated. The present front range of mountains is what is left of the remains of the original range which was re-elevated. Pikes Peak and Longs Peak are outstanding examples of this mountain activity, extending over two or more generations of mountain lives. These two peaks held their heads above water during several of the preceding inundations.
Biologically as well as geologically this was an eventful and active age on land and under water. Sea urchins increased while corals and crinoids decreased. The ammonites, of preponderant influence during a previous age, also rapidly declined. On land, the fern forests were largely replaced by pine and other modern trees, including the gigantic redwoods. By the end of this period, while the placental mammal has not yet evolved, the biologic stage is fully set for the appearance, in a subsequent age, of the early ancestors of the future mammalian types.
And thus, ends a long era of world evolution, extending from the early appearance of land life down to the more recent times of the immediate ancestors of the human species and its collateral branches. This, the Cretaceous age, covers fifty million years and brings to a close the pre-mammalian era of land life, which extends over a period of one hundred million years and is known as the Mesozoic.
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