Archean To Cenozoic

As we have seen, one of the major problems that the investigation of Earth Time's geological past faced was that of chronological dating of strata and their contained fossils. The mapping, sequencing and correlation of strata allowed for no more than a relative dating. For many British geologists, James Hutton had opened the way to a realisation that the age of the Earth must be very great and could not be defined by or derived from any biblical source. By Darwin's day there was a sense that the history of the Earth had to extend back over many hundreds of millions of years. But there was no hard evidence and influential physicists such as William Thomson, Lord Kelvin, doubted such long time-scales. Not until the beginning of the twentieth century did a method for dating rocks begin to emerge, and even then it proved to be enormously unreliable until the theoretical and technical advances of the 1940s and the Second World War.

A sense of age for rocks and fossils was a major problem, ever since the seventeenth century when a number of spuriously accurate estimates were made for the age of the Earth. In Europe, these calculations were inevitably based on the assumption that the Old Testament was a reliable historical document. The most famous scholarly attempt to work out the date of Creation was made by James Ussher, protestant Archbishop of Armagh, Ireland.

James Ussher, 1581-1656, protestant Archbishop of Armagh, Ireland, scholar, fellow and professor of divinity in Trinity College, Dublin; author of Annals of the Old Covenant from the First Origins of the World, 1650, in which he calculated the date of the world's origin as 4004 BC.

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