Early ideas about shifting continents

By the mid-1800s, geologists had collected a great deal of information about the rocks found along the coasts of North America, South America, Europe, and Africa. At this time, an American named Antonio Snider-Pellegrini was working in Paris where he had access to many of these geological reports. As he reviewed the data, Snider-Pellegrini noticed something interesting. Not only did the coastlines between the continents appear to match in shape, but so did many of the rock types found on each continent. It

Figure 2.4 Antonio Snider-Pellegrini's maps show the American and African continents as separate and as one landmass, to illustrate that they fit together and were once connected. The map on the left shows how they fit together before their separation. His map on the right shows them after the separation.

Figure 2.4 Antonio Snider-Pellegrini's maps show the American and African continents as separate and as one landmass, to illustrate that they fit together and were once connected. The map on the left shows how they fit together before their separation. His map on the right shows them after the separation.

seemed that fossils and coal deposits found on the continent on one side of the Atlantic Ocean also appeared on the continent on the opposite side.

Snider-Pellegrini became convinced that the Atlantic Ocean had formed as the result of some type of catastrophic event. This event, he believed, was also responsible for the great flood that was described in the Bible. He believed that during this event, a single landmass was torn apart followed by the movement of the continents into their present positions. He published his ideas in 1858 along with a map of the world with all of the continents assembled into one large landmass. Because his explanation of how the continents moved seemed impossible, few people took his idea seriously. His map, on the other hand, got a great deal of attention. Not only did the continents physically fit together, but so did many of the types of rocks each of them contained. To some scientists, the idea that the continents had once been assembled together seemed to be way more than a coincidence.

In 1908, another American named Frank Bursley Taylor picked up on some of Snider-Pellegrini's ideas and used them to explain where mountains came from. Taylor was an amateur geologist who was not connected to a famous university, so he was not considered to be an "expert" in his field. Taylor disagreed with the ideas presented by Dana and Suess that mountains formed when Earth had contracted. Using a map similar to the one drawn by Snider-Pellegrini, he showed that most major mountain belts appeared where continents had once been joined together. Mountains were caused, he suggested, not by wrinkles formed by the shrinking of Earth's crust, but by two continents sliding into each other, pushing the land at the point of contact upward. As it turned out, this idea would fit in well with modern plate tectonic theory. Unfortunately for Taylor, he came up with it about 60 years too soon: The few people who read about it at the time did not take it seriously.

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