Friday, 30 May 2014

Darwin, Stonehenge and Worms

The Sinking of great Stones through the Action of Worms. 

When a stone of large size and of irregular shape is left on the surface of the ground, it rests, of course, on the more protuberant parts ; but worms soon fill up with their castings all the hollow spaces on the lower side ; for, as Hensen re- marks, they like the shelter of stones. As soon as the hollows are filled up, the worms eject the earth which they have swallowed beyond the circumference of the stones; and thus the surface of the ground is raised around the stone. As the burrows excavated directly beneath the stone after a time collapse, the stone sinks a little. Hence it is, that boulders which at some ancient period have rolled down from a rocky mountain or cliff on to a meadow at its base, are always somewhat embedded in the soil ; and, when removed, leave an exact impression of their lower surfaces in the under-lying fine mould. If, however, a boulder is of such huge dimensions, that the earth beneath is kept dry, such earth will not be inhabited by worms, and the boulder will not sink into the ground.....

At Stonehenge, some of the outer Druidical stones are now prostrate, having fallen at a remote but unknown period ; and these have become buried to a moderate depth in the ground. They are surrounded by sloping borders of turf, on which recent castings were seen. Close to one of these fallen stones, which was 17 ft. long, 6 ft. broad, and 28 inches thick, a hole was dug ; and here the vegetable mould was at least 9 inches in thickness. At this depth a flint was found, and a little higher up on one side of the hole a fragment of glass. The base of the stone lay about 9 inches beneath the level of the surrounding ground, and its upper surface 19 inches above the ground.

A hole was also dug close to a second huge stone, which in falling had broken into two pieces; and this must have happened long ago, judging from the weathered aspect of the fractured ends. The base was buried to a depth of 10 inches, as was ascertained by driving an iron skewer horizontally into the ground beneath it. The vegetable mould forming the turf-covered sloping border round the stone, on which many castings had recently been ejected, was 10 inches in thickness ; and most of this mould must have been brought up by worms from beneath its base. At a distance of 8 yards from the stone, the mould was only 5 inches in thickness (with a piece of tobacco pipe at a depth of 4 inches), and this rested on broken flint and chalk which could not have easily yielded to the pressure or weight of the stone. A straight rod was fixed horizontally (by the aid of a spirit-level) across a third fallen stone, which was 7 feet 9 inches long ; and the contour of the projecting parts and of the adjoining ground, which was not quite level, was thus ascertained, as shown in the accompanying diagram (Fig. 7) on a scale of 1/2 inch to a foot.

 The turf-covered border sloped up to the stone on one side to a height of 4 inches, and on the opposite side to only 2 inches above the general level. A hole was dug on the eastern side, and the base of the stone was here found to lie at a depth of 4 inches beneath the general level of the ground, and of 8 inches beneath the top of the sloping turf-covered border....

 From The Formation of Vegetable Mould, Through the Action of Worms, with Observations on Their Habits: by Charles Darwin

1 comment:

  1. Wouldn't it be fascinating if there was a way to quantify such data so that we could determine in what order the various Stones collapsed?

    (His mention of a 9" depth at one Stone vs a 10" depth at another fired a few random synapses ...)