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Field Trip 1 – The Silurian of ‘Siluria’ and the idea of a Palaeozoic era


This field trip will focus on ‘re-treading’ some of the fieldwork by British geologists in the Welsh Marches, which contributed decisively to the idea of a Palaeozoic era. It will be a historical geological field trip: we shall try to see what they saw, through their 19th-century eyes, rather than in terms of geological ideas current today.

In the first decades of the 19th century, the application of the method that William Smith called ‘stratigraphical’ elucidated the sequence of strata, and their fossils, in western Europe down to the base of what were then termed Secondary formations. This sequence was interpreted by geologists as the record of the Earth’s history from an age of mammals back through an age of reptiles into an age of fish; from an age of flowering plants back into an age of the much stranger giant plants of the Coal formation. 

Below what was termed Carboniferous formations, however, the sequence was much more obscure, because the Transition and Primary rocks were generally much disturbed and had few or no fossils. However, the region of the Welsh Marches (the border country between England and Wales) was found to be an exception. Here the strata were in many places undisturbed and contained plenty of fossils. They provided Roderick Murchison with the basis for what he described as Silurian formations (named after the Silures, a tribe that had occupied a part of the Welsh Marches, Siluria, in Roman times), though he made much use – not always adequately acknowledged – of earlier work by several lesser-known local geologists. Around the same time, Adam Sedgwick tackled the more problematic strata underlying the Silurian, which he named Cambrian after the Roman name for Wales itself, and which seemed to contain traces of the earliest forms of life.

In 1841 the whole sequence of formations in Britain and the rest of Europe (and potentially in the rest of the world), and the known history of the Earth, was summarised by John Phillips in terms of what he called Palaeozoic, Mesozoic and Cenozoic, the eras of ‘ancient’, ‘middling’ and ‘recent’ kinds of life.  Within the Palaeozoic, the animals of the Silurian and Cambrian periods – the earliest organisms then known – turned out to be both diverse and complex.  Later in the 19th century this had an important impact on evolutionary interpretations of the history of life.

Trip Leaders:

Martin Rudwick and Hugh Torrens


18–21 July, 2013


£320. Price includes dinner, bed and breakfast for 3 nights on a room-share basis, and packed lunches.

Deposit required:


Field trip base:

Longmynd Hotel, Cunnery Road, Church Stretton, SY6 6AG.

Maximum no. of participants:


Registration deadline - 30 April 2013 – deposits will not be refunded after this date.
Deadline for full payment - 15 June 2013

If numbers are sufficient, it may be possible to arrange coach travel to Manchester on the Sunday, in time for the opening of Congress on Monday 22nd. There will be a small extra charge for this.

This field trip will complement the Geologists in the Field symposium.

This trip is now FULL.