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Correlation (Geology)

Fossil Correlation

One of the most important discoveries in the science of correlation was made by the English surveyor William Smith in the 1810s. One of Smith's jobs involved the excavation of land for canals being constructed outside of London. As sedimentary rocks were exposed during this work, Smith found that any given stratum always contained the same set of fossils. Even if the stratum were physically separated by a relatively great distance, the same fossils could always be found in all parts of the stratum.

In 1815, Smith published a map of England and Wales showing the geologic history of the region based on his discovery. The map was based on what Smith called his law of faunal succession. That law says simply that it is possible to identify the sequence in which strata are laid down by examining the fossils they contain. The simplest fossils are the oldest and, therefore, strata that contain simple fossils are older than strata that contain more complex fossils.

The remarkable feature of Smith's discovery is that it appears to be valid over very great distances. That is, suppose that a geologist discovers a stratum of rock in southwestern California that contains fossils A, B, and C. If another stratum of rock in eastern Texas is also discovered that contains the same fossils, the geologist can conclude that it is probably the same stratum—or at least of the same age—as the southwestern California stratum.

Additional topics

Science EncyclopediaScience & Philosophy: Condensation to CoshCorrelation (Geology) - The Nature Of Sedimentary Strata, Physical Correlation, Interpreting Earth History Within A Stratum, Fossil Correlation