Frost-Cracks and “Fossils”

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SEVERAL letters appeared in NATURE last winter describing some of the more interesting plant-like forms due to frost acting on various surfaces, and both Prof. Meldola and myself drew attention to the possible deceptions which might arise from a preservation of such patterns as fossils. I yesterday met with a striking case illustrating this. It was at Cullercoats, on the Northumberland coast. There had been a slight frost the night before, and the surface of a talus of semi-liquid mud at the foot of a low cliff of boulder clay (actually on the line of the great Fault known as the “Ninety-Fathom Dyke”) was found to be indented with cracks about ¼ to ½ an inch deep and ¼ of an inch in breadth. These cracks were disposed in beautifully branched patterns bearing a surprising resemblance, in outline, to some of the more subdivided sea-weed fronds. A sandy beach lay close by, and a high wind was blowing the sand on to the mud. It was obvious that the sand would soon fill in the frost-cracks under these conditions. The cracks would thus be preserved, and if at any future time the mud surface be again exposed it will be found covered with sand (or, after induration of the mud and pressure of overlying material, sandstone) casts of what it would be very difficult to believe were not vegetable organisms in an unusually perfect state of preservation.

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