NT8171 : Hutton's Unconformity, Siccar Point

taken 16 years ago, 4 km from Cockburnspath, Scottish Borders, Great Britain

Hutton's Unconformity, Siccar Point
Hutton's Unconformity, Siccar Point
This spot is a mecca for geologists from all over the world, because it was here that James Hutton made some of the key observations that underpin the science of geology.

In the 17th century Archbishop James Ussher, a bishop of Armagh, studied the bible in great detail and using the events chronicled therein he calculated that the creation of the Earth commenced at nightfall preceding Sunday, October 23, 4004 BC. Thus it was generally accepted that the Earth was a little under 6000 years old.

James Hutton (1726-1797) was one of the extraordinary men of science and learning who flourished in Edinburgh in the latter part of the 18th century, in a period called the Scottish Enlightenment.

He observed the process of erosion and sedimentation in action, and came to the conclusion that natural processes operated far too slowly for the Earth to be a mere 6000 years old, and he set about looking for evidence.

Near Lochranza in Arran he found NR9352 : Hutton's Unconformity. (An unconformity is a gap in the geological record, or in other words, a place where rocks that may once have existed have been worn away, and new rocks have been laid down on top of the eroded surface millions of years later.) However the Arran locality is not so clear, and he continued the search, also finding an unconformity near Jedburgh.

Finally, having observed that some rocks inland of the Berwickshire coast were near-vertical, and others near-horizontal, he reasoned that there must be, somewhere along the coast, a place where both vertical and horizontal rocks would outcrop together, so he hired a boat and went looking for it. Siccar Point is where he found it.

The finding of rocks which had obviously started as sedimentary, then were tipped up on end, then eroded, then covered by later layers of sedimentary rock, coupled with his observations of the slow processes of erosion and sedimentation, enabled Hutton to formulate his 'Theory of the Earth', in which he postulated that the Earth is not static, but dynamic, with rocks being formed, deformed and eroded in a continuous and never-ending process over many millions of years. He expressed this as 'no vestige of a beginning, no prospect of an end'.

Naturally his ideas fell foul of the establishment of the day, especially the religious establishment, who accused him of atheism, although they seem to have stopped short of using the term blasphemy to condemn him.

Over time, of course, the scientific world came to accept Hutton's theory, and all modern geology incorporates his view of the world.

See also NT2772 : Hutton's Section and LinkExternal link

Siccar Point is a Site of Special Scientific Interest, and a Geological Conservation Review site.
Geological Conservation Review
The Geological Conservation Review (GCR) is a database of geological reference sites in Great Britain. It is published by the Joint Nature Conservation Committee (JNCC) in the form of site reports collected in printed volumes covering different geological periods and topical areas such as fossils, minerals or geomorphology. The site reports are gradually put online in a searchable database LinkExternal link .
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NT8171, 3 images   (more nearby )
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Date Taken
Saturday, 5 April, 2003   (more nearby)
Monday, 18 April, 2005
Geological feature   (more nearby)
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OSGB36: geotagged! NT 81 71 [1000m precision]
WGS84: 55:56.1719N 2:17.8624W
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