Untitled Document

Early geological investigations of the Pleistocene Tamala Limestone, Western Australia

Wolf Mayer

Research School of Earth Sciences, Australian National University, Canberra, ACT 0200, Australia


The first geological studies of the Quaternary deposits, which crop out extensively along the coast of Western Australia, were carried out by members of English and French expeditions of discovery, between 1791 and 1836. The exploring parties included scholars with a background in geology, zoology and botany, as well as knowledgeable surgeons and sea captains with a strong interest in the natural sciences. Their collective work established the continuity, over vast distances, of a sequence of sedimentary rocks composed of quartz grains and shell debris, which today form the major part of the Tamala Limestone sequence. Their observations of the internal features of these rocks led some among them to develop views on the nature and origin of the cementing substance that bonds sand grains and shell debris in sedimentary layers and in concretions. There was disagreement among successive parties of visitors on the nature and origin of rhizoliths and other petrified woody matter in calcareous rocks. The finding of well-preserved sea shells in rocks now above sea level provided convincing evidence to investigators that the ocean had, in recent times, retreated from the land. The discovery of species of mollusc, known to be extinct in Europe, raised questions about an assumed world-wide extent of sedimentary sequences.