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One of Geology’s Great Mysteries May Actually Be Many Smaller Mysteries
Geology forms the context for many other fields, including archaeology, paleontology, climatology, and more, but that doesn’t stop this bedrock science from throwing a curveball here and there. In some outcrops around the world there’s a gap, a hint of time gone missing, a huge swath of geological data that should be there but isn’t.
It’s called the “Great Unconformity,” and it has long vexed geologists from Nevada to Scotland. Geology is often the study of layers, set one on top of each other for billions of years and compressed into sequences that provide geologists insight into how the Earth has evolved through the eons. Under the best circumstances, that sequence is more or less uninterrupted, but there can be gaps—sometimes big ones, like the Great Unconformity, which can be seen all over, from the Rockies to southern Africa to northern China. This gap spans one of the murkier periods in Earth’s history, before the Cambrian explosion, around 540 million years ago, when the diversity of life on Earth went wild.