Studies on Ancient Rocky Shores: A Brief History and Annotated Bibliography


  • Markes E. Johnson


Unconformities, basal conglomerates, littoral zone, coastal terraces, wave-cut platforms


Both from an ecological and geomorphological stand point, studies on modern rocky shores are common place in the scientific literature. Published studies on ancient rocky shores through geologic time are still very rare by comparison. Review of the literature, however, shows the topic to be a fast growing discipline of potentially broad interest. The 155 research articles which comprise this annotated bibliography illustrate many different applications for data from ancient rocky shores. They include: paleogeographic mapping, bench mark for associated paleontological and sedimentological zonations, calculation of coastal uplift or subsidence rates, test for eustatic sea-level changes, comparative geomorphology of ancient rocky coasts, and development of the paleobiology and evolutionary history of rocky-shore biotas.


One of the earliest thinkers about ancient rocky shores was Benoit de Maillet, whose observations were published posthumously in 1748. During the late 18th, the 19th, and the early 20th centuries, work was refocused on the concept of geological unconformities. Major advancements were made by Antoine Lavoisier, James Hutton, John Playfair, Henry De La Beche, Andrew Ramsay and Amadeus Grabau.


The first journal articles devoted to analysis of specific geological sites did not appear until after the turn of the 20th century. From 1905 to 1954, research papers were published sporadically at an average rate of 0.3/year. From 1955 to 1979, the flow of research quickened, with an average rate of 2.2 papers/ year. The following five-year period 1980-1984 saw a doubling in rate to 4.6 papers/year. The rate doubled again to 9.4 papers/year during 1985-1989. Thus, the three consecutive half decades from 1975 to 1989 witnessed exponential growth in terms of published research. Examples of rocky shores from all geological periods in the Phanerozoic are represented by articles in the bibliography; the oldest known rocky shore from the Precambrian is 3.3-3.5 billion years old.