Siccar Point

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Best Places to see Scotland’s Geology: Siccar Point

Accorded Site of Special Scientific Interest status in 1961, the Siccar Point unconformity (known as Hutton’s Unconformity) is an internationally famous place of geological pilgrimage. It is of great historical importance in the development of the science of geology and described as the most important geological location in the world.

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Siccar Point seen from above. © Angus Miller, Geowalks

In 1788, James Hutton first discovered Siccar Point, and understood its significance. It is by far the most spectacular of several unconformities that he discovered in Scotland, and very important in helping Hutton to explain his ideas about the processes of the Earth.

At Siccar Point, nearly vertical sedimentary rocks of Silurian age – greywacke sandstones and mudstones – are covered unconformably by a younger sequence of red sandstone and breccia.

Hutton used Siccar Point to demonstrate the cycle of deposition, folding, erosion and further deposition that the unconformity represents. He understood the implication of unconformities in the evidence that they provided for the enormity of geological time and the antiquity of planet Earth, in contrast to the biblical teaching of the creation of the Earth.

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Siccar Point – close up of the classic view of Hutton’s unconformity. © Con Gillen, Edinburgh University.

A casting of the Siccar Point unconformity is housed in the American Museum of Natural History in New York.

One of Hutton’s companion, John Playfair wrote of Siccar Point: “On landing at this point, we found that we actually trode on the primeval rock, which forms alternately the base and the summit of the present land. It is here a micaceous schistus, in beds nearly vertical, highly indurated, and stretching from south-east to north-west. The surface of this rock runs with a moderate ascent from the level of low-water, at which we landed, nearly to that of high-water, where the schistus has a thin covering of red horizontal sandstone laid over it; and this sandstone, at the distance of a few yards farther back, rises into a very high perpendicular cliff. Here, therefore, the immediate contact of the two rocks is not only visible, but is curiously dissected and laid open by the action of waves.”

“On us who saw these phenomenon for the first time the impression will not easily be forgotten…We felt necessarily carried back to a time when the schistus on which we stood was yet at the bottom of the sea, and when the sandstone before us was only beginning to be deposited, in the shape of sand or mud, from the waters of the supercontinent ocean… The mind seemed to grow giddy by looking so far into the abyss of time; and whilst we listened with earnestness and admiration to the philosopher who was now unfolding to us the order and series of these wonderful events, we became sensible how much further reason may sometimes go than imagination may venture to follow.”

r_leaf29FURTHER reading:

Further details and information about how to get to Siccar Point – Geowalks website.
Lothian and Borders GeoConservation leaflets: Siccar Point | James Hutton.
Scottish Borders Council – Border Brains Walks

Barclay, W.J., Browne, M.A.E., McMillan, A.A., Pickett, E.A., Stone, P. and Wilby, P.R. (2005) The Old Red Sandstone of Great Britain, Geological Conservation Review Series, No. 31, Joint Nature Conservation Committee, Peterborough, 393 pp.