The Making of Europe: A Geological History

The Making of Europe: A Geological History

The Making of Europe: A Geological History

The Making of Europe: A Geological History


The continent of Europe, as a recognisable geographic entity, attained roughly its present shape around 20 million years ago. Even since then, the European coastline has undergone significant changes, due mainly to sea-level movements, to form the outline of the continent that we are familiar with from maps and the photographs of Europe from space that we view today.

Graham Park relates how Europe has been assembled through geological time by the accretion of various distinct geological components, some of which have travelled a considerable distance across the globe to reach their present positions.

The Making of Europe is a book for all those curious about the origins, variety and geological history of the continent of Europe. Why are there such distinct regions and landscapes, ranging from the wide plains of Northern Europe to the mountains of the South?

Although some previous knowledge of geology will be useful, important geological concepts are explained in the Introduction, technical terms are kept to a minimum and a comprehensive glossary is provided in addition to an index. Copiously illustrated in colour, this book will educate and inform all those who are interested in European geology.


The geology of Europe is extremely complex in detail, and travelling across any part of it is likely to reveal a bewildering variety of different types and ages of rock. A book that attempted to describe the geology of Europe would thus be impossibly long. This book, however, seeks to portray the geology of the continent in terms of how its present complexity came about.

Europe as a recognizable geographic entity is comparatively recent, geologically speaking, having attained roughly its present shape during the climax of the Alpine mountain building movements (the Alpine orogeny) around 20 million years ago. Even since then, the coastline has undergone significant changes, due mainly to sea-level movements. Prior to the Alpine movements, which resulted in the addition of a whole series of mountain ranges along its southern boundary, the European continent consisted of an ancient Precambrian core surrounded on three sides by the remains of mountain belts formed during the Caledonian orogeny on its northwest side and the Hercynian orogeny on its southern and eastern sides.

This book examines the way in which Europe has been assembled through geological time by the addition of various components, some of which had travelled a considerable distance across the globe. The starting point is the Precambrian core known as the East European Craton, which had itself been constructed by the accretion of even older components during several Precambrian orogenies.

During the Caledonian orogeny, towards the end of the Lower Paleozoic Era, the ancestral East European continent, usually referred to as ‘Baltica’, with Fennoscandia at its core, became attached to the North American continent.

The Hercynian orogeny, which culminated around the end of the Upper Paleozoic Era, saw the addition to the combined North America–Baltica continent of a large part of the crust of central and southern Europe, the Precambrian core of which had originated in the southern supercontinent of Gondwana. The addition of Siberia along the eastern boundary of this continental assemblage to form the Ural mountain belt completed the supercontinent of Laurasia.

These European components remained attached to North America throughout the Mesozoic Era and only separated again around 65 million years ago with the opening of the North Atlantic Ocean.

Finally, the late Mesozoic to Cenozoic Alpine Orogeny saw the addition of a number of mountain chains along the southern border of Europe, including the Pyrenees, the Betic Cordillera, the Alps proper, plus the Carpathians, Apennines, Dinarides, and Caucasus, thus completing the tectonic assembly of the European continent.

The reader is assumed to have an understanding of basic geological terms and concepts. More technical terms that might be unfamiliar are highlighted in bold where they first appear in a chapter, and also where they are first defined, and these are explained in the Glossary at the end of the book, together with an Appendix summarizing the main subdivisions of geological time. Since the book is mainly concerned with tectonic evolution, other aspects of geology are kept as simple as possible; everyday words for common rock . . .

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