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But geologists were not as happy with the new results as, perhaps, they should have been.

As Holmes, writing in Nature in 1913, put it: "the geologist who ten years ago was embarrassed by the shortness of time allowed to him for the evolution of the Earth's crust, is still more embarrassed with the superabundance with which he is now confronted." It continued to be hotly debated for decades.

Dr Cherry Lewis, University of Bristol, UK, said: "The age of the Earth was hugely important for people like Darwin who needed enormous amounts of time in which evolution could occur.

As Thomas Huxley, Darwin's chief advocate said: 'Biology takes its time from Geology'." In 1898 Marie Curie discovered the phenomenon of radioactivity and by 1904 Ernest Rutherford, a physicist working in Britain, realised that the process of radioactive decay could be harnessed to date rocks.

In 1928 Arthur Holmes showed how convection currents in the substratum (now called the mantle) underlying the continents could be this mechanism.

Holmes died in 1964 having lived just long enough to see sea floor spreading confirm his ideas of continental drift.

Physicists suddenly gained a new respect for geologists!



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