So much of Lenox history is driven by the characteristics – good and bad – of our landscape that the origins of our hills seems the place to start a timeline.
This writer knows next to nothing about plate tectonics, Pre Cambrian eras and the lost continent of Pangaea, but fortunately these are others who devote their lives to these topics and write about them in a moderately understandable way. It turns out that the foundations of the Berkshires – the foundations that gave us marble, iron ore, granite, and some of our mountains and bodies of water – are the result of colliding, floating continents and all kinds of other geological excitement .
Millions and Billions of Years
Geological time: it’s long. To try to grasp geological time a standard comparison is to imagine the age of Earth as a single day; then dinosaurs appear after 10:30 at night and humans at one and a half minutes before midnight.
The punch line of this story is that mineral deposits have been found in Boston that are similar to those of the west coast of Africa. These would have been laid down about 600 million years ago (Pre-Cambrian/ Cambrian Era).
Similar anomalies had been found since the 19th century, but the explanation, although logical in a sci-fi kind of way, did not become generally accepted until the 1960’s. The continents had moved…and they used to be attached to each other!
This continental drift has to do with the composition of various layers of the earth’s crust and of polar magnetism pulling on the iron ore in land masses. Over millions of years, what we know as continents today have drifted through different climates, crashed into each other and pulled apart. The theory is that all our current continents were once part of a mega-continent called Pangaea clumped down at the current South Pole.
For part of the life of that mega continent Africa was tucked up into what is now the American east coast. Among many other tears and collisions of land masses, the Africa/ America portion drifted northward , crossing the equator and pulling apart about 66 million years ago with us curving northwest and Africa curving southeast.
The Impact of Continental Changes on the Current Massachusetts/New York Area
What did our little corner of the world look like as the continents were morphing into their current place and shape?
According to a summary put together by Lincoln Dexter in 1979 , the Berkshires were once close to being ocean front property. In the Cambrian era – 500-600 million years ago – most of Massachusetts was under a deep sea (limestone anyone?). The current locations of the Berkshires included active volcanoes belching fire, smoke and lava. Fossils associated with Africa and Europe have been found in the eastern part of the state but not in the western part indicating they were separated by a deep body of water.
Later – 400 million years ago or so – the continents started to tear creating a rift approximately where the Connecticut River Valley is today. Later collisions raised highlands on either side of the rift.
The earliest mineral deposits are not necessarily at the bottom of the Berkshires because of the continental tears and collisions mentioned above.
Sound like preparing a croissant – folding layers over layers. There have been, over the millennia, several ranges of high volcanic peaks that got crumbled against each other and shoved west forming parallel ranges –including the Taconics and Berkshires. Wind, erosion and lots of ice wore the peaks down to the modest hills we see today.