Carboniferous wide
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13. A Millipede as Big as My Sister


You know what Scottish weather is like, always something happening with four seasons in a day sometimes. It would be quite nice if it was warm more often though. 350 million years ago Scotland was on the equator and it was a lot warmer, but you might not have liked it. It is at this time, in this environment that oil shale was formed.

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Lake Cadell

Where you are standing in this part of Scotland in the Carboniferous was Lake Cadell, a shallow body of water with swampy edges and tall trees. It was very hot, and humid, very similar to a tropical rainforest today. Also this lake changed a lot, sometimes open to the sea and it was a mix of lake, lagoon, and delta environments as the patterns of land and sea changed

Warm, wet and humid Carboniferous. Image: Claire Hewitt


Shale from scum

Oil shale is not coal, and different conditions are required to form them both. Shallow water with algae and a lot of fime grained sediment creates oil shale. Think of cloudy water with a green scum. When the algae die all of this organic matter sinks to the lake floor and is incorporated in fine-grained sediment (mud). Through time these sediments with their organic content are compressed and solidify to form a harder rock, oil shale.

Algae, the raw material of oil shale. Image: Wikimedia Commons

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Giant Millipedes

During the Carboniferous there was more oxygen in the atmosphere, which may be one of the reasons why some of the insects found are largely than you’d expect. A notable, and disturbing creature was a giant millipede (Arthropleura) which is estimated to be about 2m long, by measuring the length of its footprints, or as described by one school pupil – ‘that’s bigger than my sister!’

Arthropleura, walking away from us, fortunately. Image: Claire Hewitt

Shale trail map

Kids' Shale trail map

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