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The term Carboniferous was created as a stratigraphical term by Conybeare & Phillips (1822) for strata present in England and Wales and was first referred to as a system by Phillips (1835). The original definition of the Carboniferous included the Old Red Sandstone. With the establishment of the Devonian system in 1839 the Old Red Sandstone was removed from the Carboniferous and placed in the Devonian.

Broad similarities within the successions of Britain and Ireland with the rest of Western Europe have allowed development of a regionally applicable chronostratigraphy. Munier-Chalmas & de Lapparent (1893) originally divided the Carboniferous of Western Europe into the Dinantian, Westphalian and Stephanian. Later, the lower part of the Westphalian was redefined as the Namurian and both were identified as stages (Jongmans 1928). The Namurian, Westphalian and Stephanian stages do not represent global faunal or fioral events, but were chosen to represent prominent facies variations and palaeogeographic separations in Western Europe.

The Dinantian subsequently became a subsystem, with two component series, the Tournaisian and Visean (George & Wagner 1972), whereas the Namurian, Westphalian and Stephanian became series of a Silesian Subsystem. However, George et al. (1976) were not prepared to use the terms Tournaisian and Visean in their review of British chronostratigraphy.

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