Initially, geology involved the examination and survey of surface rock exposures to prepare geological maps.More recently, understanding of the evolution of Europe's continental crustal structure has been greatly enhanced by the interpretation of new types of geophysical and geochemical data.At present, Europe forms the western part of the Eurasian Plate.
In contrast, the mobile belts to the south and west comprise Proterozoic-Palaeozoic crustal blocks (or 'microcontinents'), which originated as part of the southern Gondwana continent, tectonised by end-Precambrian Cadomian orogenesis that became attached to the south west margin of the EEC in Palaeozoic times.
The present continent of Europe stretches from its submarine continental margin in the west to the Ural mountains in the east, and from the ancient and relatively tectonically stable rocks of the Fennoscandia Shield in the north, to the young, more tectonically and volcanically active zone, of the central and eastern Mediterranean in the south.
The evolution of the continent took place as a result of lithospheric plate interactions, which are now relatively well understood.
Orogenesis, involving crustal thickening, deformation and metamorphism, is often followed by extensional collapse with widespread intrusion of highly evolved peraluminous granites.
Plume activity is generally associated with continental break up, and there is considerable evidence of this following the splitting of the Earth's most recent supercontinent - Pangaea, beginning during the Permo-Triassic times.
In the extreme northwest of Scotland, there is a fragment of the late Proterozoic continent of Laurentia, initially part of a North American-Greenland landmass.