Whewell’s Gazette


Your weekly digest of all the best of

Internet history of science, technology and medicine

Editor in Chief: The Ghost of William Whewell

Volume #1                                   Monday 23 June 2014


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A Concise History of Geological Maps: From Outcrop to the first Map

March 23, 1769 marks the birthday of pioneering stratigrapher William Smith, who is also credited with creating the first useful geological map, however like many other great accomplishments also Smith’s idea of depicting the distribution of rocks on a topographic map didn’t materialize out of nowhere.

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When Rock Classification was hard…

KRIEHUBER_1832_Friedrich_MohsTalc – Gypsum – Calcite – Fluorite – Apatite – Feldspar – Quartz – Topaz – Corundum – Diamond –  “Mohs Scale of Mineral Hardness ” should be familiar to rock-hounds and earth-science students alike [...]

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A.R. Wallace on Geology, Great Glaciers and the Speed of Evolution

When Charles Darwin published “The Origin of Species” in November 1859 geologists were still discussing the age of the earth. Deep time was an essential prerequisite to explain the recent biodiversity by gradual and slow changes in the remote past.  However the calculations and criticism by physicists of the reconstructed geological age posed a great problem to evolutionists like Darwin and Wallace. Darwin didn’t address this problem in public, but he was convinced that the thickness of the stratigraphical column could only be explained by an ancient earth and the calculations of the physicists were based on wrong assumptions.

A.R. Wallace was also interested in geological time and , much more open-minded to radical new ideas and not afraid to discuss them in public, choose an interesting solution for this problem.

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Newton’s Philosopher’s Stone

the magisterium“the magisterium, our great work, the stone
The Alchemist” Act 1. Scene 4

Today we remember Sir Isaac Newton (1642-1727) for his contributions to optics, mechanics and astronomy, but as a typical scholar of his time he was also interested in more obscure knowledge, like provided by alchemy. Dedicating himself to this predecessor of chemistry Newton became also involved in early geological research…

Posted in Chemistry, Geology, Metaphysics | 2 Comments

Granite Wars – Episode II

Inside the globe [there] exist mysterious forces, whose effects become apparent on the surface. Eruptions of vapors, glowing lava and new volcanic rocks…[]”
Alexander von Humboldt

At the end of the 19th century and after the victory of “Plutonism” in the great Granite War, geologists accepted the idea that igneous rocks originate from deep inside earth. However the great variability of volcanic and plutonic rocks, from dark basalt to light-colored granite, was difficult to explain, as Earth´s interior was assumed to be relatively uniform.

The “evolutionary tree” of igneous rocks (1954).

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Granite Wars – Episode I: Fire & Water

In 1820 the Italian engineer Count Giuseppe Marzari-Pencati (1779-1836) published a short article about the stratigraphic succession found near the small village of Predazzo. At theCanzoccoli” -outcrop Pencati observed a grayish granitic rock overlying white marbles. What today is described in any geological textbook as an “unconformity” was at the time a geological impossibility.


Posted in Exploration, Geology, Science | 1 Comment