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…

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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.

 

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Geologizing Asses

“Humanity’s genius is to have always had a sense of its weakness. The physical energy and strength, with which nature insufficiently endowed humans, is found in animals that help them to discover new territories.

Thanks to this special kit and also to the donkeys carrying it onto the rugged terrain of the mountains, Italian geologist Sismonda was able to publish the first geological map of the Alps…

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In Search of Punt

The expedition to the land of gold, also referred as Punt, from a relief in the temple of Queen Hatshepsut. The ships are loaded in a harbor of unknown location with precious gifts for the Pharaoh and with exotic animals and plants as tributes. Note the baboons on board (from J. DÜMICHEN “Die Flotte einer ägyptischen Königin aus dem 17. Jahrhundert vor unserer Zeitrechnung” 1868, image in public domain).

The expedition to the land of gold, also referred as Punt, from a relief in the temple of Queen Hatshepsut. The ships are loaded in a harbor of unknown location with precious gifts for the Pharaoh and with exotic animals and plants as tributes. Note the baboons on board (from J. DÜMICHEN “Die Flotte einer ägyptischen Königin aus dem 17. Jahrhundert vor unserer Zeitrechnung” 1868, image in public domain).

May 9, 1871 after a one year long search, the German geologist Karl Mauch finally spotted  was he had hoped for:  the ruins of gigantic buildings of stone – the remains of a long lost city, at least for the European explorer. The local people of the Shona tribe know the ruins well, in their language the buildings were called “dzimba woye” – the venerated houses – and build long ago by an ancient African civilization. Mauch however, following the racial ideas of his time, was sure that the buildings “could not possibly being built by Negroes.” He thought that he had discovered the ruins of the mythical city of Ophir, build by an unknown civilization and known in legends for the immeasurable wealth treasured there.

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