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History of Geology

The birth of modern science:


17
th
and 18
th
centuries

Discussions about the origin and formation of


the fossils, and the origin of Mountains

Nicolas Steno (1638-1686) and the law of


superposition

Benot de Maillet (1656-1738) and the end of


the biblical Earth History

James Hutton (1726-1797) opposed to


Abraham Werner (1749-1817): Neptunism and
Plutonism

The Birth of Modern Science
Origin of fossils

Since the Roman Era, the


question of the origin of
fossil is still debated

Some assert that they are


the remains of animals
transformed into stones

Others argue that they


are the result of
spontaneous generation
within the rocks layers

The Birth of Modern Science
Origin of fossils

The origin of giant bones and


the principle of the
apparition and disappearan-
ce of species is not conceived
yet

Giant bones are still


attributed to ancient giant
race of humans

The Birth of Modern Science
Origin of fossils

The origin of giant bones and


the principle of the
apparition and disappearan-
ce of species is not conceived
yet

Giant bones are still


attributed to ancient giant
race of humans

Unknown species are not


considered as ancient
organisms, but to human
inventions or spontaneous
generative force of the earth

The Birth of Modern Science
Origin of fossils

Even the existing species are


not well known

Pietro d'Abano wrote that


fossils resulted from the
action of the stars on the
earth (star shape in urchin
fossils)

The Birth of Modern Science
Origin of fossils

Various legends about


fossils persisted till the 17
th

century

For example, some fossils


would be flying rocks, or
falling from the moon, or
appearing miraculously
during thunderstorms etc.

Spiriferida, Echinoderms
(sea urchins) and
glossopetr were classified
among the flying fossils

The Birth of Modern Science
Origin of fossils

Leonardo da Vinci (1452-


1519), Bernard Palissy
(1510-1589) and Nicolas
Steno (1638-1386) brought
evidence for the organic
origin of fossils

Leonardo da Vinci:
Growth lines visible on
fossils like the living shells

Problem with the species


that does not exist any-
more (no explanation)

The Birth of Modern Science
Origin of fossils

Bernard Palissy noticed


the presence of non living
species and explained that
by overfishing

Notion of lost species

He also noticed the


presence of equatorial
fishes in France, which has
a temperate climate and
supposed they were
brought by man after
fishing

The Birth of Modern Science
Origin of fossils

Nicolas Steno laid down


the basis of modern
stratigraphy and
palaeontology

He demonstrated the
organic origin of fossils:

Absence of deformation of
the matrix containing the
fossils, presence of broken
shells, the organisation in
strata of the rocks, etc.

The Birth of Modern Science
Origin of fossils

If fossils were forming in-


situ within the rock by
spontaneous generation,
the matrix would break

They would be all the


same, with no broken
shells like observed in
beaches

Fossils and living shells


are too similar to be
formed by two different
processes

Various legend existed about fossils until the


17
th
century: flying stones, falling from the
moon, the stars or from the sky during
thunderstorm or lunar eclipse

Only two serious suppositions were accepted


as scientific:
1.Formation in-situ by spontaneous genera-
tion or influenced by stars (astrology)
2.Formation by transformation of once-
living organism into rock

Scientists of the 16
th
and 17
th
centuries showed
that the second hypothesis was the best
Origin of fossils

The notion of lost species (species that does


not exist any more) is suggested for the first
time by Bernard Palissy

Two hypothesis to explain the disappearance


of species:
1.Overfishing by humans
2.Spontaneous disappearance after the
Deluge caused by God's anger

The scale of time used by 16


th
and 17
th

centuries geologists is false but some
important ideas of the modern science are
emergent
Origin of fossils

Origin of fossils
What were the legends about fossils?

Origin of fossils
What are the two main scientific
hyothesis to e!lain fossils?

Origin of fossils
What arguments used "eonardo da
#inci$ Bernard %alissy and &icolas Steno
to demonstrate their hyothesis?

The Birth of Modern Science
Principle of original
horizontality

Nicolas Steno laid down


the basis of modern
stratigraphy and
palaeontology

He postulated the law of


superposition

He inferred the principle of


original horizontality

He tried the first hypothesis


for the Tuscany mountains
formation

The Birth of Modern Science
Principle of original
horizontality

This principle states that


layers of sediments are
originally deposited
horizontally under the
action of gravity

In the hypothesis of an
inactive earth all layers
should be horizontal

Tilted or folded layers exist


and indicate that the earth
is active

The Birth of Modern Science
Law of superposition

Sedimentary layers are


deposited in a time
sequence with the oldest
on the bottom and the
youngest on the top

The Brethren of Purity


(Ikhwan Al-Safa) in the
late 10th century first
suggested this law

Avicenna in 1027 also


wrote about strata of
rocks and superposition

The Birth of Modern Science
Law of superposition

Suggested by early
author but not applied

Formally stated by
Nicolas Steno in his
Prodromus in 1669

Based on the studies of


fossils and the layers
containing them

Nicolas Steno was the


first to infer the relative
age of stratas

Law of superposition

Using the law of


superposition and the
principle of original
horizontality, Nicolas
Steno made a model for
the formation of the
Tuscany Mountains

The plate goes from the


present time to the
origin, i.e. from the
bottom to the top
The Birth of Modern Science

Law of superposition
1.Sedimentary deposit within
the ocean during an
submersion episode
2.Emersion and digging of a
subterranean river by
circulation of water
3.Collapse of the top layer
4.Submersion and horizontal
sedimentary deposit
5.Emersion, digging and
collapsing
The Birth of Modern Science

Neptunism

The almost ubiquitous


presence of fossils in most
field support the
hypothesis of Neptunism

The study of the Bible and


the belief in the creation
of the earth in a short time
by God reinforced this
theory

The whole earth crust was


believed to have formed in
a primitive ocean
The Birth of Modern Science

Neptunism

Benot de Maillet observed


sedimentation processes
near seas and oceans and
wrote a theory of the earth
suggesting a history of
several millions of years for
the earth evolution

Mountains would form by


sedimentation in a
primitive ocean which
level is getting lower and
lower
The Birth of Modern Science

Neptunism

This theory accepted the


formation of the earth and
continents as supposed by
Thomas Burnett

It was slightly transformed


to replace one
catastrophic event
(collapse of the primitive
continent in the primitive
ocean) by a more
progressive cause
(decreasing ocean)
The Birth of Modern Science

Neptunism

Benot de Maillet was


probably the founder of
Neptunism

A contemporaneous
Italian geologist Lazzaro
Moro (1687-1764)
suggested that the
mountains form and
raise up during volcanic
eruptions

E.g. Monte Nuovo


The Birth of Modern Science

Neptunism

However, the word


Neptunism was
created by Abraham
Werner (1749-1817) in
the late 18
th
century

The general theory was


that the earth was
totally recovered by a
primitive ocean

The ocean level lower


and allowed lands to
emerge
The Birth of Modern Science

Neptunism

Mountains formed by
sedimentation around
submerged primitive
mountains

Old and primitive


mountains are in the
centre of mountain
chains and devoid of
fossils

Recent mountains are


rich in fossils in the
periphery
The Birth of Modern Science

Neptunism

Old and primitive


mountains were formed
before the apparition of
life

New mountains formed


in a primitive ocean rich
in life forms

Continental life appears


progressively during the
emergence of lands by
transformation of the
aquatic forms
The Birth of Modern Science

Plutonism

James Hutton (1726-


1797) does not believe
that a primitive ocean
recovered the full
surface of the earth

He does not believe


that all the rocks
formed from sediments

He suggested an
igneous origin for
basalts and granites
The Birth of Modern Science

Plutonism

Their is no fossils in
granites or basalt

These rocks are formed


of crystals and not of
sand or mud

Two types of rocks:


sedimentary and
plutonic

Granites and basalts


may cross-cut the
sedimentary layers
The Birth of Modern Science

Plutonism

James Hutton
remarked discordances
between the
sedimentary layers

Not all of them are


horizontal, but they
were deposited
horizontally

Thus, some process led


to their deviation,
levelling and covering
The Birth of Modern Science

Plutonism

James Hutton made the


first great theory of rock
cycle

For him the mechanism


at the origin of
sedimentary layers
deviation is the heat

The heat lead to the


melting of some rock,
and the uplift of
continents and
mountains
The Birth of Modern Science

Plutonism

The uplift of mountains


and continents out of
the sea lead to their
erosion

The erosion of
continents and
mountains lead to the
transport of the eroded
material into the sea

The transported
material collect as
sediments
The Birth of Modern Science

Plutonism

Hutton thought that


this cycle could be
eternal and infer that
the earth had no
beginning and won't
have an end

He said we see no
vestige of a beginning...
No prospect of an end

He was accused of
impiety for his assertion
The Birth of Modern Science

Plutonism

The theory of the


internal fire was not
new during the time of
James Hutton

It also proposed by
Descartes in his theory
of the formation of the
earth

It was also described by


Athanasius Kircher to
explain volcanic activity
The Birth of Modern Science