The Tertiary Gateway (1824–27)

in Worlds Before Adam

Published by University of Chicago Press

Published in print July 2008 | ISBN: 9780226731285
Published online March 2013 | e-ISBN: 9780226731308 | DOI:
The Tertiary Gateway (1824–27)

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In the wake of von Hoff's great inventory of the known effects of actual causes within the span of human history, the question of their adequacy to explain all the events of the deeper past remained a lively issue among geologists. It was clear to many of them that the Tertiaries, as the major group of formations nearest in time to the present world, were the most promising place to start, if the question was ever to be resolved one way or the other. And it was equally clear that the best method would be to subject the Tertiaries to a more detailed scrutiny than had been customary in previous years. This chapter discusses the research of Constant Prévost, the most prominent and active of those who tackled this problem, who, building on his earlier studies near Vienna, focused on the rocks and fossils of the Paris Basin, criticizing the interpretation famously offered by his mentors Brongniart and Cuvier. Pré vost denied that there had been any true alternation between marine and freshwater phases in the history of the basin, and therefore rejected the need to postulate repeated natural “revolutions.” Instead he argued that, in certain circumstances, fossils could be “reshuffled” or derived, and thereby give deceptive evidence of their original habitats.

Keywords: actual causes; geology; Tertiaries; Constant Prévost; fossils; Paris Basin

Chapter.  6076 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: History of Science and Technology

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