Chapter

The geologists' time-machine (1825–31)

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: http://dx.doi.org/10.7208/chicago/9780226731308.003.0012
The geologists' time-machine (1825–31)

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This chapter describes how the study of fossils in terms of their original habitats and environments was being applied to the interpretation of the rocks and fossils of the Secondary formations, and how it led to the first full reconstructions of entire ecosystems from the deep past. Henry Thomas de la Beche's reconstruction of Dorset in the time of the Lias formation marked the birth of a distinctive new pictorial genre of scenes from deep time. It was also the culmination of years of careful research by Buckland and others, based notably on Anning's spectacular specimens from Lyme Regis, but also on other finds such as Duncan's equally spectacular fossil footprints. However, all this was part of a broader movement within geological practice during the 1820s, by which the straightforward procedures of Smithian stratigraphy were beginning to be transformed into truly geohistorical analyses. Although reconstructions of extinct animals were the most striking achievement, they were being complemented increasingly by reconstructions of the physical environments of the deep past.

Keywords: fossils; rocks; geology; Secondary formations; de la Beche; Lias formation; Smithian stratigraphy; geohistory

Chapter.  6236 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: History of Science and Technology

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