James Hutton

James Hutton

1726 - 1797

James Hutton, the Father of Modern Geology, was born on June 3, 1726 in Edinburgh, Scotland. He grew up during the period known as the Scottish Enlightenment, 1730-1790. This was a time of intense intellectual activity-a unique period in history, one of optimism, improvement and discoveries in industry, commerce, agriculture, science, and arts. Hutton studied medicine and chemistry at the Universities of Edinburgh, Paris, and Leiden in the Netherlands.

 

Hutton grew up during this period and made considerable contribution to our understanding of Earth processes and the immensity of time. He was an agriculturalist, physician and an outstanding natural philosopher who was in 1783 was a joint founder of the Royal Society of Edinburgh. He inherited two lowland farms in the early 1750s and set about making improvements, introducing farming practices from other parts of Britain, studying agriculture as a scientific discipline. He was involved, between 1767 and 1774, with the construction of the Forth and Clyde canal. His interest in geology developed much earlier-from 1752 when he went to Norfolk to study innovative farming. He travelled extensively in England between 1752 and 1754 always noting the geology.

 

From 1764 he made extensive tours of Scotland, always with a geologic purpose. He had a remarkable knowledge of the rocks of Britain (particularly in Scotland) and their distribution. Hutton had great skill in knowing what to look for and where to look for it.

 

It is Hutton’s geological work which. has endured, and on which his fame justly rests. His “Theory of the Earth” presented to the Royal Society of England in 1785 describes the dynamic cyclic earth processes over vast spans of time: one formed by a continuous cycle in which rocks and soil are washed into the sea, compacted into bedrock, forced up to the surface by volcanic processes, and eventually worn away into sediment once again. Hutton cited as evidence at the cliff at Siccar Point, where the juxtaposition of vertical layers of gray shale and overlying horizontal layers of red sandstone can be seen. The boundary between the two rock types at Siccar Point is now called the Hutton Unconformity.

 

Another of Hutton’s key concepts was the Theory of Uniformitarianism which expresses the belief that geological forces at work in the present day are the same as those that operated in the past.

 

Hutton showed us how to read the “testimony of rocks” and in doing so revealed the marvel of deep time- a necessary forerunner of Darwin’s theory of evolution.

 

By Hugh Baron, BGS, Edinburgh

 

                                        Extracted from: .Wikipedia &Scottish Men of Science

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