Early Geologists

The early geologists, known as physico-theologians, first set out, wandering through their homelands surveying the areas around them. They looked at rock formations, studied the sea inlets for erosion, and took notice of the different types of rock that made up the hills, valleys, gorges and mountains of their homelands. The early geologist, as Thomas Burnet put it, "let his fancy roam over the subterraneous world, finding delight as well as terror in grottoes, caves, dens and hollows." It wasn't until the latter part of the 17th century that geologists headed to the mountains, like the Alps, in search of answers to the question "What formed the earth?" What is interesting, is that as scientifically minded as these men were, they were still torn between what they knew of classical history and their own feelings after viewing a mountain. Similarly, when they reached the mountains, they saw them as sublime and beautiful. Many geologists became passionate "Rousseauian" writers . Only in the mid 1800's did the theological thought phase out of the study of the earth, as more technological advances arose, allowing geologists to make more scientific discoveries about the origin of the earth.

Thomas Burnet, an Englishman, is the first noted man to question his religious knowledge and beliefs of the creation of the earth, when he first looked upon the mountains. He ventured to the Alps in the 1680's, hoping to find answers to his questions about mountains, which he called "examples of confusion."



Horace Bénédict de Saussure was the first "modern" geologist to make a prolonged study of the Alps, studying their structure. He is also known as the first man to reach the summit of Mont Blanc, when, in 1767, he made a research tour to the Alps.


Charles Lyell's zoological studies at Oxford gave him knowledge for his extensive studies around the world. Lyell's geological research drew away from the theological realm because he thought the earlier theories were biased.





Copyright 2002: History 257 - Mount Holyoke College
This page was created by
Anna Bennett .