Sunday, 27 January 2013

Darwin and a little known Dane

It always amazes me how something we take for granted today was a complete unknown or mystery just a few hundred years ago - until someone suddenly figures out how a particular aspect of the natural world works. Take fossils for example.

About 400 years ago, fossils was known, but it was generally accepted that fossils somehow 'magically' grew in the ground until dug up.

It took a celebrated but little known Dane, Niels Stenson (1 Jan. 1638 – 25 Nov. 1686), to shatter this assumption once and for all. Niels Stenson, who decided to Latinizise his name to Nicolas Steno, realised that fossils were the remains of past life.

The next big eureka moment came when he figured out how the fossils had ended up deep underground inside rocks in the first place. 

While we take for granted that sedimentary rocks are laid down in sequence, in layers building up with the youngest layers at the top, and that these layers trap remains of animals, it was Nicolas Steno, who first made this significant discovery.

Many therefore consider Nicolas Steno to be the founder of modern geology and of a particular branch of geology known as Stratigraphy.

If you want to read more about this little known Dane and his important discoveries, which became the underpinning pre-requisite for Darwin's evolutionary work, Wikipedia has a great article on Nicholas Steno.

Inscription on house in Copenhagen where Nicholas Steno was born.

I am happy to note that Nicholas Steno is not forgotten. Here is how Google celebrated him recently.

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