History of Biology - 19th Century: The Emergence of Biological Disciplines - Natural History and Natural Philosophy - Geology and Paleontology

Geology and Paleontology

See also: History of geology and History of paleontology

The emerging discipline of geology also brought natural history and natural philosophy closer together; the establishment of the stratigraphic column linked the spacial distribution of organisms to their temporal distribution, a key precursor to concepts of evolution. Georges Cuvier and others made great strides in comparative anatomy and paleontology in the late 1790s and early 19th century. In a series of lectures and papers that made detailed comparisons between living mammals and fossil remains Cuvier was able to establish that the fossils were remains of species that had become extinct—rather than being remains of species still alive elsewhere in the world, as had been widely believed. Fossils discovered and described by Gideon Mantell, William Buckland, Mary Anning, and Richard Owen among others helped establish that there had been an 'age of reptiles' that had preceded even the prehistoric mammals. These discoveries captured the public imagination and focused attention on the history of life on earth. Most of these geologists held to catastrophism, but Charles Lyell's influential Principles of Geology (1830) popularised Hutton's uniformitarianism, a theory that explained the geological past and present on equal terms.

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