- Worlds Before Adam: The Reconstruction of Geohistory in the Age of Reform
Martin J.S. Rudwick's monograph is a hymn to geology as a historical science. Rudwick penetrates the philosophies of science and religion, an [End Page 140] approach that clearly comes from his professional studies as a paleontologist and historian of geosciences. The author calls Worlds Before Adam a sequel to his 2005 bestseller Bursting the Limits of Time. Worlds Before Adam may be read separately, but the unity of the author's concept is clearer after reading both volumes.
Victorian geologists realized that "bursting the limits of time" made way for diverse theories about ancient worlds. The introduction of a geological scale of time into the philosophy of naturalism engendered the theories of catastrophism, uniformitarianism, and evolution. This new outlook began developing during the first decades of the nineteenth century, a short period of great discoveries marked in world history by the old Napoleon and the young Victoria, and in science by George Cuvier and Charles Lyell. Great Britain and France, with Germany, Switzerland, and other European nations, provided the main stage for this performance.
Worlds Before Adam combines a simple chronological structure with a more complex internal dynamic. The first part of the book covers the period from 1817 to 1824, from George Cuvier, the founder of paleontology and catastrophism, to Christian Leopold von Buch, who proposed the first geotectonic hypothesis (the theory of elevation craters) and noted that the fates of animal and plant kingdoms coincided with the changes of the earth's face.
The second part of the book (which covers the period from 1824 to 1831) begins with a discussion of Alexandre Brongniart's attempts to follow stratigraphic units all over the world and of Léonce Élie de Beaumont's concept of global "revolutions" that marked epochs of synchronous mountain building. This was the era when George Scrope declared, "Time!—Time!—Time!" and the theories of Charles Lyell appeared. Rudwick reasonably devotes the third and fourth parts of the book (1827-1845) to Lyell's uniformitarian concept, that the earth had been formed by slow-acting forces still in operation. Previous authors' theories yielded to this new overview.
Rudwick's emphasis on the Snowball Earth hypothesis is fascinating, focusing on the ice age theory developed by the brilliant Louis Agassiz. Writing about glacial erratics (rocks of non-native provenance), Agassiz drew attention to the work of Russian Count Gregor (Grigory Kirillovich) Razumovsky. Since the end of the eighteenth century, Russian savants had reported erratic boulders left behind by retreating glaciers. A member of the Imperial Academy of Sciences and Arts in Saint Petersburg, Ivan Ivanovich Lepekhin (d. 1802), described erratics during his travels in 1780 (Nemilova 186). Around 1815, the academician Vasily Mikhailovich Severgin (d. 1826) postulated that the mountains of Finland had been covered with "eternal ice" which had "splitted off bulks" (i.e., boulders) (Severgin 356).
In spite of the considerable Russian contributions to this theory, I agree with Rudwick's remark that Russia and the United States were on "the periphery" compared to the original birthplaces of geology in European centres (4). Unfortunately, George Cuvier declined an offer to work in Russia, owing to the bad climate, and Charles Lyell changed his mind about visiting the Crimea, [End Page 141] preferring to visit Spain (Lyell 489). Roderick Murchison was extremely successful in his Russian journeys of 1840 to 1841, and owing to his discoveries there, the red beds in the regions of Moscow and Perm (the Urals) marked a new era on the time scale—the Permian Period.
Roderick Murchison and Philippe-Edouard Poulletier de Verneuil (d. 1873) were accompanied by two officers of the Mining Department: Aleksandr Aleksandrovich Keiserling (d. 1891) and Nickolay Ivanovich Koksharov (d. 1892). For five months, they visited Saint-Petersburg and Moscow, explored coal deposits near Moscow and the Donetzk basin, and studied rocks in the Volga region and the Urals. For the first time, Roderick Murchison observed Permian deposits...