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Sedgwick, Adam

cambrian system sedgwick’s wales

(1785–1873) British geologist: identified the Cambrian period.

After graduating in mathematics in 1808, Sedgwick remained at Cambridge for the rest of his life, being appointed professor of geology in 1818. In 1835 he worked out the stratigraphic succession of fossil-bearing rocks in North Wales, naming the oldest of them the Cambrian period (now dated at 500–570 million years ago). In South Wales his friend had simultaneously worked out the Silurian system, some strata of which overlapped with Sedgwick’s Cambrian system. In a celebrated dispute the two were to argue about which system these common strata should be assigned to for almost 40 years; the matter was only resolved after their deaths when C Lapworth (1842–1920) proposed in 1879 that the Upper Cambrian and Lower Silurian be renamed the Ordovician. Sedgwick and Murchison also identified the Devonian system in south-west England.

Sedgwick’s skill was in palaeontology and stratigraphy, and his expert fieldwork greatly illuminated the geology of the British Isles, despite his rejection of uniformitarianism, theories of evolution and ideas on ice ages was a pupil of his and became a friend, but this did not affect Sedgwick’s antagonism to his ideas, in large part on religious grounds.

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