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Smith, William

geological surveyor geology british

(1769–1839) British geologist and surveyor: pioneer of geological mapping; proposed principle of superposition.

The son of a blacksmith, Smith became a canal surveyor, an occupation which gave him ample opportunity to study the varying geology of much of England and Wales. He discovered that geological strata could be reliably identified at different places on the basis of the fossils they contained, and he also proposed the principle of superposition – that if a stratum overlies another then it was laid down at a later time. In 1815 he published the first stratigraphic map of England and Wales, at a scale of 5 miles per inch, following this with more detailed geological maps of over 20 counties. Business difficulties after 1812 caused him to sell his fine collection of 2000 fossils to the British Museum but he got only £600. Never a theorist, his relationship with the academic geological establishment was cool until late in his life, when he was awarded the Geological Society’s highest honour, in 1831. He is now seen as ‘the father of English geology’ or more precisely as the founder of stratigraphical geology.

Smyth, John H.(1844–1908) - Diplomat, lawyer, educator, editor, Takes Advantage of Various Career Opportunities, Chronology [next] [back] Smith, Willi

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