Les sciences géologiques à l’Université de Liège: deux siècles d’évolution

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Marco E. Ciriotti
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Les sciences géologiques à l’Université de Liège: deux siècles d’évolution

Messaggio da Marco E. Ciriotti » sab 02 dic, 2017 12:14

▪ Anceau, A., Prestianni, C., Hatert, F., Denayer, J. (2017): Les sciences géologiques à l’Université de Liège: deux siècles d’évolution. Partie 1 : de la fondation à la Première Guerre Mondiale. Bulletin de la Société Royale des Sciences de Liège, 86, Actes de colloques.

The geological sciences at the University of Liège: two centuries of evolution.
Part 1: from the foundation to the First World War.

By the time the University of Liège was founded in 1817, geology was a young science and the geological composition of the country was being unveiled. The works of precursors such as Robert de Limbourg were about to inspire the first generation of Belgian geologists, among which Jean-Baptiste Julien d’Omalius d’Halloy is the most renowned. Geology was not taught at the University of Liège before 1818, when Henri-Maurice Gaëde was appointed. He taught geology, mineralogy and crystallography as well as anatomy and botany. He was followed by Armand Lévy in 1828, then again by Gaëde in 1830, Philippe-Adolphe Lesoinne in 1831, Charles-Philippe Davreux 1834 and Michel Gloesener in 1834. Except the mineralogist Lévy, none of them conducted any geology-based research. Nevertheless, geological knowledge, especially palaeontology, progressed due to the work of scientists such as Philippe-Charles Schmerling who described the first fossil human in 1830. Geology became a true research area at the university with the arrival of André Dumont in 1835. Before his appointment as professor, Dumont had already proved his mastery of geology by publishing his Description géologique de la province de Liége which earned him the golden medal of the Academy of Sciences and Arts of Brussels and a great reputation. He was the first to demonstrate the stratigraphic succession of the strata (geognosy) and to trace those strata on a map to show how they correlate. A great field geologist, Dumont was appointed by the Belgian Government to map the geology of the country, providing the first geological map of Belgium and neighbouring areas as a whole in 1849. At the same period (1846), Laurent-Guillaume de Koninck was appointed to teach palaeontology. His expertise on all groups of fossil animals drove him to produce an impressive number of monographic publications, on Belgian material but also on collections sent to him from all over the world. His Faune du Calcaire carbonifère de la Belgique – of which only the six first volumes were published before his death – is by itself the most exhaustive study of Carboniferous invertebrates ever published. De Koninck was in conflict with Dumont about the utility of fossils in geology, the latter being persuaded that they were too variable to have any significance. However, de Koninck’s palaeontological methods were indeed necessary and led to the development of biostratigraphy. Both Dumont and de Koninck received the Wollaston medal from the Geological Society of London for their work. Their successor Gustave Dewalque became – in 1857 – professor of geology and palaeontology and combined the scientific views of both his predecessors to produce very detailed and holistic research. His palaeontological work on the Jurassic fossils of S Belgium is most remarkable but his main achievement was his geological map of Belgium and surrounding areas, replacing Dumont’s with a much higher level of details. To make the reading of the map easier, Dewalque wrote his masterful Prodrome d’une description géologique de la Belgique (1868), which is no less than an encyclopaedia on geology of Belgium. His name is also inseparable from two major achievements in Belgium. Firstly the production of a detailed geological map at the 1/40,000 scale for which he achieved scientific posterity. Secondly he was the founding character of the Société géologique de Belgiquein 1874 and was also Secretary General of the society for 25 years. For his tremendous works, Dewalque received the prestigious Hayden medal from the Academy of Natural Sciences of Philadelphia in 1899. During his academic life, Dewalque progressively delegated his teaching to his young collaborators who eventually replaced him: Alfred Gilkinet for Palaeobotany, Julien Fraipont for Palaeontology, Adolphe Firket for Physical Geography, Guiseppe Cesàro for Mineralogy, and Max Lohest for General and Applied Geology. Alfred Gilkinet was one of the first palaeobotanists to embrace the theory of evolution and to recognise it among his fossils. He had a particular interest on Devonian fossil plants but also described material from the Paleogene. He was moreover a pharmacist and the institute of Pharmacy of the University bears his name. Julien Fraipont first entered the university at the laboratory of biology led by Edouard Van Beneden and published several papers on marine organisms for him. His work on Devonian crinoids was rewarded by the Société géologique de Belgiqueaward and de Koninck chose him to collaborate to his monography on Carboniferous bivalves. Fraipont published several papers on Palaeozoic fossils, the most remarkable being his work on the exquisitely-preserved echinoderms from the Marbre Noir de Denée. Furthermore, Fraipont was, with his colleague Lohest, a palaeoanthropologist and archaeologist and both were responsible for many discoveries in Quaternary cave deposits, including in Spy. Lohest was first a palaeontologist and published several contributions to the Palaeozoic fishes from Belgium, including a mandible identified by him as being from a fish but now interpreted as a rare Ichthyostega-like tetrapod. He then focused only on geology and applied geology after his major discoveries; such as the phosphate deposits in Hesbaye area, his prevision of the existence of coal measure in a deep basin in N Belgium, his interpretation of the metamorphism in Ardenne and description of the boudinage phenomenon. With Julien Fraipont and Marcel de Puydt, he discovered and described the human remains from the Spy cave – remains they interpreted as belonging to a species distinct from ours and that they attributed to the Neanderthal ‘race’. They demonstrated, for the first time in history, the co-occurrence of a fossil human species, Mousterian lithic industries and Pleistocene megafauna. Adolphe Firket mainly taught Physical Geography but was involved in the geological study of the Belgian coal measures and various mineral deposits. Guiseppe Cesàro was the true founder of mineralogy and crystallography in Belgium. His works on calcites and phosphates were very advanced despite that he was a self-taught man. They are still used as references today as are his works on crystallography. All those great names were part of the University and Belgian geology history, as men, scientists and professors. They left us a considerable heritage that needs to be rediscovered.
Marco E. Ciriotti

«Things are interesting only in so far as they relate themselves to other things»


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