Scientist of the Day - George Christian Füchsel
Georg Christian Füchsel, a German geologist, died June 20, 1773, at age 51. Füchsel lived in Thuringia, in the beautiful forest region of central Germany, but his eye was on the rocks beneath, and in 1762 he published a paper in which he was the first to describe what he called a “formation”—a sequence of strata that he thought had been laid down over a long period of time, under changing conditions that could be deduced from the mineral and fossil contents of the strata. In an age when many geologists still believed that fossil-bearing strata were deposited from a single flood, Füchsel’s ideas of “deep time”, and his belief that geological processes in the past were no different from those in the present, is quite remarkable—so much so that his paper passed very much under the radar in the 18th century.
Füchsel was rediscovered in 1830, and Charles Lyell, the 19th-century advocate of uniformitarianism, was delighted to learn that he had a forebear who was pretty much a uniformitarian himself. However, it was too late for the survival of Füchsel’s paper, which appeared in the Acta of the Electoral Academy of Mainz, and is pretty much non-existent today—we do not have a copy of the paper or the journal in our Library. If not for a memorial review of 1830, published by one of his countrymen, in a journal that was read (by Lyell and others), we would not know anything about Füchsel’s work.
There is a memorial plaque for Füchsel in Rudolstadt, the seat of Thuringia and Füchsel’s home (first image). Rudolstadt was also the site of a 19th-century musical theater that brought in, as visiting resident composers, the likes of Franz Liszt, Niccolo Paganini, and Richard Wagner. Today it is the home of Germany’s biggest rock-folk-world music celebration, the Rudolstadt-festival. You have two weeks left to plan your trip; be sure to visit Füchsel’s memorial while you are there. He was one of the masters of the old school of rock.
The other image shows the Muschelkalk sequence of rocks, a major division of the Triassic system, which Füchsel was the first to describe and identify.
Dr. William B. Ashworth, Jr., Consultant for the History of Science, Linda Hall Library and Associate Professor, Department of History, University of Missouri-Kansas City. Comments or corrections are welcome; please direct to firstname.lastname@example.org.