Geology and Landscape

James Hutton (1726-1797)

Although James Hutton took two very different paths in his early career, short spells in law and medicine were eventually succeeded by an interest in chemistry. His earliest discovery centred round the inexpensive manufacturing of the mineral sal ammoniac, and after prospering in this area, Hutton settled into a life of science.

Revolutionary is one word often coined to describe several of James Hutton’s theory of uniformitarianism, and several famous papers published on the subject. The papers were published in 1788 by the Royal Society of Edinburgh, under the title ‘Theory of the Earth, or an Investigation of the Laws Observable in the Composition, Dissolution, and Restoration of Land Upon The Globe.

Uniformitarianism is certainly a tongue twisting title, for something that looks at the Earth’s geologic processes, including the long cyclical process of erosion, deposition, sedimentation, and volcanic upthrust. This study was unique in its day as it was done without referencing the bible. Hutton’s work was widely circulated, although at the time many geologists believed that the origins of large quantities of mineral related to biblical floods. The fundamental principles of Hutton’s theory, and his belief that the processes at work on earth have been operating uniformly for a long period of time, became the foundations for the science of geology from that point on.