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Abstract

The first to recognize the complementary shapes of Africa and South America and to suggest that these continents were once joined together was Dutch scientist Ortelius in 1596. He was followed in 1620 by Elizabethan philosopher Sir Francis Bacon, who asserted that the similarity of their shapes could not be accidental. Nearly 200 years later, German naturalist von Humboldt described how the two continents may have fitted together, and in 1860 French geographer Antonio Snyder produced the first map that showed South America and Africa in close contact (e.g., Blankett 1965). By 1915 the German meteorologist Alfred Wegener had amassed enough data to publish a comprehensive scientific argument for the past conjunction of these two continents on the basis of similarities in the Palaeozoic–Mesozoic geology on each side of the South Atlantic, and then boldly proposed that ‘horizontal displacements of the continents’ (Horizontal verschiebungen der Kontinente) caused their subsequent separation (Wegener 1915).

Wegener's original hypothesis of ‘continental displacement’ (Krause & Thiede 2005) was severely criticized, especially by geophysicists (Oreskes 1999). Nevertheless the concept was successfully transformed into the continental drift hypothesis through the support of, amongst others, two prominent geologists working

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