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Questions of periodization and Adolphe von Morlot's contribution to the term and the concept ‘Quaternär’ (1854)

Marianne Klemun
Marianne Klemun
Institut für Geschichte der Universität Wien, Dr Karl Lueger-Ring, 1010 Vienna, Austria (e-mail:
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January 01, 2008


Questions concerning periodization in geology are obviously still with us, and the same goes for the relationships of time, change and discontinuity. The fact that such questions are debated repeatedly in both history and geology is illustrated by the extensive discussion in recent years about the use of the term ‘Quaternary’ as a stratigraphic unit. Thus periodization is not merely a philosophical issue. Neither does it belong solely to the sociology or politics of science. Rather it must be seen as an essential instrument and an integral part of an on-going discussion of fundamental ideas about time in general.

Several texts state that it was Adolphe Morlot (1820–1867) who coined the term ‘Quaternary’, but in fact there were earlier usages, with different meanings. This paper discusses not so much the ‘invention’ of the term Quaternary, but its range of meaning during the early phase of its introduction and development, in order to give and appropriate categorization of Morlot's specific contribution and the reason why he introduce the term Quaternär. The discussion is based to a considerable extent on correspondence between Morlot and Friedrich Simony (1813–1896) of Vienna University.

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Figures & Tables


Geological Society, London, Special Publications

History of Geomorphology and Quaternary Geology

R. H. Grapes
R. H. Grapes
Korea University, South Korea
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D. Oldroyd
D. Oldroyd
The University of New South Wales, Australia
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A. Grigelis
A. Grigelis
Lithuanian Academy of Sciences, Lithuania
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Geological Society of London
ISBN electronic:
Publication date:
January 01, 2008




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