Skip to Main Content
Book Chapter

Early ideas about erratic boulders and glacial phenomena in The Netherlands

Frederik R. Van Veen
Frederik R. Van Veen
Department of Technical Earth Sciences, Technical University of Delft, The Netherlands (e-mail:
Search for other works by this author on:
January 01, 2008


The development of ideas about the origin of erratic boulders in the northern Netherlands is reviewed for the period from 1770 to 1907. A Scandinavian origin of these rocks was recognized at an early stage, but the transport mechanism was not understood. Initially, the Biblical Flood was proposed as a geological agent by Horace de Saussure (1740–1799) in 1780. Charles Lyell (1797–1875) developed a theory of climate change and a ‘glacial drift theory’ to account for the movement of large boulders in the Alps, and he introduced the term ‘drift’ in 1840. Several prize contests of the two Dutch Scientific Societies, the Hollandsche Maatschappij der Wetenschappen and the Teyler Genootschap, both at Haarlem, concerned erratics. The competitions of 1827 and 1828 were won by Johann Hausmann (1782–1849) from Göttingen University and Reinhard Bernhardi (1797–1849) from the Forstakademie Hitzacker, respectively. Hausmann assumed that a great freshwater flood, caused by the breakthrough of natural dams in the Scandinavian mountains, swept boulders to the plains of the northern Netherlands. Bernhardi vaguely suggested the possibility of transport by glaciers. The prize for the third contest (1861) was awarded in 1868 to the Swedish geologist Otto Torell (1828–1900). He invoked the land-ice theory, which, as regards The Netherlands, proposed that the boulders had been transported by glaciers descending from the Bothnian Gulf and extending into the northern Netherlands, amongst other areas. However, for reasons unknown, Torell's manuscript was never printed, and he never collected his gold medal and the prize money. At a historic meeting of the Deutsche Geologische Gesellschaft at Berlin in 1875, 7 years after winning the Haarlem contest, Torell managed to convince his audience of the land-ice theory after showing striated rock surfaces at a well-known outcrop at Rüdersdorf near Berlin. Thus, it took about a century from the first speculations in the late eighteenth century about the origin and transport of erratic rocks to about 1880 before the land-ice theory became generally accepted in continental NW Europe.

You do not currently have access to this article.
Don't already have an account? Register

Figures & Tables


Geological Society, London, Special Publications

History of Geomorphology and Quaternary Geology

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




A comprehensive resource of eBooks for researchers in the Earth Sciences

This Feature Is Available To Subscribers Only

Sign In or Create an Account

This PDF is available to Subscribers Only

View Article Abstract & Purchase Options

For full access to this pdf, sign in to an existing account, or purchase an annual subscription.

Subscribe Now