Luigi Ferdinando Marsili (1658–1730): A pioneer in geomorphological and archaeological surveying
Published:January 01, 2006
Carlotta Franceschelli, Stefano Marabini, 2006. "Luigi Ferdinando Marsili (1658–1730): A pioneer in geomorphological and archaeological surveying", The Origins of Geology in Italy, Gian Battista Vai, W. Glen, E. Caldwell
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The relevance of Luigi Ferdinando Marsili to the history of geology is related to his publications, to the design and foundation of the Academy of Science of Bologna, and to his unpublished Trattato de' monti (Treatise on the Mountains). Additionally, his name is well known among scholars of antiquities because he assembled during his life a rich collection of archaeological findings that today forms an important part of the Civic Museum of Bologna.
Beyond his achievements in many different fields, from the earth sciences to antiquities studies, one of the most original aspects of Marsili's work lies in the methodology he developed. He assigned basic importance to field research and to direct visual checks (nowadays known as field surveys), which were for him the real instruments of knowledge. His scientific approach was probably spontaneous, deriving from his long military career, during which he was engaged in reconnaissance exploration and cartography. However, it is not unreasonable to acknowledge that he was also influenced by the work of Philip Cluver, one of the founding fathers of ancient topography, who, nearly 100 years earlier, wrote Germania Antiqua, which stressed the importance of autopic sensibility as the best way to validate the results of field research.
In practice, Marsili did not accept a sharp break between the natural and human-caused aspects of land science, which show many reciprocal influences; he studied and represented them cartographically together, with a multidisciplinary and modern approach.