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January 01, 1955

In Classical Times knowledge of minerals was based almost entirely upon philosophical speculations. Interesting theories were never tested by direct observations and mining was not a socially acceptable occupation. Little attention was given to mining and minerals, other than gems, and then only as an adjunct to the broader theories concerning the origin of the Universe. Although there may have been earlier writers Aristotle is the first known to us to have presented a comprehensive theory of the origin and nature of minerals. In his Meteorologica he advanced the theory that all natural substances consisted of four properties, dryness, dampness, heat and cold, and these were combined in the four primitive elements, water, air, earth and fire, elements that could be transmuted by altering the relative proportions of the properties. This concept dominated the thinking of man for the next two thousand years.

Another early treatise on minerals was De Mineralibus by Theophrastus, a contemporary of Aristotle. Theophrastus accepted the theory of four primitive elements and separated mineral substances into two classes, those affected by heat and those not affected.

The next important work on minerals was the monumental Natural History of Pliny, an encyclopedia of the entire field of Nature, written in 77 a.d. In it are collected all the theories, fables and observations of Greek, Latin and Oriental writers up to that time. This work served as the authority and source book for writers on Natural History subjects for sixteen centuries, although it did not dominate or shape . . .

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GSA Special Papers

De Natura Fossilium: Textbook of Mineralogy

Georgius Agricola
Georgius Agricola
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Geological Society of America
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January 01, 1955




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