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Book Chapter

History and Professional Development of Engineering Geology

January 01, 1991


The history of remarkable engineering construction feats is as old as man’s records. Subsurface mining for copper ore on the Sinai Peninsula began at least 15,000 years ago (Stone Age), and tunneling (adit) was started about 3500 B.C. As civilization and commerce advanced and people congregated in cities, the problem of water-supply protection agianst the attacks of enemies became increasingly acute, and new methods, such as construction of aqueducts and reservoirs, had to be devised.

Use of “geologists” to assist in evaluating natural sites for engineering works and related legal implications has a long history if we include the lore of our forefathers regarding natural conditions and their meaning. In North America, early assistance and insight on geological reasoning for engineering purposes was fostered by a group of pioneers whose endeavors are described in this chapter; geological input for litigation and forensic purposes is discussed in Chapters 24 and 25 of this volume. However, any review of the early efforts in application of geology to engineering works in North America must recognize the fund of knowledge that had been acquired by earlier pioneers in Europe and Asia, and parts of Central and South America.

The numerous remnants and intact examples of remarkable construction feats built in past centuries represent a legacy to the early “engineer’s” skills. It is not difficult to imagine a relation and interdependence between the “architect-engineer” and the “geologist,” which began far back in ancient times. Obviously, even then, some individuals had an awareness of rock and soil conditions and offered counsel on excavations and the properties of natural materials for siting and construction of castles, canals, water tunnels, and aqueducts.

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DNAG, Centennial Special Volumes

The Heritage of Engineering Geology; The First Hundred Years

George A. Kiersch
George A. Kiersch
Professor Emeritus, Geological Sciences Cornell University
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Geological Society of America
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January 01, 1991




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