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The Portuguese and Spanish voyages of discovery and the early history of geology

Henrique Leitao and Walter Alvarez
The Portuguese and Spanish voyages of discovery and the early history of geology
Geological Society of America Bulletin (July 2011) 123 (7-8): 1219-1233


Geologists usually trace the history of their science back to the Geological Revolution, ca. 1800, when it was recognized that the Earth is very much more ancient than indicated in the biblical account. Geologists are thus accustomed to think that geology is a much younger science than modern astronomy and physics, which date back to the Copernican Revolution, ca. 1540-1690. We argue that this is only because geologists are neglecting a major advance in understanding the Earth that occurred a century before that. We argue that geologists should recognize the Portuguese Voyages of Discovery, later joined by the Spanish, as a major episode in the history of what would now be called geology. This revolutionary advance was driven by technological changes, yielded a cornucopia of discoveries, was marked by great excitement, and led to major changes in worldview and society. The Voyages of Discovery have been intensely studied by historians of geography, but not by historians of geology. Therefore we are at pains to show that they should be taken as part of the history of geology, as well as that of geography, for they led to central geological discoveries. These discoveries included the shape of coastlines whose match later demonstrated continental drift, the fact that there is more ocean than land, the arrangement of planetary climate zones, and the patterns of winds and the geomagnetic field. This new historical viewpoint sees geology as a science at least as old and worthy of respect as physics and astronomy, and this is an important consideration as a scientific understanding of the Earth becomes critical to the flourishing of the biosphere and of humanity.

ISSN: 0016-7606
EISSN: 1943-2674
Serial Title: Geological Society of America Bulletin
Serial Volume: 123
Serial Issue: 7-8
Title: The Portuguese and Spanish voyages of discovery and the early history of geology
Affiliation: Universidade de Lisboa, Faculdade de Ciencias, Centro de Historia das Ciencias, Lisbon, Portugal
Pages: 1219-1233
Published: 201107
Text Language: English
Publisher: Geological Society of America (GSA), Boulder, CO, United States
References: 44
Accession Number: 2011-057223
Categories: Miscellaneous
Document Type: Serial
Bibliographic Level: Analytic
Illustration Description: illus. incl. sketch maps
N37°00'00" - N42°10'00", W09°30'00" - W06°10'00"
N36°00'00" - N43°45'00", W09°30'00" - E04°30'00"
Secondary Affiliation: University of California, Berkeley, USA, United States
Country of Publication: United States
Secondary Affiliation: GeoRef, Copyright 2019, American Geosciences Institute. Reference includes data from GeoScienceWorld, Alexandria, VA, United States. Reference includes data supplied by the Geological Society of America, Boulder, CO, United States
Update Code: 201132
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