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Some incidents during his youth presage later research and may contribute to explain the sudden transition from anatomical to geological studies by Nicolaus Steno (1638–1686), the Danish anatomist, geologist, and later bishop, in Tuscany in 1666 as a scientist to the Grand Duke. (1) In 1659, during medical studies at Copenhagen University, Steno wrote small notes and made comprehensive excerpts from books on many subjects, the so-called Chaos manuscript. Pondering the shape of a stone in the bladder of an ox, he wrote that something was shown here about the generation of stones in living beings. When presented with the appropriate material and having the support for studies in Tuscany, he took up aspects of lithogenesis such as crystals growing by accretion in water-filled spaces of rocks in the “Prodromus on Solids” of Florence, 1669. He was able to maintain that in living beings, stones are formed likewise in the body’s so-called external water space. (2) In the “Prodromus on Solids,” Steno proposed the principle of molding as a marker for the relative age of related objects, the first of three criteria that allow reliable inferences to be drawn from present processes back to those unobservable processes of Earth in the past. The process of molding was in itself well known to Steno from his childhood, being commonplace in the family’s goldsmith workshop. It is shown here that Steno used molding in his “Dissection of a Dogfish” less than two years before he included the molding principle as a clue to relative age in past processes. (3) The study of teeth from the head of a giant shark led Steno to conclude that such teeth and glossopetrae have common origin, i.e., that fossils have a biological origin, as described in the “Carcharodon-head Dissected” (1667). Steno could have been primed by a long-held knowledge of glossopetrae learned from his teacher, Professor Thomas Bartholin, who recorded them in a manuscript that he listed as lost in a fire in 1670. Steno applied comparisons showing sufficient similarity as his second criterion for obtaining reliable information on processes of the past.

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