Lyell and the Spanish Geology



Lyell visited Spain in the summer of 1830, after the publication of the first volume of Principles of Geology, and in the winter of 1853 coming back from his third trip to America. In his first stay he visited, among others, the Olot region (Catalonia, NE Spain) and in the second the Canary Islands. In both cases his major aim was to study these volcanic zones since volcanism constituted for Lyell the clearest evidence of the Earth interior energy, which had led to mountain building in the past. Another of his aims during his 1830 visit was to study the Pyrenees. Lyell endeavoured to show that this orogen did not result from a violent and rapid revolution, as proposed by Elie de Beaumont, but from processes that spanned long time periods. In the Pyrenees he also made some observations on the neogene lacustrine deposits of la Cerdanya basin, while in the southern Pyrenean foreland (i.e. Ebro basin) he paid attention to facies changes and correlations in the Eocene sequences. Lyell spent some days in Barcelona during this visit but at that time the country was in political turmoil and the main scientific institutions of the city had been closed down. Once in the Olot region, Lyell paid a visit to Bolós, pharmacist and botanist who had an interest in geology and introduced him in the volcanic zone. During his second trip in 1853, Lyell visited the Canaries and limited his personal contacts to Pedro Maffiote, professor of the Nautical School of Tenerife, who had made some interesting although never published geological observations in this island. In the Canary Islands Lyell sought to demonstrate the relationship between volcanism and coastal movement, and to confirm his theory of volcanic cone growth by accretion. Lyell’s influence in Spain was not due to his personal contacts in the country but to his books and especially the translation into Spanish by Ezquerra del Bayo of the first edition of “Elements of Geology” in 1838. Lyell’s ideas and especially his geological terminology, which was one of his most important contributions, spread in Spain thanks to this translation. Both the personality and the scientific reputation of Ezquerra del Bayo helped to promote the book that became for many years the official teaching book at the Schools of Mines in Spain and Mexico. Ezquerra del Bayo carried out the first geological map of the whole of Spain (1850) adopting in this and other publications (1850-1857) Lyell’s nomenclature, although his theoretical concepts (e.g. actualism) did not exert the same influence. It should be borne in mind that Lyell regarded his Elements of Geology as a descriptive Geology, a text book for students and beginners. His more elaborated theories included in Principles of Geology resulted in little influence in Spain, since this book was not translated into Spanish.


Lyell. History of Geology. Spanish Geology in the XIX century.

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