'Natural chronometers': coral islands and the discovery of time, from Buffon to Darwin

Lansdown, Richard (2013) 'Natural chronometers': coral islands and the discovery of time, from Buffon to Darwin. Etropic: electronic journal of studies in the tropics, 12 (2). pp. 220-229.

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Two phenomena in particular offered hints to early nineteenth-century geology about dating the antiquity of the earth: volcanos of the kind discovered at Pompeii, and coral rock of the kind discovered, above all, in the tropical Pacific. This paper surveys the growth in knowledge of coral between the theories offered up by Johann Reinhold Forster (who accompanied James Cook on his second voyage of 1772-1775) to those more or less authoritative ones published by Charles Darwin in his Structure and Distribution of Coral Reefs of 1842. Inputs both religious and secular are included, because the Biblical element imaginatively accompanied, and sometimes stimulated, the more strictly empirical endeavours of scientists. What was needed for nineteenth-century geological and biological theories to gain a footing was a new vision of time, and coral was a 'natural chronometer' of momentous importance in demonstrating how old the earth must be.

Item ID: 32753
Item Type: Article (Research - C1)
ISSN: 1448-2940
Additional Information:

This special edition of etropic contains the extended and refereed verisons of papers first presented at the Third Biennial Tropics of the Imagination Conference, 4-5 July 2013, The Cairns Institute, James Cook University, Smithfield, QLD, Australia.

Freely available from publisher website.

Date Deposited: 28 Apr 2014 04:11
FoR Codes: 20 LANGUAGE, COMMUNICATION AND CULTURE > 2005 Literary Studies > 200503 British and Irish Literature @ 100%
SEO Codes: 97 EXPANDING KNOWLEDGE > 970120 Expanding Knowledge in Language, Communication and Culture @ 100%
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