Georgius Agricola – Renaissance Geologist


"Why, yes I did walk the Earth at the same time as Da Vinci and Copernicus." - G. Agricola

“Why, yes, I was around at the same time as Da Vinci and Copernicus.” – G. Agricola

Georgius Agricola…the name conjures up images of togas, but not at a modern party.

Actually he wasn’t Roman. This German by the name of Georg Bauer just took the Latin name because all cool people did back in the early 16th century. It’s punny: “bauer” means “farmer” in German, and so does “agricola” in Latin (sorry to ruin 24 for you).

But what possible relevance could a Georgius Agricola have today?

Well, he did lay the basis for the mining and metal working industries that have brought you smartphones and skyscrapers. And he could think straight in an age of alchemy and religious fervor.

Agricola didn’t go along with the crowd. While others talked how everything is made of different proportions of earth, wind, fire, and air, he checked things out objectively (and got rich in the process).

And UC Berkeley’s Museum of Paleontology calls him “the founder of geology as a discipline.” So there’s that, too.

Agricola’s life

Unlike some of the earth scientists we’ve looked at, Georg Bauer wasn’t an aristocrat. His father was a cloth merchant in Saxony (part of modern Germany) and was prosperous enough to send Georg to Leipzig University, which was strongly Catholic, in 1517.
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Alexander von Humboldt, part 1 – A Mind Well Suited

Self-portrait at age 45.  Wikipedia

Self-portrait at age 45. Wikipedia

I don’t know where to begin telling you about Alexander von Humboldt. This romantic German had all the right qualities to become a scientific adventurer, and he was born into the ideal circumstances for doing exactly that. He ended up the most famous man in Europe, after Napoleon, and was given a state funeral when he passed away in 1859 at the age of 90.

Humboldt didn’t visit every single place where a memorial to him stands today, but he definitely got around. He explored the Orinoco River in South America and found its connection with the Amazon; in the process, he was severely shocked by an electric eel, nearly poisoned himself with curare, and walked away from an unexpectedly close encounter with a jaguar, noting “There are moments in life when it is useless to call on reason.”
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