Magazine article Geographical

Sir Roderick Impey Murchison: (1792-1871) Pioneering Scottish Geologist Roderick Murchison Was Instrumental in the Identification and Naming of Several Geological Time Periods

Magazine article Geographical

Sir Roderick Impey Murchison: (1792-1871) Pioneering Scottish Geologist Roderick Murchison Was Instrumental in the Identification and Naming of Several Geological Time Periods

Article excerpt

What was his background?

Roderick Impey Murchison was born on 22 February 1792 in Tarradale, Scotland. The son of a wealthy Highland family, he was sent away to Durham School at the age of seven and spent his teenage years at Great Marlow military college. At the age of 15, he joined the Army, where he served for eight years. On leaving, he married a wealthy heiress and, after travelling in Europe, began a lifestyle of leisurely pursuits in his newly acquired English residence. At 32, Murchison gave up his idleness and turned his attention to geology.

What did he achieve?

After several meetings with the distinguished chemist Sir Humphrey Davy, Murchison began to attend lectures at the Royal Institution and found himself fascinated by the young science of geology. He became an active member of the Geological Society of London and went on to become its secretary.

Murchison initially studied the geological formations of southern England before moving on to study continental geology. He produced a collaborative study of the structure of the Alps that would later be regarded as a classic.

In 1831, Murchison travelled to the Welsh Borderland and South Wales, where he conducted extensive research into the region's greywacke rocks--a layer of grey, poorly sorted sandstone. In 1839, his results were pulled together to form the highly acclaimed book The Silurian System. This study ultimately established the Silurian geological time period (443-417 million years ago).

Murchison next studied a series of disturbed sedimentary rocks that lay between Silurian and Carboniferous rocks in southwestern England, which he and his long-time collaborator Adam Sedgwick named the Devonian (417-354 million years ago). …

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