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James Hutton


1726 - 1797

Father of modern geology, born in Edinburgh. Hutton's theory of Uniformitarianism was the basis of the explanation of the geological history of the earth which had, in his words, "no vestige of a beginning, no concept of an end". He used exposures of rock in the field to illustrate the immense amounts of time involved in geological processes; for example conglomerates that contained rounded pebbles of older rock, and examples where molten rock had been injected into earlier strata. At Hutton's Unconformity at Siccar Point, younger rock is seen overlaying older rock which is tilted to an extreme angle. His name is also remembered in Hutton's Section on Salisbury Crags and nearby Hutton's Rock is an early example of geological conservation, where Hutton persuaded the quarrymen to leave a now-isolated pillar of rock because it showed the injection of iron-rich fluids into a fissure which cooled to form the mineral haematite. He discussed his ideas with other scholars of the Scottish Enlightenment such as the mathematician John Playfair (1748 - 1819) and chemist Joseph Black (1728 - 1799). Hutton was a founding member of the Royal Society of Edinburgh in 1783 and published his "Theory of the Earth" in 1785.

He died in the house he had built for himself on St. John's Hill in Edinburgh and lies buried in Greyfriars Churchyard, although his grave was unmarked until 1947. A memorial garden now occupies the site of his former home.


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