Monday, August 20, 2012
The First Shark Week
“Nicolas Steno was a Danish Renaissance man who believed in proving to himself long held beliefs and disgrading things shown to be false. This strong drive for the truth led him to become the founder of geology and laid the ground work for the development of archaeology and paleontology. His first major test was analyzing his Lutheran beliefs. When Steno reasoned that Catholicism was more grounded in traditional Christianity than Lutheranism Steno converted. He would study and follow his new faith all the way to becoming a bishop.
But geographers and other earth scientists better know Steno for his geological work. Later on Steno discovered rock strata were actually layers of rock which formed on top of each other over time. He stated the deeper one digs into the earth the older the material. Before Steno this was too much a leap for scientists to realize due to the general scientific disinterest in anything below the Earth's surface unless it was for alchemy. His discovery also ended the belief in an unchanging creationist Earth. Since then all science has agreed the Earth is dynamic.
Steno's anatomical studies focused at first on the muscular system and the nature of muscle contraction -for example, he used geometry to show that a contracting muscle changes its shape but not its volume.
However, in October 1666, two fishermen caught a huge shark near the town of Livorno, and Duke Ferdinand ordered its head to be sent to Steno. Steno dissected it and published his findings in 1667.
The figure above shows the figure published by Steno of the shark's head and teeth. While examining the teeth of the shark, Steno was struck by their resemblance to certain stony objects, called glossopetrae or "tongue stones," that were found in certain rocks. Ancient authorities, such as the Roman author Pliny the Elder, had suggested that these stones fell from the sky or from the moon. Others were of the opinion, also going back to ancient times, that fossils naturally grew in the rocks. Steno's contemporary Athanasius Kircher, for example, attributed fossils to a "lapidifying virtue diffused through the whole body of the geocosm." Steno, however, argued that glossopetrae looked like shark teeth because they were shark teeth, that had come from the mouths of once-living sharks, and come to be buried in mud or sand that was now dry land. There were differences in composition between glossopetrae
and living sharks' teeth, but Steno used the "corpuscular theory of matter", a forerunner of atomic theory,
to argue that fossils could be altered in chemical composition without changing their form.”
Oh yea, he also sold his bishop's cross and ring to help the poor.