James Hutton – Geologist

James Hutton (1726–1797) was a Scottish farmer and naturalist. He was also the founder of modern geology.

He was a great observer of the world around him. More importantly, he made carefully reasoned geological arguments. Hutton came to believe that the Earth was perpetually being formed; for example, molten material is forced up into mountains, eroded, and then eroded sediments are washed away. He recognized that the history of the Earth could be determined by understanding how processes such as erosion and sedimentation work in the present day. His ideas and approach to studying the Earth established geology as a proper science.

However, the processes identified by Hutton required very long periods of time, and to realise how original  his views were, it is only necessary to compare them to those prevailing when he was publishing his research.

In the late eighteenth century, when Hutton was carefully examining the rocks, it was generally believed that Earth had come into creation only around six thousand years earlier (on October 22, 4004 B.C., to be precise, according to the seventeenth century scholarly analysis of the Bible by Archbishop James Ussher of Ireland), and that fossils were the remains of animals that had perished during the Biblical flood.

Hutton was from Edinburgh, and it is not surprising that he is featured in the National Museum of Scotland in that city, where he is seen by many.

James Hutton

But few people know of the existence of the James Hutton Memorial Garden. This is not surprising given that it is small, largely unadvertised, and accessible by a long flight of very steep steps from an obscure location off Holyrood Road. So for those who are unlikely ever to see it, here it is.

Hutton Memorial Garden 1

Hutton Memorial Garden 2

(Quotations are from EARTH: INSIDE AND OUT, edited by Edmond A. Mathez, American Museum of Natural History.)

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