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Steno, Nicolaus (1638-1687)

De solido intra solidum naturaliter contento dissertationis prodromus Insegna della Stella, 1669.

€ 28.500
One of the 'One Hundred Famous Books in Science' - Horblit -
Steno, Nicolaus (1638-1687). De solido intra solidum naturaliter contento dissertationis prodromus. Insegna della Stella, 1669.

4° (225x169 mm). Collation: [π]2, A-K4. [4], 78, [2] pages. Complete with fol. [π]1 blank. Roman and italic type. Title-page printed in red and black, with engraved vignette. Seven-line decorated initial on fol. A1r, head- and tailpieces. Large folding plate, with engraved diagram and explanatory letter-press. Contemporary limp vellum, spine with inked title; blue edges. A very good copy, some minor foxing, a few spots.

First edition of this “great work [...] which outlines the principles of modern geology” (DSB), by the Danish anatomist Niels Stensen, better known as Nicolaus Steno, then physician at the Florentine court. The De solido is dedicated to Ferdinand II, Grand Duke of Tuscany.

In this work, a cornerstone of geology based on data collected in the Arno Valley, Steno sought to describe the anatomy of the earth and to explain the entire system of nature stratum super stratum. His contributions to plate tectonic theory and to stratigraphy is based on his theory that layers or strata of the earth, which are not horizontal, must have been tilted or folded by a force, such as an earthquake, after they formed. His principle of superposition also applied to other geologic events on the surface, such as lava flows and ash layers from volcanic eruptions.

Although brief in form – the work was only intended as an introduction to a larger work that Steno would never write – the impact of De solido was far greater than its modest size would suggest, establishing important principles of geology and elaborating upon new tools for writing its history. In his treatise, the Danish geologist “described the composition of the earth's crust in Tuscany and a famous diagram in his book shows six successive types of stratification: the first attempt ever made to represent geological sections. This was a sequence which he believed would be found all over the world. He explained the true origin of fossils found in the earth as being remains of once living things and he discriminated between the volcanic, chemical and mechanical modes of the origin of the rocks. He was the first clearly to recognize that the strata of the earth's crust contain the records of a chronological sequence of events from which the history of the earth can be reconstructed. He attempted to find the principles of stratigraphy [...] He deduced that these changes in the original position of the strata are the real causes of the unevenness of the earth's surface. This was in direct contradiction to the accepted belief that mountains had existed ever since the beginning of things or had simply grown” (PMM).

STC 17th Century, 877; Bruni-Evans 5151; Dibner 90; Horblit-Grolier 96; Norman 2013; PMM 151; D.R. Oldroyd, Thinking about Earth, London 1996, pp. 60-76; Philobiblon, One Thousand Years of Bibliophily, no. 214.