The legacy of Ulisse Aldrovandi.

Ulisse Aldrovandi (1522-1605).

Ulisse Aldrovandi (1522-1605).

Ulisse Aldrovandi was born  in Bologna  to a noble family on September 11, 1522. He  studied humanities, law, mathematics, medicine and philosophy at the university of Bologna where became the first professor of natural sciences in 1561. He was arrested for heresy in 1549 and remained in custody or house arrest till he was absolved in April 1550. During this time he coined the term geology and focused on Zoology and Botany.

He is considered one of the foremost biologists of the Renaissance and in 1568 founded the Bologna City Gardens. Monstruorum Historia contains some of the most impressive illustrations of Aldrovandi’s work.

Like da Vinci and Bauhin, some of the most emblematic figures of the Renaissance, Aldrovandi was a pioneer of ichnology. He described several trace fossils in his work Musaeum Metallicum. Like most of Aldrovandi’s works it was published posthumously. The book was entitled originally De Fossilibus but it was changed by Bartolomeo Ambrosini, the book’s editor.

Gastrochaenolites, as figured in Aldrovandi’s Musaeum Metallicum and Gastrochaenolites in a coral.  From Wikimedia Commons.

Gastrochaenolites, as figured in Aldrovandi’s Musaeum Metallicum and Gastrochaenolites in a coral. From Wikimedia Commons.

In his Musaeum Metallicum Aldrovandi correctly interpreted bioerosional traces and the corresponding illustration reveals the ichnogenus Gastrochaenolites, a bioerosional trace commonly produced by bivalves. The specimen is presented as “Silicem dactylitem” and is described as a rock presenting “hollows” of varied diameter. He describes the “hollows” as “resembling the cavities in which some lithophagous bivalves seek shelter”.

a- Cosmorhaphe, described by Aldrovandi as snake-like structure. b. Detail of Cosmorhaphe.

a- Cosmorhaphe, described by Aldrovandi as snake-like structure. b. Detail of Cosmorhaphe.

He also  describes Cosmorhaphe as a natural curiosity resembling the sinuous curves of a snake. Unlike da Vinci, Aldrovandi argues for an inorganic origin of traces and believes that are  formed by fluids circulating within rocks or natural curiosities -for instance, ammonites are named Ophiomorphites or “snake-shaped stones”- , but he often compares them to existing animals.

Aldrovandi’s Musaeum Metallicum,  1648.

Aldrovandi’s Musaeum Metallicum,
1648.

Aldrovandi’s work represents a major step in the history of Ichnology because  includes one of the first examples of a scientific approach to trace fossils and includes some of the earliest artistic representations of invertebrate trace fossils.

References:

Baucon, A. (2010). Leonardo da Vinci, The Founding Fatheer of Ichnology,  PALAIOS, 25 (6), 361-367 DOI: 10.2110/palo.2009.p09-049r

Baucon, A. (2008). Italy, the Cradle of Ichnology: the legacy of Aldrovandi and Leonardo, Studi Trent. Sci. Nat., Acta Geol., 83 (2008): 15-29

About these ads

4 thoughts on “The legacy of Ulisse Aldrovandi.

  1. Pingback: Agostino Scilla and the true nature and origin of fossils. | Letters from Gondwana.

  2. Pingback: Da Vinci and the birth of Ichnology. | Letters from Gondwana.

  3. Pingback: The early history of ammonite studies in Italy. | Letters from Gondwana.

  4. Pingback: Whewell’s Gazette: Vol. #13 | Whewell's Ghost

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s