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Principle of Horizontality

Sedimentary rocks are laid down horizontally and those that are no longer horizontal have been deformed.

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Nicholas Steno

Nicholas Steno

Credit: General Wesc
Source: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Fossilised_Shark_Teeth_2.jpg
License: CC BY-NC 3.0

Nicolas Steno questioned the natural sciences that he was taught. The ideas hadn’t changed much since the Ancient Greeks! Using empirical evidence, he made many contributions to many fields of science.

Amazing But True!

  • Steno noticed that teeth from a recently dead shark were the same as certain stones found in rock formations. He suggested that the stones were fossils.
  • The shark’s teeth were found in solid rock. He had the idea that sediments and other materials turned to stone to become rock layers.
  • Steno developed these principles of stratigraphy: the law of superposition, the principle of original horizontality, the principle of lateral continuity, and the principle of cross-cutting relationships.
  • Steno’s ideas influenced Charles Darwin, James Hutton and Charles Lyell.
  • Nicholas Steno was a bishop. He has been beatified by the Catholic Church. This is the third of four steps to being declared a saint.
  • Credit: Niels_stensen.jpg: J. P. Trap 1868. derivative work: nagualdesign (talk)
    Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Niels_stensen.png
    License: CC BY-NC 3.0

    Nicolas Steno (1638-1686) [Figure2]


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With the links below, learn more about Nicholas Steno. Then answer the following questions.

  1. What was Steno’s evidence that shark teeth were part of the sediment before a rock solidified?
  2. What was Steno’s evidence for the law of superposition?
  3. What influence did Steno have on the development of uniformitarianism?
  4. What did Steno discover that would later influence Charles Darwin?

Image Attributions

  1. [1]^ Credit: General Wesc; Source: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Fossilised_Shark_Teeth_2.jpg; License: CC BY-NC 3.0
  2. [2]^ Credit: Niels_stensen.jpg: J. P. Trap 1868. derivative work: nagualdesign (talk); Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Niels_stensen.png; License: CC BY-NC 3.0

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