Linnaeus as a geologist

Fossils, mid 18th century illustrations .

Besides the plant kingdom and the animal kingdom, according to Linnaeus, there was a third kingdom in nature, the mineral kingdom (regnum lapideum in Latin). He included here all stones, types of bedrock and soil, and ores and minerals. Linnaeus maintained that stones grew, but not from eggs or seeds, like everything living, but in the sense that all particles of earth were lumped together and harden into stone. Sandstone, thus, was formed by grains of sand aggregating, the same way for granite from till, and limestone from clay.

Limestone could later harden into marble or be saturated with oxygen for form gypsum or crystallize as calcite. He further understood that corals were generated by living animals and that fossils were originally living organisms.

To Linnaeus, rocks were simple components and minerals complex, just the opposite of today’s view. In Systema naturae he had the following division:

A. Petrae Lapides simplices (rocks)
B. Minerae Lapides compositi (minerals and ores)
C. Fossilia Lapides aggregati (fossils and aggregates)

Minerals were created when various types of soil united with salts. In Linnaeus’ symbolic form of expression, the soil represented the female part and the salt the male, and when they were united in matrimonial act, minerals were the product. What’s more, Linnaeus thought that ores grew in mountains and hills and were formed when a rock was transformed into ore by a chemical process:

“Ores grow gradually, when mineralogical particles are washed around in underground water in the cracks in the rocks, fastening on the stone, which explains why this can vary in the same nature.”

Linnaeus often wrote about ores and mines in his depictions of the provinces. This was only natural, as the mining industry was important in his day. But he also saw the formation of stones and ores as part of a complex natural process, as part of Creation:

”All this places anyone who reflects on it in a position of awe at the Omniscient Creator’s disposition of our globe. Thus speak the stones, when all other things are silent.”

Benedicks, C. 1907. Linnés Pluto sveciciu.
Tore Frängsmyr, 1969. Geologi och skapelsetro: Föreställningar om jordens historia från Hiärne till Bergman.
Sten Lindroth, 1978. Svensk lärdomshistoria: Frihetstiden.

Last modified: 2022-02-16