Journal of


  (Formerly Journal of the Czech Geological Society)


Olaf Tietz, Joerg Büchner

The origin of the term ’basalt’

Journal of Geosciences, volume 63 (2018), issue 4, 295 - 298


  Abstract Affiliations

’Basalt’ is a commonly and widely used word. This rock name is important in classification of volcanic rocks (e.g., TAS, QAPF; Le Maitre 2002) and ranks among the most frequent terms used in geology, including planetary science. However, probably no geologist ever started to think where this term actually comes from. On the occasion of the Basalt 2017 conference held in Kadaň (Czech Republic) and the investigation of the Stolpen Volcano (see Tietz et al. 2018, in this issue), the history of the word ’basalt’ was examined more closely. The term was coined in 1546 by Georgius Agricola (1494-1555) in a short caption in De Natura Fossilium - an early modern era text representing the first attempt to scientifically classify minerals, rocks and fossils - referring to ’ash-grey marbles ’ at the Stolpen Castle Hill near Dresden (Saxony, Eastern Germany):
“Some marbles are iron-coloured. This is the basalt that the Egyptians found in Ethiopia. Behind him the Meissner does not stand, either in the colour - he is particularly ferruginous - nor in hardness, which is so great that in the forge use him as an anvil. The Stolpen Castle of the Bishop of Meißen is built on this basalt. The columns are angular.” (Agricola 1546, p 310; Fig. 1, translated from Latin in English).

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