International Geologiical Congress - Oslo 2008

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IEH-01 General contributions to history of geosciences

 

Zeolites and Swedish dominance in mineralogy from 1756 to 1776

 

Donald Hogarth, University of Ottawa (Canada)
 

 

Zeolites were described briefly in 1756 from "Iceland" and Svappavaara (Swedish Lapland) in specimens given to the Uppsala mineralogist Axel Fredrik Cronstedt. Observations by mine counsellor Anton von Swab and further data from Cronstedt, resulted in short descriptions of zeolites from Ädelfors (southern Sweden) and Gustavsberg (west-central Sweden). Zeolites from all four localities were brought together in Cronstedt's epic Försök til Mineralogie (1758) but description was insufficient for species identification. However, later studies suggest that the Cronstedt's Swedish zeolites, as cavity fillings in ancient metamorphic rocks, were stilbite from Gustavsberg and Svappavaara, probably laumontite from Ädelfors, and possibly natrolite from Gustavsberg. In 1783, the Parisian crystallographer Romé de L'Isle, added chabazite to the Gustavsberg suite, but this mineral was not evident in Cronstedt's specimens. A zeolite, possibly gonnardite, was collected in 1772 near Skalholt, western Iceland, by the Swedish cleric Uno von Troil, and described, in 1777, by Professor Torbern Bergman of Uppsala. Sweden's specialization in zeolites mirrored her dominance in mineralogy at the time.

Initial failure to completely describe minerals resulted from poorly developed technology (analytical chemistry and crystallography). Ironically, the former methodology was developed mainly by Swedish chemists, although they did not add their findings to detailed macroscopic observations of specimens. It was the French who took advantage of the new technology, using as reference, specimens from Iceland and the Faeroes acquired by Jean-François Ogier during his posting as Ambassador of France to Denmark (1753-66) and, after his death (1775), sold to the Dijon savant Nicolas Pasumot and the Paris academic Balthazar-Georges Sage. They had sources of zeolites in the amygdaloidal basalts of Auvergne, and the study of these and other minerals from the host rock, marked the transfer of the centre of this research to France. The age of Wallerius and Cronstedt had passed, that of Romé de L'Isle and Hay was about to begin.

 

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