Archiac, Étienne-Jules-Adolphe Desmier (or Dexmier) De Saint-Simon, Vicomte D

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Archiac, Étienne-Jules-Adolphe Desmier (or Dexmier) De Saint-Simon, Vicomte D’

(b. Rheims, France, 24 September 1802; d. Paris, France, 24 or 25 December 1868)

geology, paleontology.

Registered as the natural son of Marie-Elisabeth-Françoise Commelin, Adolphe was acknowledged by his father, Étienne-Louis-Marie Dexmier d’Archiacde Saint-Simon, a former cavalry captain who was an impoverished descendant of an ancient noble family from Angoumois.

After a childhood spent at Mesbrecourt, Aisne, d’Archiac entered the school for pages at Versailles and prepared for the military academy at Saint-Cyr, to which he was admitted in November 1819. He was appointed second lieutenant in the cavalry in 1821 and promoted to first lieutenant in 1827. In 1830, shortly before the July Revolution, d’Archiac published a pamphlet that showed his attachment to the ancien régime and expressed his aversion to the nobility of the Empire and to the bourgeoisie. He was placed on leave pay (about half the pay of a soldier on active duty) on 1 October 1830 because of this attachment to the Bourbon cause. The amount he received enabled him to subsist without working for a living.

How he came to study the geology of sedimentary formations is unknown. On 4 September 1832, at the annual extraordinary meeting of the Geological Society at Caen, he arranged to be introduced by Graves, secretary-general of the prefecture of Oise, and by Mutel-Delisle, a Paris attorney—a choice of sponsorship that reveals his lack of connections in the teaching profession. D’Archiac then declared that he had renounced his military career in order to devote himself to geology.

Leaving the study of eruptive and volcanic formations to the mining engineers, d’Archiac concentrated on sedimentary formations. His curiosity first led him to study two regions through which he had traveled in his youth: Aisne and Charente. From the beginning of his surveys in Aisne he undertook to make detailed sections and to collect fauna, which he carefully catalogued layer by layer. In 1835 he published a summary of his research as well as “Note sur la position du calcaire de Château-Landon.” Following these publications, the Ministry of Public Works commissioned him to make a geological map of Aisne. His search for correlations led him to England for two months in 1837 and, the following year, to Brussels and Düsseldorf. He followed the lignite deposits from the Soissons region to Berkshire and established that they were of the same age and belonged at the level of the plastic clay of the Paris basin, as had already been indicated by Alexandre Brongniart and Élie de Beaumont.

His “Essais sur la coordination des terrains tertiaires du nord de la France, de la Belgique et de l’Angleterre” appeared in 1839. In 1843 he published a geological map of Aisne on the scale of 1: 160,000 in a serial monograph, in which he described the physical features of the department as well as its hydrography, industries, and meteorology. Above all, he classified its formations into five groups: Transitional, Oolitic, Cretaceous, Tertiary, and Diluvial. In these he distinguished separate strata and determined their fossil contents. The “Essais” was followed by another work dealing with the Cretaceous formation of the southwestern, northern and northwestern slopes of the French central plateau. D’Archiac subdivided the Cretaceous formation into four groups (Neocomian, green sandstone, tufa chalk, white chalk), which were further subdivided into stages.

Approaching problems of narrower scope with the same meticulous care, d’Archiac published notes on the petrographic features of Silurian and Carboniferous limestones, on the fossilization of echinoderms, the serpentine rocks of Limousin, pelagic formations, and the comparative geographic distribution of Paleozoic and contemporary mollusks. His last surveying trips during the summers of 1853–1856 and 1858 were devoted to the Corbiéres region, little known until then. In 1854 he published Coupe géologique des environs des Bains de Rennes (Aude), suivie de la description de quelques fossiles de cette localité. On 16 March 1857 he presented to the Geological Society his newly completed geological map of the regions adjacent to Aude and Pyrénées-Orientales.

D’Archiac did not restrict himself to fauna that he himself had collected. In 1842, in collaboration with his friend Edouard de Verneuil, he published a description of Devonian fossils of the Rhineland. Three years later the two naturalists described the fauna brought back by Adrien Paillette, who had prospected the Primary formations of Asturias. When the Geological Society received an important collection of “tourtia” (a glauconite conglomerate of quartz pebbles, deposited by the Cenomanian transgression in Hainaut and Flanders) from Belgium, d’Archiac undertook a study of it that was published in 1846–1847.

He was particularly interested in Nummulites. In 1846 and 1850 he described and illustrated finds made by geologists at Bayonne and Dax. In 1853 he published, in collaboration with Jules Haime, Description des animaux fossiles du groupe nummulitique de l’Inde, précédée d’un résumé géologique et d’une monographie des Nummulites. This work, containing illustrations of 352 species or varieties received by the Geological Society of London, has remained the basic work for every paleontological laboratory interested in the determination of Foraminifera. In 1866 d’Archiac, in collaboration with Verneuil and Paul Fischer, described the fossils brought back from Asiatic Turkey by the Russian geographer Pëtr Tschichatschew. The following year he made public the findings of Auguste Viquesnel in European Turkey.

D’Archiac published most of his articles and memoirs in the Bulletin or the Mémoires of the Geological Society. Named the society’s deputy secretary in 1836 and its secretary in 1838, he served as president in 1844, 1849, and 1854. In March 1842 the society commissioned him to present an analysis of papers published since 1834, the review for the previous publications having been Ami Boué’s work. In 1847 d’Archiac began publication of Histoire des progrés de la géologie with Volume I (Cosmogénie et géogénie, physique du globe, géographie physique, terrain moderne) and announced that three additional volumes would complete the work. Geology developed so rapidly, however, that it soon outdistanced his plans. D’Archiac’s abstracts make up eight other volumes published between 1848 and 1860 and terminate with the Triassic, leaving out older formations. These nine volumes are a remarkable collection of learning that is still highly appreciated by geologists.

D’Archiac was elected a member of the Académie des Sciences, Section for Mineralogy, on 27 April 1857, to replace Constant Prevost. When d’Orbigny’s death left vacant the chair of paleontology at the Muséum d’Historie Naturelle, d’Archiac, supported by the assembly of the professors of the museum and by the Academy of Sciences, offered himself as a candidate on 28 September 1857 and wrote:

In summing up, the Museum’s course in paleontology, in order to be truly useful and to respond to present needs and clearly evident scientific tendencies, should have as its aim not so much making known the zoological or anatomical characteristics of the organic fossil demonstrating the relationships of these forms to the earth strata and the manner in which they are distributed therein, and searching for the overall laws that have governed the succession of beings in the course of time, as well as the causes that have modified these laws for short periods of time [Archives Nationales, F17.20036].

Despite his exceptional qualifications, the authorities were slow to decide. A first appeal by d’Archiac served merely to add another document to his file. A second appeal brought his appointment on 14 June 1861. “Précis de I’histoire de la paléontologie stratigraphique” was the subject of his first course.

Among the subjects d’Archiac treated was a lively critique of Darwin’s On the Origin of Species, the first French translation of which had just appeared and in which the term élection had been preferred to sélection. Accustomed to accuracy, d’Archiac stressed the vagueness and gratuitousness of numerous claims made by the English author. “The sad impressions of fatalism prevail from beginning to end in Darwin’s book,” he wrote (Cours de paléontologie stratigraphique, II, 113), but by 1866 he had become an evolutionist:

The present state of the earth is only the consequence of its past—and this holds true for the organic as well as the inorganic realm. The animals and plants surrounding us and among which we live are only the descendants or the representatives of those which have preceded us. The living forms, as well as those which are extinct, are all part of a continuous chain [Géologie et paléontologie, p.345].

D’Archiac, who remained single, lived alone and had no close ties. The frantic work that enabled him to rank among the leading scientists was his consolation. His physical stamina, which had sustained him as long as he engaged in surveying trips, finally began to fail. On 24 December 1868, apparently in the grip of a severe depression, he submitted his resignation as academician and professor to Victor Duruy, minister of public education, and left his home. It is believed that within the next few hours he threw himself into the Seine, from which his body was recovered at Meulan on 30 May 1869.


I.Original Works. D’Archiac’s major writing is Histoire des pregrés de la géologie de 1834 á 1845, in 9 vols., all pub. in Paris: I, Cosmogénie et géogénie, physique du globe, géographie physique, terrain moderne (1847); II, pt. 1, Terrain quaternaire ou diluvien (1848); II, pt. 2, Terrain tertiaire (1849); III, Formation nummulitique. Roches ignées ou pyrogénes des époques quaternaire et tertiaire (1850); IV, Formation crétacée, lτe partie (1851); V, Formation crétacée, 2e partie (1853); VI, Formation jurassique, lτe partie (1856); VII, Formation jurassique, 2 e partie (1857); and VIII, Formation triasique (1860).

His other works include “Résumé d’un mémoire sur une partie des terrains tertiaires inférieurs du département de I’Aisne,” in Bulletin de la Société géologique de France, 6 (1835), 240–247; “Note sur la position du calcaire de Chτteau-Landon,” ibid., 7 (1835), 30–35; “Mémoire sur la formation crétacée du sud-ouest de la France,” in Mémoires de la Société géologique de France, 2 , pt. 2 (1837), 157–192; “Note sur les sables et grés moyens tertiaires,” in Bulletin de la Société géologique de France, 9 (1837), 54–73; “Observations sur les lignites tertiaires du nord de la France et de l’Angleterre,” ibid., 9 (1838), 103–106; “Observations surle groupe moyen de la formation crétacée,” in Mémoires de la Société géologique de France, 3 , pt. 1 (1838), 261–311; “Essais sur la coordination des terrains tertiaires du nord de la France, de la Belgique et de l’Angleterre,” in Bulletin de la Société géologique de France, 10 (1839), 168–225, a German translation is in Leonhard and Bronn’s Neues Jahrbuch für Mineralogie (Stuttgart, 1939); Discours sur l’ensemble des phénoménes qui se sont manifestés á la surface du globe, depuis son origine jusqu’ á l’époque actuelle (Paris, 1840); “Description géologique du département de l’Aisne,” in Mémoires de la Société géologique de France, 5 , pt. 2 (1843), 129–421; “Études sur la formation crétacée des versants sud-ouest, nord et nord-ouest du plateau central de la France,” pt.1 in Annales des sciences géologiques, 2 (1843), 121–143, 169–191; pt. 2 in Mémoires de la Société géologique de France, 2nd ser., 2, pt.1(1846), 1–148; “Description des fossiles recueillis par M. Thorent, dans les couches á Nummulines des environs de Bayonne,” ibid., 189–217; “Rapport sur les fossiles du Tourtia, légués par M.Lévellé á la Société géologique de France,” ibid., pt,2 (1847), 291–351; Notice sur les travaux géologiques de M. d’Archiac (Paris, 1847); “Description des fossiles du groupe nummulitique recueillis par M. S.-P. Pratt et M. J. Delbos aux environs de Bayonne et de Dax,” in Mémoires de la Société géologique de France, 2nd ser., 3 pt. 2 (1850), 397–456; Liste bibliographique par ordre de dates des travaux géologiques de M. d’Archiac (Paris,1856); “Les Corbiéres. Études géologiques d’une partie des départments de l’Aude et des Pyrénées-Orientales,” in Mémoires de la Société géologique de France, 2nd ser., 6 , pt. 2 (1859); Cours de paléontologie stratigraphique professé au Muséum d’Histoire Naturelle, 2 vols.: I, Précis de l’histoire de la paléontologie stratigraphique et des phénoménes organiques quis’y rattachent (Paris, 1864); Leçons sur la faune quaternaire (Paris, 1865); Géologie et paléontologie (Paris, 1866); “Paléontologie,” in Auguste Viquenel, Voyage dans la Turquie d’Europe, II (Paris, 1868), 449–481; and Paléontologie de la France (Paris, 1868).

Works written with others are “On the Fossils of the Older Deposits in the Rhenish Provinces; Preceded by a General Survey of the Fauna of the Paleozoic Rocks, and Followed by a Tabular List of the Organic Remains of the Devonian System in Europe,” in Transactions of the Geological Society of London, 6 (1842), 303–410, written with Edouard de Verneuil, trans. into German by G. von Leonhard (Stuttgart, 1844); Description des animaux fossiles du groupe nummulitique de l’Inde, précédée d’un résumé géologique et d’une monographie des Nummulites (Paris, 1853), written with Jules Haime; and “Paléontologie de I’Asie Mineure,” written with Verneuil and Paul Fischer, in Pëtr Tschichatschew. Asie Mineure. Description physique de cette contrée, IV (Paris, 1869), 83–234, 393–420.

II. Secondary Literature. An article on d’Archiac is Albert Gaudry, “Notice sur les travaux scientifiques de d’Archiac,” in Bulletin de la Société géologique de France, 3rd ser., 2 (1874), 230–244. Source material may be found in Archives de la Guerre. Vincennes, d’Archiac’s file; Archives Nationales, Paris, F17.13566 and F17.20036; and the archives of the Académie des Sciences, which has d’Archiac’s papers that were turned over to it in 1960 by the Société Géologique de France, including 987 letters written to d’Archiac.

Arthur Birembaut