Barrande, Joachim

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Barrande, Joachim

(b. Sangues, Haute-Loire, France, 11 August 1799; d. Frohsdorf, Austria, 5 October 1883)

paleontology, stratigraphy.

Barrande was educated in Paris at the École Polytechinque and the École des Ponts et Chaussées. He became tutor to the grandson of Charles X and left France with the king’s family after the July Revolution of 1830. The exiled royal family traveled to England and Scotland, then temporarily setteld to Prague in 1832. When the family later moved to Görz (now Gorizia, Italy), Barrande remianed in Prague, where he took a position as engineer for the construction of a horse-drawn railway. While surveying the proposed route, he became interested in the local fossils, and the acquisition of fossils and the examination of the strata near Prague became his chief occupation. When Murchison’s Silurian System appeared (1839), Barrande recognized the similarity between the rocks of central Bohemia and those Murchison described in Britain.

From 1840 to his death Barrande collected, described, and drew the fossils of the central Bohemian basin—this area has been called the Barrndian ever since. The strata of this basin are Proterozoic-early Paleozoic in age. At that time “Silurian” might be applied to strata that today are in the Cambrian, Ordovician, Silurian, or Devonian system. The results formed the outstanding monograph Système silurien du centre de la Bohême (Prague, 1852–1902), which appeared in eight parts forming thirty quarto volumes. Because this work is so comprehensive, its drawings so accurate, and its descriptions so fine, it is still used as a reference book by paleontologists. Barrande’s enormous collection, with all his scientific manuscripts and his library, was given to the Prague Museum at his death. His will also provided 10,000 florins to defray the costs of the remaining volumes of the Système silurien, which the museum was to publish from the extensive notes he left.

The Système silurien would have been a significant contribution to the geology of the mid-nineteenth century if it had offered no more than the naming and analysis of over 4,000 new fossil species. Yet these investigations had even greater impact on geological thought. In 1851 Charles Lyell pointed out in the Quarterly Journal of the Geological Society of London (7, xxiii), on the basis of some of Barrande’s preliminary studies: is not the least interesting circumstance attending these discoveries, to learn that all these fossils were obtained from a superficial area, not more extensive than one-sixtieth part of the Addriatic; and they certainly show that the Silurian Fauna was not only as rich, but as much influenced by geographical conditions, or as far from being uniform throughout the globe, as that of any subsequent era.

Barrande’s meticulous efforts distinguished metamorphosis in several species of trilobites, and he even identified embryonic states. He described Sao hirsuta, of which twenty naturally occurring forms had previously been identified as eighteen species in ten genera.

Barrande never abandoned the Cuvierian conception of the constancy of species, which he acquired during his early training in Paris. Similarly, he persevered in his conception of “colonies,” assemblages of more recent fauna found intercalated among older strata. They supposedly resulted from migrations, although his opponents argued that these anomalies were due to tectonic disturbances of the strata.

In an international controversy over the status of the Taconic system, proposed by the American geologist Ebenezer Emmons, Barrande actively joined Jules Marcou in supporting Emmon’s claim to be the true discoverer of the primordial fauna.


I. Original Works. The Système silurien du centre de la Bohême, VII, I (Prague, 1887), ix-xvi, contains a bibliography of Barrande’s many articles. His Défense des colonies (Prague, 1861–1881) is a series of his articles, letters, and essays relevant to that controversy.

II. Secondary Literature. A bibliography of secondary materials on Barrande is in K. Lambrecht, W. Quenstedt, and A. Quenstedt, eds., Fossilium catalogus I: Animalia, pars 72: Palaeontologi catalogus bio-bibliographicus (The Hague, 1938), p. 22. An interesting modern biography is Josef Svoboda and Ferdinand Prantl, Barrandium: Geologie des mittelböhmisches Silur und Devon (Prague, 1958), pp. 47–67.

Bert Hansen

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Barrande, Joachim

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