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Deperet, Charles

Deperet, Charles

(b. Perpignan, France, 25 June 1854; d. Lyons, France, 18 May 1929)

paleontology, stratigraphy.

After submitting a thesis on the Tertiary geology of his native province of Roussillon (1885), Depéret was appointed professor at the Faculté des Sciences of Lyons (1889) and subsequently served as its capable and influential dean, reappointed again and again, for thirty-three years. In 1893 he published, with F. Delafond, a monograph on the Tertiary geology of the Bresse region (between Lyons and Dijon), a work that quickly became a classic. His research on the Tertiary period, especially in the Rhone Valley (where he profited by Fontannes’s studies) and in Spain, was accompanied by paleontological studies and often gave rise to detailed geological maps. His Les transformations du monde animal (1907), translated into English and German and often reprinted in French, clearly and accurately explains the great problems of paleontology.

Turning to Quaternary geology, until then very obscure, Depéret began in 1906 to present clear and theoretically valid syntheses for the entire world that were based on the theory of eustacy expounded by Eduard Suess and L. de Lamothe. In order to satisfy this theory he conceived of supposed geologic stages called Tyrrhenian and Milazzian and brought about acceptance in France of the notion of alluvial Quaternary terraces of relatively constant altitude (at 20, 30, 60, and 100 meters).

During his lifetime Depéret was considered, both in France and in the Mediterranean countries, to be one of the great masters of science, one whose ideas were adopted without question; extremely powerful on the administrative level, he had a sense of authority as firm as it was courteous. But after his death it was gradually realized that his paleontological studies were often too hasty; carried away by his theories, which were built upon questionable hypotheses, he had neglected or modified facts inconsistent with those theories. Nevertheless, Depéret did succeed in training loyal disciples and, as a passionate fossil seeker, gathered invaluable paleontological collections for his Lyons laboratory.


I. Original Works. Depéret’s principal works include Description géologique du bassin tertiaire du Roussillon (Paris, 1885); “Recherches sur la succession des faunes de vertébrés miocènes de la vallée du Rhône,” in Archives du Muséum d’histoire naturelle de Lyon, 4 (1887), 45–313; “Les terrains tertiaires de la Bresse,” in Étude des gîtes minéraux de la France (Paris, 1893), written with F. Delafond; Les transformations du monde animal (Paris, 1907; English trans. New York, 1909; German trans. Stuttgart, 1909); Notice sur les travaux scientifiques de M. Ch. Depéret (Lyons, 1913); and “La classification des temps quaternaires et ses rapports avec l’antiquité de l’homme en Europe,” in Revue générale des sciences pures et appliquées (15 March 1923), 2–8, a résumé of ten notices entitled “Essai de coordination géologique des temps quaternaires” that were published in Comptes rendus hebdomadaires des séances de l’Académie des sciences between 1918 and 1922.

II. Secondary Literature. On Depéret or his work, see Franck Bourdier, “Origine et succès d’une théiorie géologique illusoire: L’eustatisme appliqué aux terrasses alluviales,” in Revue de géomorphologie dynamique, 10 (1959), 16–29, with 146 references; M. Gignoux, “Charles Depérel,” m Bulletin de la Société géologique de France, 4th ser., 30 (1930), 1043–1073, with a portrait and a bibliography of 223 titles; and F. Roman, “La vie et l’oeuvre de Charles Depéret,” in Revue de l’Université de Lyon (July 1929), 304–322.

Franck Bourdier

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