Füchsel, Georg Christian

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Füchsel, Georg Christian

(b. Ilmenau, Germany, 14 February 1722; d. Rudolstadt, Germany, 20 June 1773)


Füchsel studied medicine at the University of Jena and medicine, natural sciences, and theology at the University of Leipzig. After settling in Rudolstadt, he engaged in the “salon” science of natural history cabinets and mineral collections. He served as town physician and later court physician to the princes of Schwarzburg-Rudolstadt. His major work, “Historia terrae et maris, ex historia Thuringiae, per montium descriptionem, eruta,” appeared in 1761 in the Acta of the Erfurt Academy of Sciences. Although written in German, this work was published in a very defective Latin translation made by a friend of Füchsel. Its frequent unintelligibility perhaps accounts in part for the relative neglect of the “Historia.”

Most eighteenth-century writings on geology tended to be either submerged in extended and superficial accounts of general natural history and in cosmological speculation, or limited to the most detailed sort of descriptions of individual occurrences: hot springs, fossil finds, strange crystals, erratic boulders, mines, caves, and quarries. In contrast with such works, Füchsel’s “Historia” is unusual for its purely geological orientation. This book-length work contains the enunciation and substantiation of general principles of historical geology, an extensive description of all the stratified rocks of the Thüringer Wald used to illustrate the general principles, an explanation of the causes of dynamic changes in the earth’s curst, and an explanation of the origin of veins and their minerals. An appendix (“Usus historiae ...”) furnishes an extended discussion of the applications of such geological knowledge.

Most noteworthy among Füchsel’s principles of geology are his assumptions of a rigorous actualism and the fruitful concept of a formation (which he calls a series montana or ein Geburge). After a thorough account of all the formations of the Thüringer Wald (including data on lithology, notable minerals, fossil content, inclusion of foreign rocks, spatial orientation, and geographical extent for each formation), Füchsel’s work proceeds to construct, by induction, a historical account of the region’s geology founded on the assumption of a uniformity of natural processes through time. “In truth we must take as the norm in our explanation [of the earth’s history] the manner in which nature acts and produces solids at the present time: we know no other way.”1 He distinguished a formation as those strata formed at the same time, of the same material, and in the same manner.2 In establishing the history Füchsel also used the principle of superposition and the method of correlation by index fossils to reconstruct a complete stratigraphic sequence for Thüringen and to assimilate separated occurrences of the same formations to their proper place in the sequence. To illustrate the stratigraphic data of this history, Füchsel produced the first published geological map. Unlike previous soil maps (such as Christopher Packe’s Chart of East Kent), Füchsel’s map indicated not only the distribution of rocks but also their arrangement in relation to each other and their relative ages.

The Acta of the Erfurt Academy had only a limited circulation, and in his other major work, Entwurf zu der ältesten Erd- und Menschengeschichte..., which appeared anonymously in 1773, Füchsel complained that only a few scholars seemed to have given the “Historia” much attention. Nonetheless, his ideas did exert an influence on the geological literature of the time, probably through a long notice by J. S. Schröter in the popular Journal für Liebhaber des Steinreichs3 and through the writings of J. K. W. Voigt, J. E. I. Walch, and Goethe. A. G. Werner’s system seems to owe much to Füchsel, but the precise connections have not yet been fully documented.


1. “Historia,” pp. 81–82, sec. 43. “Praecedentes observationes tam inter se quam cum aliis, combinare, atque eventus seu historiam exinde deucere liceat. Modus vero quo natura hodierno adhuc tempore agit, et corpora producit, in hac explanatione pro norma assumendus est; alium non novimus.”

2.Ibid., p. 48, sec. 4. “Montes eiusdem situs, ab eadem massa, eodemque modo constructos seriem montanam (ein Geburge) nominare liceat.” A similar definition is found in p. 25, sec. 39, of the Entwurf.

3.2 (1775), 54–63.


I. Original Works. Acta Academiae electoralis moguntinae scientiarum utilium, quae Erfordiae est, 2 (1761), contains both the “Historia terrae et maris...,” 44–208, and the “Usus Historiae terrae et maris,” 209–254. Füchsel also published “Ansicht des Erfurthischen Gebietes als eines Theils von Thüringen” in Neue oekonomische Nachrichten (Leipzig), 3 (1766), 359–390. His last work appeared anonymously as Entwurf zu der ältesten Erd- und Menschengeschichte, nebst einem Versuch, den Ursprung der Sprache zu finden (Frankfurt-Leipzig, 1773). An English trans. of the “Historia” is in preparation.

II. Secondary Liteature. The excellent and comprehensive biography by Rudolf Möller, “Mitteilungen zur Biographie Georg Christian Fühsels,” in Freiberger Forschungshefte, D43 (Leipzig, 1963), includes references to Füchsel’s other published articles, to pertinent archival materials, and to relevant secondary literature. For further analsysis of Fuschsel’s ideas see T. E. Cumprecht, “Einige Beitrage zur Geschichte der Geognoisie,” in Archiv für Mineralogie, Geognosie, Bergbau und Hüttenkunde, 23 (1850), 468–576

Bert Hansen