Groddeck, Albrecht von

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Groddeck, Albrecht von

(b. Danzig, Germany [now Gdansk, Poland], 25 August 1837; d Clausthal, Germany, 18 July 1887)

geology, mineralogy.

An uncle was a well-known Prussian mine superintendent and through him Albrecht must have come in contact with the mining and metallurgical industry. Groddeck attended the Gymnasium in Danzig until 1856. In 1857 he decided to study metallurgy; but he first worked in the mining industry until 1860. Then he went to the universities of Berlin and Breslau for theoretical training. During vacations he visited the mines of Silesia, and subsequently also those of Mansfeld and the Oberharz, most of which are stratabound deposits. This fact may have left a lasting influence on his patterns of thought in ore genesis. Subsequently he spent two semesters at the mining school at Clausthal. Among his professors, F. D. A. Roemer had the strongest influence on him.

Groddeck worked for a short time as a chemist for mining companies, and in 1864 he was employed as an instructor in mining and ore dressing at Clausthal. In 1867 Roemer retired and Groddeck added mineralogy, geognosy, and paleontology to his teaching schedule and simultaneously became acting director of the school.

During the same year he had presented a doctoral thesis to the philosophy faculty of the University of Göttingen, published the year before under the title “Ueber die Erzgänge des nordwestlichen Oberharzes” (Zeitschrift der Deutschen geologischen Gesellschaft, 18 [1866], 693–776). On 1 January 1871 he moved up to the post of director of the School of Mines and on 16 June 1872 he obtained the title königlicher Bergrath. In 1880 he passed the technical subjects on to a younger professor, but he soon took over a course in ore geology, a subject he had introduced into the curriculum.

It is obvious that Groddeck’s teaching and administrative responsibilities were extremely heavy. This may explain why he was not a prolific writer. Nevertheless, he cooperated in the detailed mapping of the Harz Mountains. He mainly concentrated on two research topics: Roemer had contributed to the paleontological knowledge of the Harz region and other areas; Groddeck continued this work by investigating the lithologic sequences, primarily in the Harz Mountains, as reflected in his booklet Abriss der Geognosie des Harzes (1871–1883). His second topic, which historically is probably much more significant and original, was the link between lithology and ore geology. Here he made a major step in a direction that was almost entirely lost for 80 years and which has been rediscovered only recently. It was an observational classification of ore deposits, taking into account the facts of congruence between the host rock and the deposits. In his textbook on economic ore deposits, he came very close to stating that conformable or congruent deposits were contemporaneous, and noncongruent deposits epigenetic. This idea is reflected in his book in the following classification of mineral deposits (p. 84):

Groddeck’s fifty-seven types of ore deposits were classified first according to geometric criteria (layered, vein type, and so on) and second according to composition. In this morphologic trend he was closest of all his contemporaries to the general trend of objectivation, that is, of an introduction of observational as against interpretative criteria in scientific classifications. In botany, zoology, and crystallography, this observational pattern had been followed since the first half of the eighteenth century, whereas in geology, especially in ore geology, old mythologic theories of magic ore sources were still fashionable, and because of Pošepnýy, had again become accepted dogma in 1890. Consequently, Groddeck was clearly a forerunner of the modern approach, especially the modern French morphological school of thought.

Because of his teaching and administrative duties, his early death, and probably also his less active links with foreign researchers, Groddeck was not very influential in his field, and apparently not nearly as well known in Anglo-Saxon countries as Pošepný, who traveled in North America and whose book on ore deposits was translated into English as early as 1895. Pošepný, and in part also von Cotta, were strong proponents of an almost pan-epigenetic theory of ore genesis, where as Groddeck showed an independent new approach, linking observations in the country rock with his genetic interpretations. For this independent observation and interpretation of ore features he was rediscovered after 1958; an English translation of his 1879 book on ore deposits is presently being prepared.

His keen scientific mind also led him to propose other new genetic solutions to old problems, thus far explained by complicated hypotheses based more on ideas (projections of ideas) than on observations. For example, he showed with both observation and a sound logic of relations, that the tectonic structure of the Oberharz diabase consists of a simple, compressed saddle-shaped fold. He also proved that the adinole schist of the Oberharz is a normal bed concordant with the siliceous Culm schist, again demonstrating that he was ahead of his time in regard to genetic understanding. He also pioneered observations and interpretations of wall rock alterations. Groddeck’s work therefore deserves a more important place in the history of geology than it has up to now been accorded.


I. Original Works. A bibliography of Groddeck’s works is in Poggendorff, III, 551–552; IV, 537. His major publications are Abriss der Geognosie des Harzes, 2 vols. (1871–1883): and his textbook, Die Lehre von den Lagerstätten der Erze (Leipzig, 1879).

II. Secondary Literature. See A. K. Lossen, “Albrecht von Groddeck,” in Jahrbuch der Preussischen geologischen Landesanstalt u. Bergakademie zu Berlin, 1887 (1888), 109–132; and “Albrecht von Groddeck,” in Neues Jahrbuch für Mineralogie, Geologie und Palüontologie, 1 (1888), 24.

W. Fischer, Gesteins-und Lagerstättenbildung im Wandel der wissenschaftlichen Anschauung (Stuttgart, 1961), refers often to Groddeck’s work, but does not fully appreciate the role of his work as compared to that of Cotta and Pošepny.

G. C. Amstutz