Koninck, Laurent-Guillaume De

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Koninck, Laurent-Guillaume De

(b. Louvain Belgium, 3 May 1809; d Liège, Belgium, 15 July 1887)

chemistry, paleontology.

De Koninck studied at the University of Louvain, from which he graduated at the age of twenty-two with a doctorate in medicine, pharmacy, and natural sciences. He practiced medicine for only a short time; he was named a préparateur at the University of Louvain in 1831. In 1834 and 1835 he frequented the laboratories of several great chemists of this period and visited Germany’s most famous professors. Upon his return to Belgium, he was placed in charge of a course in industrial chemistry at the University of Ghent (1835), and was then transferred at his own request to the University of Liège (1836), where he taught various branches of chemistry until his retirement in 1876. Although his principal scientific activity was in paleontology, he was never authorized to give more than an optional course in this field.

De Koninck’s reputation was considerable during his lifetime. He was named a member of the Belgian Royal Academy and of many forerign academies and scientific societies as well. In 1875 he received the Wollaston Medal.

Although he tackled very diverse subjects in paleontology, his chief work was conocoerned with the fauna of the Carboniferous limestone. The limestone of Visé, the type section of the Visean stage, is located a few kilometers from Liège. The rich fossil content of this formation was already known when De Konick came to settle in that city. There he made important collections, which he completed by mens of fossils from the limestone of Tournai, the type section of the Tournaisian stage. These collections (preserved in large part at the Museum of Comparative Zoology of Harvard University) revealed to him the importance of a subject that F. McCoy at the same period, and John Phillips before him, had approached in Great Britain. In his first major work on this question (1842-1844), he described and illustrated 434 species, of which he considered 208 to be new. In this work he demonstrated the complexity, not then appreciated, of the Carboniferous fauna, attempted to establish the relative age of the sedimentary deposits by means of the fossils, and compared the Belgian Carboniferous fauna with that of other regions.

De Koninck concentrated his efforts around the systematic inventory of the fossil fauna, their chronological signification, and their geographical extension. Besides writing monographs on particular genera and groups, De Koninck revealed the existence of the Devonian system in China (1846), made substantial contributions to the knowledge of the Paleozoic fossils of Spitsbergen (1846, 1849), India (1863), and New South Wales (1877), as well as of various countries in Europe. From 1878 until his death he worked on a monumental study of the Faune du calcaire carbonifère de la Belgique, (1878), the Cephalopoda (1880), the Gastropoda (1881, 1883), the Lamelli-branchia (1855, in collaboration with J. Fraipont), and finally the Brachiopoda (1887)—a total of 1,302 species described and illustrated, of which he judged 891 to be new.

He changed his views on the relative chronology of the Carboniferous limestone. In his first monograph he thought he was able to explain the differences of the fauna of the Tournai and Visé limestones by supposing that they had belonged to different basins. Later, he considered the Visean deposits to be slightly older than the Tournaisian ones. Then, having recognized his error and having placed these formations back in their natural order, he accepted the existence of a third division of the Carboniferous limestone, the Waulsortian, intermediate between the Tournaisian and the Visean. (The Waulsortian is actually not a stage but a facies of the Belgian Carboniferous limestone.)

Convinced of the fixity of species, De Koninck remained faithful to the school of Cuvier and d’Orbigny until the end of his life. Refusing to admit that a species might cross the boundary between stages, he was led to exaggerate the number of species. His work was essentially analytical but nevertheless is valuable for the precision of the descriptions and for the number of fossil forms that it helped to make known.


I. Orioginal Works. De Koninck published twenty-one works on chemistry, and seventy articles, memoirs, and reports on paleontology and geology. The two main works are Description des animaux fossiles qui se trouvent dans le terrain carbonifère de Belgique, 2 vols. (Liège, 1842-1844); and Faune du calcaire carbonifère de la Belgique, in Annales du Musée royale d’histoire naturelle de Belgique, 6 pts. (1878-1887).

II. Secondary Literature. Several obituary notices were published on De Knoinck with a complete listing of his publications. See, in particular. J. Fraipont, “Laurent-Guillaume De Koninck, sa vie et ses oeuvres,” in Annales de la Société géologique de Belgique (Bulletin), 14 (1889), 189-255; and E. Dupont, “Notice sur Laurent-Guillaume De Koninck,” in Annuaire de L’Académie royale de Belgique, 57 (1891), 437-483.

G. Ubaghs

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Koninck, Laurent-Guillaume De

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