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Lohest, Marie Joseph Maximin (called Max)

Lohest, Marie Joseph Maximin (called Max)

(b. Liège, Belgium, 8 September 1857;d. Liège, 6 December 1926)

geology, mineralogical sciences, paleontology.

Lohest was the son of Joseph Lohest, doctor of laws and merchant. After completing his secondary studies at the Collège des Jésuites, he enrolled first in the Faculty of Philosophy and Letters, and then in the School of Mines, of the University of Liège. In 1883 he received an honorary engineering diploma from the Technical Faculty. In the following year Gustave Dewalque engaged him as an assistant for a geology course. Having obtained the rank of agrégé spécial, he was put in charge of a course on deposits of fuels and phosphates; on 15 June 1893 he was given an optional course in geology instead. In 1897 Lohest succeeded Dewalque and thereby became professor of the general geology course. In his teaching he eliminated inessential detail to concentrate on geological principles and their possible applications. He took part, along with several colleagues from Liège, in the creation of the rank of engineer-geologist in 1900. During World War I he was involved in the organization of the School of Anthropology.

Lohest was elected a corresponding member of the Académie Royale des Sciences de Belgique in 1904 and a full member in 1910. In 1908 he was awarded the decennial prize in mineralogical science. He achieved membership in numerous Belgian and foreign scientific societies; of these his nomination as corresponding member of the Geological Society of London brought him the most pleasure. Lohest was on the board of directors of the Belgian Geological Commission, In 1919 he became a member of the Geological Council and was named to the commission set up to study the waters at Spa.

Like most scientists of the period, Lohest had many interests. Paleontology, especially the study of Paleozoic fishes, was the subject of his first scientific studies. Mere description of fossils was insufficient for him; from his observations he drew conclusions concerning the mode of life of the organisms and the milieu in which they evolved. In 1888 J. S. Newberry, who was visiting Liège, recognized bony plates from the head of a fish of the Dinichtys genus that until then had been reported only in America. Lohest found, in addition, resemblances—of other bones, fins, and dorsal plates—to fishes of the Upper Devonian of Canada.

Lohest also made mineralogical and petrographic studies. In particular he was interested in tourmaline, the conglomerates (pudding stones) of the Gedinnian, and certain anthracites. He investigated the specific conditions under which the deposits occur. Thus, having discovered in 1884, with G. Rocour, phosphate rocks in Hesbaye, he studied them extensively in 1885 and envisaged their possible extent in 1890. He also devoted a note to the age and origin of the plastic clay in the vicinity of Andenne and another to the Tertiary deposits of upper Belgium.

Stratigraphy and tectonics especially attracted Lohest, particularly those of the Paleozoic formations of eastern Belgium and he carried out a detailed survey of the highway and railway cuts in Belgium. His researches on the Dinantian led him to consider the presence of dolomites to be a local phenomenon unsuitable for stratigraphic reference. He found that the gray breccia encountered at various levels of the Visean were of tectonic origin due to fracturing of the limestone during the formation of the synclines. As for the very different red breccia of Waulsort and Landelies, he erroneously associated them with emersion phenomena. This opinion met with lively opposition in 1912 from one of his former students, Victor Brien.

Lohest was also interested in the details of the sedimentation of the Famennian, such as gulling and intra formational conglomerates. The Cambrian of the Stavelot Massif produced a revision in his views; in collaboration with Henri Forir, following the profound modifications that J. Gosselet had made within the stratigraphy of this system, he demonstrated the soundness of earlier surveys done by André Hubert Dumont.

Opposing Gosselet’s thesis concerning the paleogeography of the Paleozoic of the Belgian Ardennes, Lohest defended the purely tectonic origin of anticline zones, stating that the partition into basins was simply a result of the Hercynian deformation.

After having been concerned with the relative age of certain faults of the coal-bearing formation, Lohest turned to those affecting both Mesozoic and Cenozoic formations. He sought to find out whether they indicate the disposition of the Paleozoic substratum; in this regard he attempted to apply the concepts of the American geologist Joseph Le Conte and the French geologist Marcel Bertrand, He also played a prominent role in guiding research on the westward extension into Belgium of the Dutch Limburg coalfields.

In the memoir “Les grandes lignes de la géologie des terrain primaries de la Belgique,” Lohest showed himself an ardent partisan of actualism—neglecting, however, certain facts accepted by his contemporaries. Although tectonics was his chief interest—he even attempted to demonstrate its principal features experimentally—he devoted several publications to metamorphism in the Ardennes. He originated the term “boudinage,” applied to the pinch and swell of quartz seams within sandstone beds. Various explanations have been offered for this phenomenon since it was first observed. In considering the seismic phenomena of the region around Liège (which are, of course, infrequent and of little consequence), Lohest accepted Élie de Beaumont’s view that all geological phenomena are due to the contractions of the earth’s crust caused by the cooling of the globe, an defended this position all his life.

“Introduction à… la géologie. La vie de l’écorce terrestre,” which appeared in 1924, is a condensation of Lohest’s ideas in 224 pages. He wrote of recurrences, of the cyclic evolution of inanimate matter, and even of the succession of species toward an ideal of progress and perfection. Lohest became interested in the Quaternary in 1886, when, with Julien Fraipont and Marcel de Puydt, he discovered a characteristic Neanderthal fossil man—one dated, for the first time, by accompanying evidence of a Mousterian industry— in the terrace of Spy Cavern.

Lohest also devoted some of his time to physical geography; and although he never went to the Congo, he understood’ the importance of this territory for Belgian engineers. In 1897 he published “Notions sommaires de géologie à l’usage de 1’explorateur du Congo.” In Belgium he made several surveys on a scale of 1:40,000 and was requested to advise on important questions of applied hydrology, notably those concerning preliminary plans for water catchment and for the extension of water distribution.


I. Original Works. There is complete bibliography in Fourmarier (see below). The most important works are “Recherches sur les poissons des terrains paléozoiques de Belgique. Poissons des psammites du Condroz, famennien supérieur,” in Annales de la Société géologique de Belgique, 15 (1888), 112-203; “De l’origine des failles des terrains secondaires et tertiaires et de leur importance dans la détermination de 1’allure souterraine des terrains primaires,” ibid., 20 (1893), 275-287; “Les grandes lignes de la géologie des terrains primaires de la Belgique,” ibid., 31 (1904), 219-232; “Introduction à l’étude de la géologie La vie de ;’écorce terrestre,” in Mémoires de la Société royale des sciences (Liège), 3rd ser., 21 (1924); “Stratigraphie du massif cambrien de Stavelot,” in Mémoires de la Société geologique de Belgique, 25 (1900), 71-119, written with H. Forir; “La race humaine de Néanderthal vie de Canstadt, en Belgique. Recherches ethnographiques sur des ossements humains découverts dans les dépôts quaternaires d’une grotte à Spy et détermination de leur âge géologique,” in Bulletin de l’ Académie royale des sciences, 3rd ser., 12 (1886), 741-784, also in Archives de biologie (Ghent), 7 (1887), 587-757, written with J. Fraipont; “Exploration de la grotte de Spy. Notice préliminaire,” in Annales de la Société geologique de Belgique, 13 (1886), 34-39, written with M. de Puydt.

II. Secondary Literature. See P. Fourmarier, “Notice sur Max Lohest, membre de l’Académie,” in Annuaire, Académie royale de Belgique, 119 (1953), 279-386, with portrait and complete bibliography.

F. Stockmans

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