Rames, Jean Baptiste

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(b. Aurillac, France, 26 December 1832; d. Aurillac, 22 August 1894)

botany, geology.

Rames was the son of a pharmacist, who introduced him to the natural sciences at an early age. He earned his degree in pharmacy at Toulouse, where he also spent considerable time at the Faculté des Sciences and the Jardin des Plantes. Appointed an assistant at the university, he carried out research in the region of Toulouse that led him to discover fossil remains, notably of tortoises and crocodiles. This work made possible the precise dating of the Tertiary formation of Toulouse. Rames subsequently collaborated with Félix Garrigou and Henri Filhol in the publication of a work on the human fossil remains found in the caves at Lombrive and Lherm.

Rames then returned to Aurillac to take over his father’s pharmacy. Despite the limits on his time imposed by this responsibility, he undertook an exhaustive study of the Cantal region, with the goal of producing a comprehensive description of its flora and geology. It was in the study of the volcanoes of the Cantal that he made his outstanding contributions. Following the work of Nicolas Desmarest, he showed that they were not caused by elevation (the soulevement of Buch) but followed by an ejection of material which fell back around the crater. The sharp pics typical of the Cantal are the result of degradation by atmospheric agencies of flows of phonolite lava. Rames made an altogether larger number of distinctions within the stratigraphy of the Cantal than had his predecessors, and he described numerous petrographical varieties among the volcanic products. His important discovery, that the supposedly inclined basalts were Miocene, made it possible to establish the synchronism of the uplift of the Alpine chain and the earliest volcanic phenomena in central France. This volcanic action had continued until well into the Quaternary period; the huge massifs of the Cantal and of the Mont-Dore were erected during the Lower Pliocene. Rames presented a theory according to which the excavation of valleys started from the sides of extinct volcanoes and was accomplished by the action of the torrential erosion that succeeded the glaciers. He believed that the Cantal had been formed out of a single vast crater of which the only vestiges are the “puys.” The general view today is that it is the result of a number of volcanoes.

Rames also pointed out in the Miocene alluvial formations the presence of flint that appeared to have been deliberately fashioned and Gabriel de Mortillet did not hesitate to baptize the hypothetical creature who supposedly shaped it Anthropithecus ramesii. This theory is no longer given much credence. Rames discovered the “flore des cinérites” of the Cantal, which the paleobotanist Gaston de Saporta considered among his most important findings.

Géogénie du Cantal (1873), Rames’s major work, was preceded by La création, d’après la géologic et la philosophic naturelle (1869), in which he defended evolutionary concepts. A change in his philosophical opinions, probably inspired by his friend Msgr. Gerard, seems to have prevented him from completing a second edition of this work. The Musée Rames, founded in 1902 in Aurillac, contains his collections together with other specimens from the Cantal.


I. Original Works. Rames’s writings include L’homme fossile des cavernes de Lombrive et de Lherm (Toulouse, 1862), written with Félix Garrigou and Henri Filhol; Étude sur les volcans (Paris, 1866); La crÉation, d’aprés la géologic et la philosophic natitrelle (Paris, 1869); Géogénie du Cantal avec une étude historique et critique sur les progrés de la géologie dans ce département (Paris, 1873); and Topographic raisonnée du Cantal (Aurillac, 1879).

II. Secondary Literature. See M. Boule, “Notice sur Jean-Baptiste Rames,” in Bulletin de la Société géologique de France, 3rd ser., 23 (1895), 192–202; J. Jung, “Les pionniers de la découverte des volcans d’Auvergne,” part of “Hommage à J. B. Rames et inauguration du Musée,” in Revue de la Haute Aucergne, 31 (1946), 251 259; L. Le Peletier d’Aunay, Jean-Baptiste Rames (1832--1894). Sa vie—ses oeuvres sa correspondance (Aurillac, 1946), with 2 maps, a list of his works, and portrait; and G. de Saporta, “Les caractères propres a la vegetation pliocene; a propos des decouvertes de M. J. Rames dans le Cantal,” in Bulletin de la Société géologique de France, 3rd ser., 1 (1873), 212–232; and “Forêts ensevelies sous les cendres éruptives de l’ancien volcan du Cantal, observées par M. J. Rames et conséquences de cette découverte pour la connaissance de la végétation dans le centre de la France à l’époque pliocéne,” in Comptes rendus... … de l’Académie des sciences, 76 (1873), 290–294.

F. Stockmans