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Renevier, Eugéne


(b. Lausanne, Switzerland, 26 March 1831; d. Lausanne, 4 May 1906)

geology, paleontology.

Throughout his life Renevier was a man of enthusiasm and innovative spirit. He possessed the abilities, energy, motivation, and foresight to tackle the great geological challenges of his time. His accomplishments include contributions to the development of international geology as well as to the regional geology of his native Switzerland.

Renevier’s mother died while he was young and, following the remarriage of his father, Charles Renevier, Eugène was sent to Stuttgart for his higher education. He studied paleontology under F. J. Picket de la Rive at Geneva from 1851 to 1853 and continued his studies under Edmond Hébert at Paris in 1854. There he become interested in the nummulitic faunas of the Alps, in particular the partly overturned sequence at the Dent de Morcles-Diablerets massif in the canton of Vaud. In 1856 Renevier taught a course in zoology; and in 1859 he was elected professor of geology at the Académie de Lausanne, which became the University of Lausanne in 1890. As the authority on historical geology, he was relieved then from teaching courses in mineralogy and petrology. Renevier tended to speak over the heads of his audience, especially when treating matters of nomenclature.

Much of Renevier’s scholarly work consisted of meticulous studies in stratigraphy, paleontology, and mineralogy. His structure sections across the High Calcareous Alps (Dent de Morcles) served mainly to illustrate the exposed stratigraphy, irrespective of “abnormal contacts”; tectonic conclusions were left for others to draw. Nevertheless, Renevier’s exploration and detailed mapping in the High Calcareous Alps and Prealps were of great and permanent value and formed the basis for the later works of Hans Schardt, Maurice Lugeon, and Pierre Termier.

In addition to teaching, Renevier participated in and presided over a number of learned societies and associated working and planning commissions. He was a member of the federal geological commission of the Société Helvétique des Sciences Naturelles and the Commission Géologique du Simplon (1877, 1882), the agency responsible for planning the Simplon 19.7- kilometer rail tunnel, still the longest in the world.

Renevier Was a prominent figure in the Swiss academic world, particularly in the French-speaking cantons. He was a founder of the Société Géologique Suisse in 1882 and served as its first president. In 1888 he began publishing the society’s journal, Eclogae geologicae Helvetiae. Renevier developed the Musée Géologique Cantonale in Lausanne and served as its director for over four decades. He also founded the Missions Romandes, a missionary society in Africa. His Christian faith, however, was emphatically liberal and not in accord with the established local protestant church.

Although Renevier’s contributions to the regional geology of Switzerland were outstanding, in retrospect it appears that his greatest achievement lay in his recognition of the need for international standards for geological nomenclature, classification, and graphics. and his subsequent efforts to have such standards established. At the first International Geological Congress (Paris, 1878), he was elected secretary-general of the newly formed Commission Géologique lnternationale, which included subcommissions on the unification of classifications and nomenclature and on the unification of graphical procedures. Following Renevier’s early proposal of using the array of the solar spectrum, the second International Geological Congress (Bologna, 1881) adopted the gamme internationale de couleur. The geologic column and corresponding color code as it appeared then is shown below:

Liassicdark blue
Silurian and Cambriangreen-blue

Within each period, darker and lighter tones were used to indicate older and younger stages, respectively. Sedimentary formations were designated by letters from the Latin alphabet in ascending order. As an alternative to the scheme of Latin letters, numerical ordering was accepted, with the lowest number representing the oldest formation. Characters of the Greek alphabet were assigned to different types of igneous rocks. At the second Congress, the assembly also adopted the modern dual classification of stratigraphic units (time units, time-rock units). A special commission was charged with the implementation of the new code on the planned Carte Géologique Internationale d’Europe (on a scale of 1:1,500,000). In 1894 Renevier presided over the sixth international Geological Congress at Zurich. At the following Congress in St. Petersburg (1897), he was elected president of the Commission Internationale de Classification Stratigraphique, which assumed the responsibilities of the previously established subcommmissions of the Commission Géologique Internationale.

Renevier was active as rector of the University of Lausanne until his death. With the approach of the fiftieth anniversary of his teaching career, he ruled out personal gifts with the exception of two vertebrate fossils for his beloved museum. Days before the anniversary he died in an accident, apparently caused by his failing eyesight.


I. Original Works. Renevier’s works include “Description des fossiles du terrain nummilitique supérieur,” in Bulletin de la Société géologique de France, 2nd ser., 12 (1854), 589–604, written with Edmond Hébert; “Tableaux géologique” (10 stratigraphic tables printed on colored paper), in Bulletin de la Société vaudoise dessciences naturelles, 12 , no. 70–71 (1873–1874), portfolio; “Tableau des terrains sédimentaires qui représentent les époques de la phase organique,” ibid., 13, no. 72 (1874), 218–252; “Structure geologique du Massif du Simplon,” ibid., 15 , no. 79 (1878), 281–304; “Sur l’emploi des couleurs et des termes designant les subdivisions des terrains,” in Congres géologique international, Paris, 1878 (Paris, 1880), 67–70; “Commission géologique internationale pour l”unification des procédées graphiques, II[sup(me)] compterendu,” in Bulletin de la Societe vaudoise des sciences naturelles, 17, no. 85 (1881), 165–188; “Etude géologique sur le nouveau project du tunnel coudé au travers du Simplon,” ibid., 19 no. 89 (1883), 1–27; “Monographie des Hautes-Alpes Vaudoise,” in Materiaux pour la carte geologique de la Suisse, 16 (1980), including Carte speciale (1:50,000), no. 7 (1875), 563 pp.; “Chronographe geologique (2[sip(me)] édition du tableau des terrains sedimentaires aux couleurs conventionelles admise par les congres geologiques internationaux),” in Congres geologique international, Zurich, 1894 (Lausanne, 1897), with 12 tables in portfolio; and “Commission internationale de classification stratigraphique,” in Eclogae geologicae Helvetiae, 6 (1899), 35–46.

II. Secondary Literature. A short biographical notice on Renevier is in Dictionnaire historique et biographique de la Suisse, V (Neuchatel, 1930), 443. A fairly complete biographical notice is the éloge by Maurice Lgeon, in Actes de la Société helvetique des sciences naturelles, 89 (9106), “Necrologies,” lxxxvii-cv, including a bibliography. Additional references are listed in L. Rollier, “Bibliographie géologique de la Suisse pour les annees 1770 a 1900,” Beitrage zur geologischen Karte der Schweiz, 29 (1907–1908); E. Gogarten and W. Hauswirth, “Geologische Bibliographie der Schweiz 1900–1910,rdquo; ibid., n.s. 40 (1913); and “1817–1930 Bibliographie der Schweizerischen Naturforschenden Gesllschaft,” in Société helvétique des sciences naturelles (Bern, 1934), 36, 207–208.

E. de Margerie, in Critique et géologie,, I (Paris, 1943), 176–178, reviews Renevier’s scheme of international geological colors; and E.B. Bailey, in his Tectonic Essays, Mainly Alpine (Oxford, 1935), 58–97, sets some of Renevier’s works in historical perspective.

John Haller

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