Schlotheim, Ernst Friedrich, Baron von

views updated


(b. Almenhausen, Thuringia, Germany, 2 April 1765; d. Gotha, Germany, 28 March 1832)

geology, paleontology.

Schlotheim was the son of Ernst Ludwig von Schlotheim and Friederike Eberhardine von Stange. After receiving his basic education at home from a tutor, he attended the Gymnasium in Gotha from 1779 to 1781. He then studied public administration, and the natural sciences under Blumenbach, at Göttingen. Since he was especially interested in the geological sciences, he next went to Freiberg to study under Werner; he also became a friend of Alexander von Humboldt. In 1792 Schlotheim entered the Gotha civil service as an assessor, rising to minister and lord high marshal by 1828.

From 1822 Schlotheim also served as superintendent of the ducal art, natural history, coin, and book collections in Gotha. At an early age Schlotheim had started his own geological and especially paleontological collections; and he now began to publish his observations of the countryside. Reporting on the stratigraphy of the calcareous tufa at Gräfentonna, in which a complete fossil elephant skeleton had been found in 1695, Schlotheim recognized that in addition to indigenous stones, it contained other field stones, predominantly granite. He was the first to trace this combination to Scandinavia.

Schlotheim’s later investigations were concerned primarily with paleontology. He studied the plants found in the bituminous schists of the Lower Permian in Thuringia and realized (1801, 1804) that they belonged to extinct species and could not be given—as had been customary—contemporary names. He also concluded that during the Lower Permian epoch Thuringia must have had a warmer climate. In his article of 1813 Schlotheim was the first to insist that the species of the fossils must be determined in order to distinguish the various formations. He called for the establishment of a nomenclature in paleontology analogous to that provided by Linnaeus for existing organisms. Paleontology would thereby become a tool for determining the age of strata—a principle advocated independently by William Smith (1816). Schlotheim’s article also presented primarily a survey of fossils according to geological formations. His Petrafaktenkunde (1820)employed the binomial nomenclature systematically and thus put the science of paleontology onto a rigorous basis. It was the first major advance in that science since 1762, when J. G. Walch had comprehensively classified fossils within the zoological system; and it marked the beginning of an era of rapid and important growth.

Schlotheim also realized that the distribution of fossils, their association, their degree of preservation, the facies of the neighboring rock, and the mixture of marine with terrestrial forms made it possible to draw important inferences concerning the history of the earth. The study of these factors was not taken up systematically until a century later, as biostratinomy. Schlotheim was also critical of catastrophism, which was challenged for the first time in 1822 by his friend K. E. A. von Hoff, an early uniformitarian.


I. Original Works. Schlotheim’s most important works are “Mineralogische Beschreibung der unteren Herrschaft Tonna”, in J. C. W. Voigt, Mineralogische und bergmännische Abhandlungen, III (Leipzig, 1791), 182–200; “Beitäge zur nähern Kenntniss einzelner Fossilien,” in Magazin für die gesamte Mineralogie, Geognosie und mineralogische Erdschreibung, 1 (1801), 143–172; “Über die Kräuterabdrücke im Schieferton und Sandstein der Steinkohlenformation”, ibid,; Beschreibung merkwürdiger Kräterabdrücke und Pflanzenversteinerungen (Gotha, 1804); “Beiträge zur Naturgeschichte der Versteinerungen in geognostischer Hinsicht,” in Taschenbuch für die gesammte Mineralogie, 7 (1813), 3–134; “Die Versteinerungen im Höhlenkalkstein von Glücksbrunn”, in Magazin für die neuesten Entdeckungen in der gesammten Naturkunde, 7 (1816), 156–158; “Beiträge zur Naturgeschichte der Versteinerungen in geognostischer Hinsicht”, in Denkschriften der K. Akademie der Wissenschaften zu München, 6 (1816–1817), 13–36; “Der Kalktuff als Glied der aufgeschwemmten Gebirgsformation,” in Taschenbuch für die gesammte Mineralogie, 12 (1818), 315–345; Die Petrafaktenkunde auf ihrem jetzigen Standpunkle (Gotha, 1820; supps., 1822, 1823); and Der thüringische Flözmuschekalkstein in besonderer Beziehung auf seine Versteinerungen (Gotha, 1823).

II. Secondary Literature. See C. Credner, “Ernst Friedrich von Schlotheim”, in Neuer Nekrolog der Deutschen, 10 , no. 1 (1832), 246–250; B. von Freyberg, “Ernst Friedrich Baron von Schlotheim”, in “Aus der Heimat”, Naturwissenschaftliche Zeitschrift, 45 , no. 10 (1932); and Die geologische Erforschung Thüringens inälterer Zeit (Berlin, 1932); W. von Gümbel, “Ernst Friedrich Freiherr von Schlotheim”, in Allgemeine deutsche Biographie, XXXI, 550–551; and K. A. von Zittel, Geschichte der Geologie und Paläontologie (Munich-Leipzig, 1899).

B. Von Freyberg

About this article

Schlotheim, Ernst Friedrich, Baron von

Updated About content Print Article