4406 entries. 94 themes. Last updated December 26, 2016.

Science Timeline


2,800,000 BCE – 8,000 BCE

The Earliest Known Remains of the Genus Homo Circa 2,800,000 BCE

On March 4, 2015 it was announced that a lower jaw bone and five teeth discovered on a hillside site called Ledi-Geraru, Afar Regional State, Ethiopia, about 250 miles from Addis Ababa, dated from about 2.8 million years before the present, making it the oldest known remains of the genus Homo, the lineage that eventually led to modern humans. 

From an article by Ian Sample published in The Guardian on March 5:

"The new fossil, found at a site called Ledi-Geraru, has a handful of primitive features in common with an ancient forerunner of modern humans calledAustralopithecus afarensis. The most well-known specimen, the 3m-year-old Lucy, was unearthed in 1974 in Hadar, only 40 miles from the Ledi-Geraru site. But the latest fossil has more modern traits too. Some are seen only on the Homo lineage, such as a shallower chin bone.

"The picture that emerges from the fossil record is that 3m years ago, the ape-likeAustralopithecus afarensis died out and was superseded by two very different human forms. One, called Paranthropus, had a small brain, large teeth and strong jaw muscles for chewing its food. The other was the Homo lineage, which found itself with much larger brains, a solution that turned out to be more successful.

“ 'By finding this jaw bone we’ve figured out where that trajectory started,' said Villamoare. 'This is the first Homo. It marks in all likelihood a major adaptive transition.;

"What drove Australopithethus to extinction and led to the rise of Homo is a mystery, but researchers suspect a dramatic change in the environment transformed the landscape of eastern Africa. 'It could be that there was some sort of ecological shift and humans had to evolve or go extinct,' said Villmoare.

"Other fossils recovered nearby the new human remains suggest that the region was much wetter than Hadar where Lucy was found. Remnants of antelopes, prehistoric elephants, primitive hippos, crocodiles and fish were all recovered from the Ledi-Geraru site, researchers said. Details of the discoveries are reported in two papers published in Science.

"The human jaw was discovered in January 2013 by Chalachew Seyoum, an Ethiopian national on the team, and a student at Arizona State University. He was part of a group that had set off from camp that morning to look for fossils on a hill that was later found to be brimming with ancient bones." 

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The First Industrial Complex Circa 2,500,000 BCE – 500,000 BCE

Olduvai Gorge

Louis Leakey poses with hominid skulls.

At Olduvai Gorge, a steep-sided ravine in the Great Rift Valley, Tanzania, prehistoric hominins of the Lower Paleolithic manufactured stone tools.

These rough flake tools, discovered in the twentieth century CE, are characterized as Oldowan. They are also characterized as Mode 1 industries.

"The earliest archaeological deposit, known as Bed I, has produced evidence of campsites and living floors along with stone tools made of flakes from local basalt and quartz. Since this is the site where these kinds of tools were first discovered, these tools are called Oldowan. It is now thought that the Oldowan toolmaking tradition started about 2.6 million years ago. Bones from this layer are not of modern humans but primitive hominid forms of Paranthropus boisei and the first discovered specimens of Homo habilis" (Wikipedia article on Olduvai Gorge, accessed 04-04-2009).

"Oldowan tool use is estimated to have begun about 2.5 million years ago (mya), lasting to as late as 0.5 mya. For about 1 million years exclusively Oldowan sites are found. After 1.5 mya Acheulean sites make their appearance in the archaeological record, but this does not mean Oldowan sites are no longer found. It is thought that Oldowan tools were produced by several species of hominins ranging from Australopithecus to early Homo. 'Oldowan' therefore does not properly refer to a culture, but to a very simple tradition of tool manufacture that was in use for a long time" (Wikipedia article on Oldowan, accessed 04-04-2009).

Primitive shaped stone tool artifacts closely resembling Olduwan technology were found with Australopithecus garhi remains dating back roughly 2.5 and 2.6 million years, discovered in the Bouri Formation, an area in the Middle Awash Valley, Ethiopia in 1996 by a research team led by Ethiopian paleontologist Berhane Asfaw and American paleontologist Tim White. Those hominin remains are believed to be a human ancestor species, and the final missing link between the Australopithecus genus and the human genus, Homo. The tools associated with A. garhi may be older than those made by Homo habilis, which is thought to be a possible direct ancestor of more modern hominins.

For a long time anthropologists assumed that only members of early genus Homo had the ability to produce sophisticated tools, and the crude ancient tools associated with Austropithecus garhi apparently lack several techniques that are generally seen in later forms, Olduwan and Acheulean. About 3,000 stone artifacts found in another site in Bouri, Ethiopia, were estimated to be 2.5 million years old.

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"Jonny's Child": Homo habilis Circa 2,400,000 BCE – 1,400,000 BCE

Fragmented part of a lower mandible (which still holds thirteen teeth, as well as unerupted wisdom teeth). (Click on image to view larger.)

Olduvai Gorge.

Artist rendition of Homo Habilis. (Click on image to view larger.)

Louis Leakey.

Mary Leakey.

Between 1960 and 1963 a team led by scientists Louis and Mary Leakey uncovered the fossilized remains of a unique early human at Olduvai Gorge in Tanzania. The type specimen, OH 7, found by Jonathan Leakey, was nicknamed "Jonny's child". Because this early human had a combination of features different from those seen in Australopithecus, Louis Leakey, South African scientist Philip Tobias, and British scientist John Napier called these remains a new species— Homo habilis, meaning ‘handy man', as they suspected that this slightly larger-brained early human made the thousands of stone tools found at Olduvai Gorge.

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A New Hominid Species is Discovered with the Help of Satellite Imagery Circa 1,950,000 BCE – 1,780,000 BCE

Skull of Malapa Hominin 1. MH1 also known as australopethicus sediba. (Click on image to view larger.)

(Source: Photo courtesy of Lee R. Berger. February 2010.)

The clavicle discovered by Matthew Berger on August 15, 2008.

(Source: Photo courtesy of Lee R. Berger and the University of Witwatersrand 2010.)

On April 7, 2010 American paleoanthropologist, physical anthropologist and archaeologist Lee R. Berger of the Institute for Human Evolution, University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, South Africa, and the University of Arkansas, announced the discovery in the Cradle of Humankind World Heritage Site in South Africa of a new species of hominid named Australopithecus sediba, which lived 1.95 million to 1.78 million years ago. The first portion of the fossil remains were discovered by Berger's nine year old son Matthew.

"In a report being published Friday in the journal Science, Dr. Berger, 44, and a team of scientists said the fossils from the boy and a woman were a surprising and distinctive mixture of primitive and advanced anatomy and thus qualified as a new species of hominid, the ancestors and other close relatives of humans. It has been named Australopithecus sediba.  

"The species sediba, which means fountain or wellspring in the seSotho language, strode upright on long legs, with human-shaped hips and pelvis, but still climbed through trees on apelike arms. It had the small teeth and more modern face of Homo, the genus that includes modern humans, but the relatively primitive feet and “tiny brain” of Australopithecus, Dr. Berger said.  

"Geologists estimated that the individuals lived 1.78 to 1.95 million years ago, probably closer to the older date, a period when australopithecines and early species of Homo were contemporaries.  

"Dr. Berger’s team said that the new species probably descended from Australopithecus africanus. At a teleconference on Wednesday, he described the species as a possible ancestor of Homo erectus, an immediate predecessor to Homo sapiens, or a close “side branch” that did not lead to modern humans" (http://www.nytimes.com/2010/04/09/science/09fossil.html?hp, accessed 04-08-2010).

The formal scientific paper describing the discovery was published in Science 9 April 2010: Vol. 328. no. 5975, pp. 195 - 204 DOI: 10.1126/science.1184944: Berger et al, "Australopithecus sediba: A New Species of Homo-Like Australopith from South Africa."

♦ An unusual feature of the discovery was that it was assisted by satellite imagery.

"At the beginning of this project, there were approximately 130 known cave sites in the region and around 20 fossil deposits. With the help of the navigation facility and high-resolution satellite imagery in Google Earth, Professor Berger went on to find almost 500 previously unidentified caves and fossil sites, even though the area is one of the most explored in Africa. One of these fossil sites yielded the remarkable discovery of a new species, Australopithecus sediba. This species was an upright walker that shared many physical traits with the earliest known species of the genus homo — and its introduction into the fossil record might answer some key questions about our earliest ancestry in Africa" (http://googleblog.blogspot.com/2010/04/google-earth-helps-discover-rare.html, accessed 04-08-2010).
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The Oldest Hominin Fossils Found Outside of Africa Circa 1,800,000 BCE

Fossil skull of D2700. (Click on image to view larger.)

Fossil skull of D2700. (Click on image to view larger.)

In 1991 Georgian anthropologist and paleontologist David O. Lordkipanidze discovered at Dmanisi, in the Kvemo kartli region of Georgia, hominin remains first classified as a new species, Homo georgicus, but later classified within H. erectus, sometimes called Homo erectus georgicus. Since then additional fossil remains dating roughly from this period were excavated from the site.

"The conventional view of human evolution and how early man colonised the world has been thrown into doubt by a series of stunning palaeontological discoveries suggesting that Africa was not the sole cradle of humankind. Scientists have found a handful of ancient human skulls at an archaeological site two hours from the Georgian capital, Tbilisi, that suggest a Eurasian chapter in the long evolutionary story of man. The skulls, jawbones and fragments of limb bones suggest that our ancient human ancestors migrated out of Africa far earlier than previously thought and spent a long evolutionary interlude in Eurasia – before moving back into Africa to complete the story of man.  

"Experts believe fossilised bones unearthed at the medieval village of Dmanisi in the foothills of the Caucuses, and dated to about 1.8 million years ago, are the oldest indisputable remains of humans discovered outside of Africa. But what has really excited the researchers is the discovery that these early humans (or "hominins") are far more primitive-looking than the Homo erectus humans that were, until now, believed to be the first people to migrate out of Africa about 1 million years ago.  

"The Dmanisi people had brains that were about 40 per cent smaller than those of Homo erectus and they were much shorter in stature than classical H. erectus skeletons, according to Professor David Lordkipanidze, general director of the Georgia National Museum. 'Before our findings, the prevailing view was that humans came out of Africa almost 1 million years ago, that they already had sophisticated stone tools, and that their body anatomy was quite advanced in terms of brain capacity and limb proportions. But what we are finding is quite different," Professor Lordkipanidze said.  

" 'The Dmanisi hominins are the earliest representatives of our own genus – Homo – outside Africa, and they represent the most primitive population of the species Homo erectus to date. They might be ancestral to all later Homo erectus populations, which would suggest a Eurasian origin of Homo erectus.'

"Speaking at the British Science Festival in Guildford, where he gave the British Council lecture, Professor Lordkipanidze raised the prospect that Homo erectus may have evolved in Eurasia from the more primitive-looking Dmanisi population and then migrated back to Africa to eventually give rise to our own species, Homo sapiens – modern man.  

" 'The question is whether Homo erectus originated in Africa or Eurasia, and if in Eurasia, did we have vice-versa migration? This idea looked very stupid a few years ago, but today it seems not so stupid,' he told the festival.  

The scientists have discovered a total of five skulls and a solitary jawbone. It is clear that they had relatively small brains, almost a third of the size of modern humans. 'They are quite small. Their lower limbs are very human and their upper limbs are still quite archaic and they had very primitive stone tools,' Professor Lordkipanidze said. 'Their brain capacity is about 600 cubic centimetres. The prevailing view before this discovery was that the humans who first left Africa had a brain size of about 1,000 cubic centimetres.'

"The only human fossil to predate the Dmanisi specimens are of an archaic species Homo habilis, or 'handy man', found only in Africa, which used simple stone tools and lived between about 2.5 million and 1.6 million years ago.  

" 'I'd have to say, if we'd found the Dmanisi fossils 40 years ago, they would have been classified as Homo habilis because of the small brain size. Their brow ridges are not as thick as classical Homo erectus, but their teeth are more H. erectus like,' Professor Lordkipanidze said. 'All these finds show that the ancestors of these people were much more primitive than we thought. I don't think that we were so lucky as to have found the first travellers out of Africa. Georgia is the cradle of the first Europeans, I would say,' he told the meeting.  

" 'What we learnt from the Dmanisi fossils is that they are quite small – between 1.44 metres to 1.5 metres tall. What is interesting is that their lower limbs, their tibia bones, are very human-like so it seems they were very good runners,' he said.  

"He added: 'In regards to the question of which came first, enlarged brain size or bipedalism, maybe indirectly this information calls us to think that body anatomy was more important than brain size. While the Dmanisi people were almost modern in their body proportions, and were highly efficient walkers and runners, their arms moved in a different way, and their brains were tiny compared to ours.

'Nevertheless, they were sophisticated tool makers with high social and cognitive skills,' he told the science festival, which is run by the British Science Association.  

"One of the five skulls is of a person who lost all his or her teeth during their lifetime but had still survived for many years despite being completely toothless. This suggests some kind of social organisation based on mutual care, Professor Lordkipanidze said" (http://www.independent.co.uk/news/science/a-skull-that-rewrites-the-history-of-man-1783861.html [09 September 2009], accessed 08-08-2013).


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Pithecanthropus erectus, the First Known Specimen of Homo erectus Circa 1,800,000 BCE – 141,000 BCE

Original fossil bones of Pithecanthropus erectus (now Homo erectus) found in Java in 1891. (Click on image to view larger.)

Illustration of Java Man scull. (Click on image to view larger.)

In 1891 Dutch physician, paleoanthropologist and geologist Eugène Dubois discovered a fossil skullcap, femur and a few teeth at Trinil - Ngawi Regency on the banks of the Solo River in East Java, Indonesia. Dubois characterized this specimen as a species "between humans and apes," naming it Pithecanthropus erectus (ape-human that stands upright). Prior to Dubois human fossils such as Neanderthal 1 and Cro-Magnon had been discovered by accident; Dubois was the first scientist to set out to discover prehistoric human fossils, and for his controversial discovery of Pithecanthropus erectus he received great fame and notoriety. 

In 1936 a more complete specimen of Pithecanthropus erectus was discovered by German-born paleontologist and geologist G. H. R. von Koenigswald in the village of Sangiran, Central Java, 18 km to the north of Solo. 

"Until older human remains were discovered in the Great Rift Valley in Kenya, Dubois' and Koenigswald's discoveries were the oldest hominid remains ever found. Some scientists of the day suggested Dubois' Java Man as a potential intermediate form between modern humans and the common ancestor we share with the other great apes. The current consensus of anthropologists is that the direct ancestors of modern humans were African populations of Homo erectus (possibly Homo ergaster), rather than the Asian populations exemplified by Java Man and Peking Man. Dubois' specimen was later classified as Homo erectus, a species that lived throught most of the Pleistocene epoch, originating in Africa and spreading as far as England, Georgia, India, Sri Lanka, China and Java" (Wikipedia article on Java Man, accessed 08-21-2013).

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The Earliest Completely Preserved Adult Hominid Skull Circa 1,800,000 BCE

On October 17, 2013 David Lordkipanidze, paleontologist and director of the Georgian National Museum in Tiblisi reported the results of eight years study of a 1.8 million-year-old skull, known as Skull 5, discovered at Dmanisi, a site in the republic of Georgia. At the time of discovery, this skull of an adult man was the earliest completely preserved adult hominid skull. It has a surprisingly primitive, protruding upper jaw, and a tiny braincase. Combined with four other skulls found earlier at Dmanisi, it suggests that ancient people from the same time and place could look quite different from each other. For this reason, and because the Dmanisi hominids are so similar to the African hominids of the period, Lordkipanidze and his co-authors theorized that fossils from both continents represent a single species.

"The site of Dmanisi, Georgia, has yielded an impressive sample of hominid cranial and postcranial remains, documenting the presence of Homo outside Africa around 1.8 million years ago. Here we report on a new cranium from Dmanisi (D4500) that, together with its mandible (D2600), represents the world's first completely preserved adult hominid skull from the early Pleistocene. D4500/D2600 combines a small braincase (546 cubic centimeters) with a large prognathic face and exhibits close morphological affinities with the earliest known Homo fossils from Africa. The Dmanisi sample, which now comprises five crania, provides direct evidence for wide morphological variation within and among early Homo paleodemes. This implies the existence of a single evolving lineage of early Homo, with phylogeographic continuity across continents" (Abstract in Science.)  

Lordkipanidze et al, "A Complete Skull from Dmanisi, Georgia, and the Evolutionary Biology of Early Homo," Science 18 October 2013: 
Vol. 342 no. 6156 pp. 326-331, DOI: 10.1126/science.1238484 

(This entry was last revised on April 12, 2014.)

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Acheulean or Mode 2 Industries Circa 1,650,000 BCE – 100,000 BCE

A flint biface, discovered in Saint-Acheul, France.

During the Lower Paleolithic era prehistoric hominins manufactured stone tools, characterized scientifically as Acheulean (Acheulian), across Africa and much of West Asia and Europe. Acheulean tools are typically found with Homo erectus remains.

"The Mode 2 (eg Acheulean or Biface) toolmakers also used the Mode 1 flake tool method but supplemented it by also using wood or bone implements to pressure flake fragments away from stone cores to create the first true hand-axes. The use of a soft hammer made from wood or bone also resulted in more control over the shape of the finished tool. Unlike the earlier Mode 1 industries, the core was prized over the flakes that came from it. Another advance was that the Mode 2 tools were worked symmetrically and on both sides (hence the name Biface) indicating greater care in the production of the final tool" (Wikipedia article on Stone tool, accessed 04-04-2009).

"Providing calendrical dates and ordered chronological sequences in the study of early stone tool manufacture is difficult and contentious. Radiometric dating, often potassium-argon dating, of deposits containing Acheulean material is able to broadly place the use of Acheulean techniques within the time from around 1.65 million years ago to about 100,000 years ago. The earliest accepted examples of the type, at 1.65 m years old, come from the West Turkana region of Kenya although some have argued for its emergence from as early as 1.8 million years ago.

"In individual regions, this dating can be considerably refined; in Europe for example, Acheulean methods did not reach the continent until around one million years ago and in smaller study areas, the date ranges can be much shorter. Numerical dates can be misleading however, and it is common to associate examples of this early human tool industry with one or more glacial or interglacial periods or with a particular early species of human. The earliest user of Acheulean tools was Homo ergaster who first appeared almost 2 million years ago. Not all researchers use this formal name however and instead prefer to call these users early Homo erectus. Later forms of early humans also used Acheulean techniques . . . .

"It was the dominant technology for the vast majority of human history and more than one million years ago it was Acheulean tool users who left Africa to first successfully colonize Eurasia. Their distinctive oval and pear-shaped handaxes have been found over a wide area and some examples attained a very high level of sophistication suggesting that the roots of human art, economy and social organisation arose as a result of their development. Although it developed in Africa, the industry is named after the type site of Saint Acheul, now a suburb of Amiens in northern France, where some of the first examples were identified in the 19th century" (Wikipedia article on Achulean, accessed 04-04-2009).

♦ "These kinds of Acheulean artifacts, as they are known, have been found in Africa dating back about 1.5 million years. But in Europe, the oldest hand axes that had been found dated to only half a million years ago. Scientists have wondered why it took so long for early humans with such refined toolmaking to show up in Europe.

"Now research from two sites in southeastern Spain provides an answer: it didn’t take that long, after all.

"Using paleomagnetic dating, Gary R. Scott and Luis Gibert of the Berkeley Geochronology Center in California have determined that rather than being about 200,000 years old, the two sites, Solano del Zamborino and Estrecho del Quípar, are about 760,000 and 900,000 years old, respectively."

"Dr. Gibert said the finding, which was published in Nature, adds to mounting evidence that humans migrated to Europe from Africa earlier than previously thought.

" 'The question is, which route did they follow?' he said. Rather than coming through the Middle East and then westward, Dr. Gibert said he is convinced they came across at Gibraltar. 'We think the Gibraltar straits were a permeable barrier,' he said. 'It’s a provocative interpretation, but I think there is enough information to support it' " (http://www.nytimes.com/2009/09/08/science/08obaxe.html?scp=1&sq=stone%20tools&st=cse, accessed 09-12-2009).

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The Earliest Preserved Footprints of Our Ancestors Circa 1,530,000 BCE – 1,510,000 BCE

Ancient footprints at Koobi Fora. Photograph by Brian Richmond. (View Larger)

Footprints discovered by Jack Harris, Brian Richmond, and David Braun in 2007 at the Homo erectus site of Ileret  are "the oldest undisputed evidence of hominins (probably Homo erectus) walking in an efficient style like we do."  

The footprints were found in Koobi Fora, located on the eastern shore of Lake Turkana, in the territory of the nomadic Gabbra people in Kenya.

"A key question about human origins concerns when our style of upright walking became fully modern. Today, we walk with a long stride and a spring-like mechanism in the arch of our foot that makes our walking very energetically efficient. In 2007, Drs. Harris, Richmond, Braun, and colleagues discovered the first of many footprints made by our early hominin relatives 1.51-1.53 million years ago at the site of FwJj14E at Ileret, Kenya. The prints show evidence of a well-developed arch in the foot, that contributes to efficient walking, and evidence of a long stride ending in a propulsive 'toe-off' like the characteristic toe-off of modern people. More footprints were found in 2008-2009, so Smithsonian researchers Drs. Richmond and Behrensmeyer, and their colleagues, are optimistic that this site will yield more footprints and shed more light on the origin of human walking and running" (http://humanorigins.si.edu/evidence/behavior/footprints-koobi-fora-kenya, accessed 05-10-2010).

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Early Humans Make Bone Tools Circa 1,500,000 BCE

Five bone tools excavated in Swartkrans, South Africa, once used by Parantrhopus robustus for foraging purposes. Photography by Jim Di Loreto and Don Hurlbert, Smithsonian Institution. (View Larger)

Experiments and microscopic studies show that the ends of bone tools found in Swartkrans, Republic of South Africa, were used by early humans to dig in termite mounds about 1.5 million years ago.

"Through repeated use, the ends became rounded and polished. Termites are rich in protein and would have been a nutritious source of food for Paranthropus robustus" (http://humanorigins.si.edu/evidence/behavior/bone-tools, accessed 05-10-2010).

(This entry was last revised on 04-16-2014.)

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The Most Complete Early Human Skeleton Circa 1,500,000 BCE

Fossil skull and jawbone of Turkana Boy. (Click on image to view larger.)

In 1984 Kamoya Kimeu, a member of a team led by Richard Leakey, discovered the Turkana Boy (Nariokotome Boy) at Nariokotome near Lake Turkana in Kenya.  Scientifically identified as fossil KNM-WT 15000 (Kenya National Museum, West Turkana, item 15000), this nearly complete skeleton of a hominid who died in the early Pleistocene, 1.5 million years ago, is the most complete early human skeleton ever found. It was once thought to be a member of the species Homo erectus, but after much debate, was classified as Homo ergaster.  

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The Earliest Human Remains from Western Europe Circa 1,200,000 BCE

The petite jaw suggests the oldest-found European was probably female.

In March 2008 a team led by Eudald Carbonell of the Universitat Rovira i Virgili in Tarragona announced the discovery at Sima del Elefante, Atapuerca, Spain stratographic Level TE9 of a human mandible associated with an assemblage of Mode 1 lithic tools (Oldowan industry) and faunal remains bearing traces of hominin processing. When I wrote this entry in 2013 these were the earliest human remains discovered in Western Europe.

"The earliest hominin occupation of Europe is one of the most debated topics in palaeoanthropology. However, the purportedly oldest of the Early Pleistocene sites in Eurasia lack precise age control and contain stone tools rather than human fossil remains. Here we report the discovery of a human mandible associated with an assemblage of Mode 1 lithic tools and faunal remains bearing traces of hominin processing, in stratigraphic level TE9 at the site of the Sima del Elefante, Atapuerca, Spain. Level TE9 has been dated to the Early Pleistocene (approximately 1.2–1.1 Myr), based on a combination of palaeomagnetism, cosmogenic nuclides and biostratigraphy. The Sima del Elefante site thus emerges as the oldest, most accurately dated record of human occupation in Europe, to our knowledge. The study of the human mandible suggests that the first settlement of Western Europe could be related to an early demographic expansion out of Africa. The new evidence, with previous findings in other Atapuerca sites (level TD6 from Gran Dolina), also suggests that a speciation event occurred in this extreme area of the Eurasian continent during the Early Pleistocene, initiating the hominin lineage represented by the TE9 and TD6 hominins" (Eudald Carbonell et al, "The first hominin of Europe," Nature 452, 465-469 (27 March 2008) | doi:10.1038/nature06815; Received 15 October 2007; Accepted 4 February 2008, accessed 08-08-2013).

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Humans May Have Lived in Britain as Early as 950,000 Years Ago Circa 950,000 BCE – 780,000 BCE

Ancient stone tools discovered at the Hapisburgh excavation site, East Anglia, England. Photocredit: Parfitt et al. Nature (View Larger)

Evidence from a former Thames river bed excavation site at Happisburgh in East Anglia, England, about 220 kilometers northeast of London, suggests that early humans were living in the cold climate of northern England between 780,000 and 950,000 years ago. These artefacts include 78 knapped flint specimens that the research team think were used by hunter-gatherers to pierce and cut meat or wood.

It is believed that the earliest humans moved to Europe from Africa around 1.8 million years ago, possibly crossing from Africa to Gibralter by a land bridge. It is also possible that early humans later crossed from Europe to Britain in a similar fashion. Recent evidence indicates that humans lived in Spain at Solano del Zamborino and Estrecho del Quípar, between roughly 780,000 and 950,000 years ago, but prior to the discovery of the Happisburgh site it was believed that early humans did not have the ability to adapt to the cold climates, similar to modern day Scandinavia, that would have existed in Britain at the time. Nor was it known that humans populated Britain so early. So far there is no evidence that these prehistoric inhabitants had mastered the use of fire for heating or cooking, although evidence from sites in the Middle East suggests that fire was used by other early humans at this date. 

"But because they were adapted to a warmer climate, archaeologists have so far believed that they didn't get as far north as Happisburgh — a comparatively cold, inhospitable place. Other studies at archaeological sites in Germany and France have shown signs of human activity in the north around the same time, but the dating of these sites is perhaps not as well established as that at Happisburgh.  

"The dating of the Happisburgh site is based on a combination of methods. The artefacts were entombed in sediment that records a reverse in the polarity of the Earth's magnetic field — the north and south poles switching places — at the time that they were laid down. The last polarity reversal is known to have been 780,000 years ago, making it probable that the Happisburgh artefacts are at least that old. . . ." (http://www.nature.com/news/2010/100707/full/news.2010.338.html, accessed 07-08-2010).

Human fossil remains have yet to be uncovered at the site, but the botanical and animal remains found there have proved very rich in detail.

Locating evidence of human habitation in a relatively cold and inhospital climate at this date is likely "to prompt a re-evaluation of the adaptations and capabilities of early humans" (http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=128361420, accessed 07-08-2010).

Simon A. Parfitt, Nick M. Ashton et al. "Early Pleistocene human occupation at the edge of the boreal zone in northwest Europe," Nature 466, 8 July 2010.


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The Oldest Human Footprints in Europe, Identified Using 3D Imaging Circa 900,000 BCE

On February 7, 2014 scientists in England announced the discovery of 49 footprints made by at least five different individuals preserved in soft sedimentary rock on a beach in Happisburgh, Norfolk. The preserved footprints, believed to be around 900,000 years old, were the earliest found in Europe to date. The prints were discovered in deposits that previously revealed stone tools and fossilized bones dating from between 800,000 and one million years before the present.

The footprints were uncovered at low tide in May 2013 after stormy seas pushed away large amounts of sand from the beach. Scientists removed remaining sand and sponged off the sea water before taking 3D scans and images of the surface. In some cases they identified heel marks, foot arches and even toes from the prints. They found footprints equivalent to up to a UK shoe size eight. The scientists estimated that the individuals who left the prints ranged from around two feet eleven inches tall to five feet eight inches tall. At least two or three of the group were thought to be children, and one was possibly an adult male.

"Anthropologists and evolutionary biologists from around the UK have been studying the tracks, and believe they may have been related to an extinct form of human ancestor known as Homo antecessor, or 'Pioneer Man.'

"The tracks include up to five different prints, indicating a group of both adults and children walked across the ancient wet estuary silt.

"They are the earliest direct evidence of human ancestors in the area and may belong to some of the first ever Britons.

"Until now the oldest human remains to be found in Europe all come from around the far south of the continent, including stone tools found in southern Italy and a tooth found in Spain.

"Skull fragments from that are around 780,000 years old hominid – the term used by scientists for early humans – were also found in southern Spain" (http://www.telegraph.co.uk/science/science-news/10623660/900000-year-old-footprints-of-earliest-northern-Europeans-discovered.html, accessed 02-08-2014). 

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Early Humans Hunt with Stone-Tipped Spears Circa 500,000 BCE

Example of nearly 500,000 year-old hafted spear tips from Kathu Pan 1. Photo by Jayne Wilkins. (Click on image to view larger.)

According to 2012 research on spear points excavated by Peter Beaumont at Kathu Pan 1, South Africa in 1979-1982, which remain arguably the earliest stone-tipped spears yet found, people began hunting with stone-tipped spears about 500,000 years ago. Prior to 2012 it was thought that attaching a stone tip to a spear, known as "hafting," started about 300,000 years ago.

"Hafting stone points to spears was an important advance in weaponry for early humans. Multiple lines of evidence indicate that ~500,000-year-old stone points from the archaeological site of Kathu Pan 1 (KP1), South Africa, functioned as spear tips. KP1 points exhibit fracture types diagnostic of impact. Modification near the base of some points is consistent with hafting. Experimental and metric data indicate that the points could function well as spear tips. Shape analysis demonstrates that the smaller retouched points are as symmetrical as larger retouched points, which fits expectations for spear tips. The distribution of edge damage is similar to that in an experimental sample of spear tips and is inconsistent with expectations for cutting or scraping tools" (Jayne Wilkins, Benjamin J. Schoville, Kyle S. Brown, Michael Chazan, "Evidence for Early Hafted Hunting Technology," Science 16 November 2012: Vol. 338 no. 6109 pp. 942-946 DOI: 10.1126/science.1227608)

"However, by comparing the wear visible on 500,000-year-old stone points found in South Africa with modern experimental points fired by a specially calibrated crossbow at a springbok carcass, scientists proved they had been used as spear tips for hunting. Leader author Jayne Wilkins, a PhD candidate in the Department of Anthropology at the University of Toronto in Canada, said the research suggested stone-tipped spears could have been in use before the divergence of early humans and Neanderthals. She said: "This changes the way we think about early human adaptations and capacities before the origin of our own species.

"Although both Neanderthals and humans used stone-tipped spears, this is the first evidence that the technology originated prior to or near the divergence of these two species."

"Attaching stone points to spears was an important advance in hunting weaponry for early humans. Hafted tools require more effort and planning to manufacture, but a sharp stone point on the end of a spear can increase its killing power. Hafted spear tips are common in Stone Age archaeological sites after 300,000 years ago" (http://www.telegraph.co.uk/science/science-news/9682459/Man-hunted-with-spears-half-a-million-years-ago.html, accessed 11-16-2012).


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The Oldest Almost Complete Mitochondrial Genome Sequence of a Hominin Circa 400,000 BCE

The "Homo Heidelbergensis Cranium 5" from Sima de los Huesos in Spain.

The exterior of the Denivosa Cave

Molar found in Denisova Cave of the Altay Mountains in Southern Siberia.

On December 4, 2013 Matthias Meyer, Eduald Carbonell and Svante Pääbo and colleagues reported that the almost complete mitochondrial genome sequence of a hominin from Sima de los Huesos in Spain, dating back roughly 400,000 years, shows that it is closely related to the lineage leading to mitochonrial genomes of Denisovans, an eastern Eurasian sister group to Neanderthals.

"The fossil, a thigh bone found in Spain, had previously seemed to many experts to belong to a forerunner of Neanderthals. But its DNA tells a very different story. It most closely resembles DNA from an enigmatic lineage of humans known as Denisovans. Until now, Denisovans were known only from DNA retrieved from 80,000-year-old remains in Siberia, 4,000 miles east of where the new DNA was found.

"The mismatch between the anatomical and genetic evidence surprised the scientists, who are now rethinking human evolution over the past few hundred thousand years. It is possible, for example, that there are many extinct human populations that scientists have yet to discover. They might have interbred, swapping DNA. Scientists hope that further studies of extremely ancient human DNA will clarify the mystery" (http://www.nytimes.com/2013/12/05/science/at-400000-years-oldest-human-dna-yet-found-raises-new-mysteries.html?hp&_r=0, accessed 12-04-2013).

Meyer et al, "A mitochondrial genome sequence of a hominin from Sima de ls Huesos", Nature (2013) doi:10.1038/nature12788.

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The Earliest Synchronic Use of Bifacial and Levallois Technology Outside Africa Suggests that the Technology Evolved Independently in Multiple Locations Circa 350,000 BCE – 325,000 BCE

In 2008 archaeologist Daniel Adler and colleagues discovered the Nor Geghi 1 paleolithic site in Nor Geghi, a major village in the Kotayk Province of Armenia on the outskirts of Yerevan, the Armenian capital. The site yielded thousands of stone artifacts found in sediments between two ancient layers of lava that could be accurately dated to beween 325,000 and 350,000 years ago. The stone tools were made using two distinct methods of stone knapping or lithic reduction: the older method called bifacial technology and a more advanced method known as the Legallois technique.

The replacement of bifacial stone tools, such as handaxes, by tools made on flakes detached from Levallois cores documents the most important conceptual shift in stone tool production strategies since the advent of bifacial technology more than one million years earlier. This new technology was believed to result from the expansion of archaic Homo sapiens out of Africa. The co-existence of the two technologies at Nor Geghi 1 provided the first clear evidence that local populations developed Levallois technology on their own.

After exploring Nor Geghi 1 in detail, and careful analysis of the artifacts, on September 26, 2014 Adler and colleagues reported results: "Early Levallois technology and the Lower to Middle Paleolithic transition in the Southern Caucasus," Science 345 no. 6204 1609-13. The paper challenged the hypothesis that the appearance in Eurasia of the Legallois technique was the result of the expansion of hominins from Africa, and   suggested that Levallois technology may have evolved independently in different hominin populations. 

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The Oldest Fossil Remains of Anatomically Modern Humans Circa 195,000 BCE

Scull from the River Omo. (Click on image to view larger.)

The bones of an early member of our species, Homo sapiens, known as Omo I, excavated from Ethiopia's Kibish rock formation. The bones are kept in the National Museum of Ethiopia. When the first bones from Omo I were found in 1967, they were thought to be 130,000 years old. Later, 160,000-year-old bones of our species were found elsewhere. Now, a new study by scientists from the University of Utah and elsewhere determined that Omo I lived about 195,000 years ago -- the oldest known bones of the human species. (Credit: John Fleagle, Stony Brook University) (Click on image to view larger.)

Location of Omo Valley in Ethiopia, Africa. (Click on image to view larger.)

Between 1967 and 1974 a scientific team from the Kenya National Museums directed by Richard Leakey and others discovered a collection of hominid bones at the Omo Kibish sites near the Omo River, in Omo National Park in south-western Eithiopia.  These fossil bones, which include two partial skulls as well as arm, leg, foot and pelvis bones, are known as the Omo remains. In 2013, when I wrote this entry, these were the oldest fossil remains of anatomically modern humans, or anatomically modern Homo sapiens—individuals with the range of phenotypes of modern humans.

"In 2004, the geologic layers around the fossils were dated, and the authors of the dating study concluded that the 'preferred estimate of the age of the Kibish hominids is 195 ± 5 ka [thousand years ago]", which would make the fossils the oldest known Homo sapiens remains. In a 2005 article on the Omo remains, Nature magazine said that, because of the fossils' age, Ethiopia is the current choice for the 'cradle of Homo sapiens' " (Wikipedia article on Omo remains, accessed 08-21-2013).

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Early Humans Use Heat-Treated Stone for Tools Circa 164,000 BCE – 70,000 BCE

A silcrete nodule exhibiting the signs of experimental heat-treatment. Photocredit: Science/AAAS. (View Larger)

Kyle S. Brown, a doctoral student at the University of Cape Town, and colleagues published "Fire as an Engineering Tool of Early Modern Humans," Science, 14 August 2009: 325, 859-62.

"The controlled use of fire was a breakthrough adaptation in human evolution. It first provided heat and light and later allowed the physical properties of materials to be manipulated for the production of ceramics and metals. The analysis of tools at multiple sites shows that the source stone materials were systematically manipulated with fire to improve their flaking properties. Heat treatment predominates among silcrete tools at ~72 thousand years ago (ka) and appears as early as 164 ka at Pinnacle Point, on the south coast of South Africa. Heat treatment demands a sophisticated knowledge of fire and an elevated cognitive ability and appears at roughly the same time as widespread evidence for symbolic behavior" (Science).

Brown et al report finding stone tools that show signs of being heated to about 600 degrees Fahrenheit. Heat-treating, most likely by burying a stone under a fire, made a stone easier to knap, or shape into a tool by striking it with another stone.

"Archaeologists were studying several sites on the South African coast, with artifacts dating from 72,000 to 164,000 years ago that would have been made by modern humans from the African Middle Stone Age. Mr. Brown, an archaeological knapper who tries to replicate ancient tools, said they noticed that blades found at the site, made from a stone called silcrete, did not match silcrete obtained from outcroppings in the area. 'We realized we were missing something,' he said.

"They experimented by heat-treating some of the stone themselves. 'When we pulled it out of the fire and flaked it, it did look like the kind of stone we were finding at our site,' Mr. Brown said. Their findings are published in Science.

"The researchers had to show that the tools they found were intentionally heated to improve workability, not accidentally through a bushfire or other means. They found tools in areas where there was no evidence of burning. And they conducted tests on some of the artifacts, including one that showed that flaked surfaces had a glossiness that occurs only when the stone has been heated, proving that the stones were heated first and then worked into tools" (http://www.nytimes.com/2009/08/18/science/18obfire.html?_r=1&hpw).

♦ "The find also adds weight to the argument that modern humans were acting in sophisticated ways long before they came to Europe about 35,000 years ago--and that they were engaged in far more complex behavior than were the Neandertals who lived at the same time, says anthropologist Alison Brooks of George Washington University in Washington, D.C. 'This is another piece of evidence that modern humans had made a lot of discoveries that Neandertals had not' "(http://sciencenow.sciencemag.org/cgi/content/full/2009/813/1).

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Evidence for the Origin of Language in Southwestern Africa Circa 150,000 BCE – 50,000 BCE

Map showing origin and spread of language from southern Africa.  Graphic from the journal Science and The New York Times. (Click on image to view larger.)

On April 15, 2011 Quentin D. Atkinson of the University of Auckland, New Zealand reported evidence for the origin of language in Southwestern Africa.

"Phonemic Diversity Supports a Serial Founder Effect Model of Language Expansion from Africa,Science, 332, no. 6027, 15 April 2011, 346-349: 

"Human genetic and phenotypic diversity declines with distance from Africa, as predicted by a serial founder effect in which successive population bottlenecks during range expansion progressively reduce diversity, underpinning support for an African origin of modern humans. Recent work suggests that a similar founder effect may operate on human culture and language. Here I show that the number of phonemes used in a global sample of 504 languages is also clinal and fits a serial founder–effect model of expansion from an inferred origin in Africa. This result, which is not explained by more recent demographic history, local language diversity, or statistical non-independence within language families, points to parallel mechanisms shaping genetic and linguistic diversity and supports an African origin of modern human languages" (Abstract)

"The detection of such an ancient signal in language is surprising. Because words change so rapidly, many linguists think that languages cannot be traced very far back in time. The oldest language tree so far reconstructed, that of the Indo-European family, which includes English, goes back 9,000 years at most.

"Quentin D. Atkinson, a biologist at the University of Auckland in New Zealand, has shattered this time barrier, if his claim is correct, by looking not at words but at phonemes — the consonants, vowels and tones that are the simplest elements of language. He has found a simple but striking pattern in some 500 languages spoken throughout the world: a language area uses fewer phonemes the farther that early humans had to travel from Africa to reach it.  

"Some of the click-using languages of Africa have more than 100 phonemes, whereas Hawaiian, toward the far end of the human migration route out of Africa, has only 13. English has 45 phonemes" (http://www.nytimes.com/2011/04/15/science/15language.html?hp, accessed 04-15-2011).

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Neanderthals Produce the World's Earliest Jewelry, From Eagle Talons Circa 130,000 BCE

On March 11, 2015 anthropologist Davorka Radovcic, a curator at the Croatian Natural History Museum in Zagreb, and colleagues published research indicating the production of the world's earliest jewelry from eagle talons by Neanderthals about 130,000 years ago, long before modern humans appeared in Europe. The evidence came from eagle bones discovered at the Krapina site where in 1899 archaeologist and paleontologist Dragutin Gorjanović-Kramberger found over eight hundred fossil remains belonging to Neanderthals on a hill called Hušnjakovo

This video was produced without sound:

Davorka Radovčić, Ankica Oros Sršen, Jakov Radovčić, David W. Frayer, "Evidence for Neandertal Jewelry: Modified White-Tailed Eagle Claws at Krapina," PLOS One, March 11, 2015. DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0119802

"ABSTRACT: We describe eight, mostly complete white-tailed eagle (Haliaëtus [Haliaeetusalbicilla) talons from the Krapina Neandertal site in present-day Croatia, dating to approximately 130 kyrs ago. Four talons bear multiple, edge-smoothed cut marks; eight show polishing facets and/or abrasion. Three of the largest talons have small notches at roughly the same place along the plantar surface, interrupting the proximal margin of the talon blade. These features suggest they were part of a jewelry assemblage, --- the manipulations a consequence of mounting the talons in a necklace or bracelet. An associated phalanx articulates with one of the talons and has numerous cut marks, some of which are smoothed. These white-tailed eagle bones, discovered more than 100 years ago, all derive from a single level at Krapina and represent more talons than found in the entire European Mousterian period. Presence of eight talons indicates that the Krapina Neandertals acquired and curated eagle talons for some kind of symbolic purpose. Some have argued that Neandertals lacked symbolic ability or copied this behavior from modern humans. These remains clearly show that the Krapina Neandertals made jewelry well before the appearance of modern humans in Europe, extending ornament production and symbolic activity early into the European Mousterian." 

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Scientists Sequence Woolly Mammoth Genome--the First of an Extinct Animal Circa 100,000 BCE

The largest European specimen of a Wooly Mammoth.

A Steppe Mammoth skull in Sibera.

A male Asian Elephant in India.

A chart from the Mammoth Genome Project depicting gene-encoding bases on chromosomes of both a human and a mammoth. 

On November 19, 2008 scientists from the Mammoth Genome Project at Pennsylvania State University, University Park, reported the genome-wide sequence of the woolly mammoth, an extinct species of elephant that was adapted to living in the cold environment of the northern hemisphere.  The woolly mammoth, Mammuthus primigenius, was a species of mammoth, the common name for the extinct elephant genus Mammuthus. One of the last in a line of mammoth species, it diverged from the steppe mammothM. trogontherii, about 200,000 years ago in eastern Asia. Its closest extant relative is the Asian elephant.

The genome sequence of the woolly mammoth was the first sequence of the genome of an extinct animal, and it opened up the possibility of reconstructing species from the last Ice Age.

"They sequenced four billion DNA bases using next-generation DNA-sequencing instruments and a novel approach that reads ancient DNA highly efficiently."

'Previous studies on extinct organisms have generated only small amounts of data," said Stephan C. Schuster, Penn State professor of biochemistry and molecular biology and the project's other leader. "Our dataset is 100 times more extensive than any other published dataset for an extinct species, demonstrating that ancient DNA studies can be brought up to the same level as modern genome projects' (quoted from Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology News accessed 11-21-2008).

" 'By deciphering this genome we could, in theory, generate data that one day may help other researchers to bring the woolly mammoth back to life by inserting the uniquely mammoth DNA sequences into the genome of the modern-day elephant,' Stephan Schuster of Pennsylvania State University, who helped lead the research, said in a statement." (quoted from Reuters 11-19-2008, accessed 11-21-2008).

"The appearance and behaviour of this species are among the best studied of any prehistoric animal due to the discovery of frozen carcasses in Siberia and Alaska, as well as skeletons, teeth, stomach contents, dung, and depiction from life in prehistoric cave paintings. Mammoth remains had long been known in Asia before they became known to Europeans in the 17th century. The origin of these remains was long a matter of debate, and often explained as being remains oflegendary creatures. The animal was only identified as an extinct species of elephant by Georges Cuvier in 1796." (Wikipedia article on Woolly Mammoth, accessed 10-31-2013).

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From Sibudu Cave: the Earliest Known Creation and Use of Compound Adhesives, Suggesting Complex Cognition Circa 68,000 BCE

Stone tools (segments) with adhesive from Sibudu Cave.  Segment with red ochre visible to the naked eye as well as microscopic views of red ochre and plant gum on the tool. (Click on image to view larger.)

Archaeologist Lyn Wadley of the University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, South Africa, and team published "Implications for complex cognition from the hafting of tools with compound adhesives in the Middle Stone Age, South Africa," Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America (PNAS) June 16, 2009 vol. 106 no. 24 9590-9594, doi: 10.1073/pnas.0900957106.

At Sibudu Cave, in a sandstone cliff in northern KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa, a site occupied, with some gaps from circa 75,000 BCE to 33,000 BCE, evidence was found of some of the earliest examples of modern human technology. The complexity of heat-treated mixed compound gluing found in this cave has been presented as evidence of continuity between early human cognition and that of modern humans.

Quoting from the beginning of Wadley's paper (footnotes removed):

"Archaeologists often use symbolic material culture as a marker of modern behavior, but few agree on definitions of either term or explore the types of mental architecture required for symbolic innovations. Here, we move away from the contentious issue of symbolism and draw on the combined expertise of cognitive and earth scientists to create a fresh way of recognizing, in the deep past, cognitive abilities that overlap with our own. People today have a capacity for novel, sustained multilevel operations; this ability may have arisen from neural connectivity in part of the prefrontal cortex. The capacity may be recognizable in some technologies, and we use compound adhesive manufacture as our example. To demonstrate complex cognition, we must show that some executive steps required for compound adhesive manufacture are not possible without mental abilities of the kind implied in the ninth subsystem of the Barnard et al. model of mental architecture. Here, abstract meanings and sophisticated organization of action sequences determine decision making. An earlier eighth subsystem would have been mentally incapable of processing 2 levels of meaning simultaneously or of generating fully abstract concepts about behavior.  

"The use of simple (1-component) adhesives is ancient; for example, birch-bark tar was found on 2 flakes from ≈200,000 years (200 ka) ago at a site in Italy. At ≈40 ka, bitumen was found on stone tools in Syria, and a similarly aged site in Kenya yielded tools with red ochre stains that imply the use of multicomponent glue. Traces of even earlier (≈70 ka) compound adhesives occur, together with microfractures consistent with hafting, on Middle Stone Age (MSA) stone tools from Sibudu Cave, South Africa (see SI Text and Table S1). Several recipes are evident: sometimes plant gum and red ochre (natural iron oxide–hematite–Fe2O3) traces occur on tool portions that were once inserted in hafts. Other tools have brown plant gums and black or white fat, but no ochre. . . . 

"Hunters' lives depend on reliable weapons. This dependency would have been a powerful incentive in the past to create trustworthy adhesives for composite weapons. Our experiments intimate that by at least 70 ka (and earlier evidence may eventually be found at sites other than Sibudu) people were competent chemists, alchemists, and pyrotechnologists. We propose that these artisans were exceedingly skilled; they understood the properties of their adhesive ingredients, and they were able to manipulate them knowingly.  

"Although we have devoted much time to discussing the mechanical and chemical effects of adding ochre to plant gum for the creation of compound adhesives, we have done so to highlight the behavioral implications of this technology. We shall never know for sure whether the process of creating compound adhesive from disparate ingredients was regarded as symbolic in the past. However, our familiarity with compound adhesive manufacture from natural ingredients helps us make interpretations about the type of cognition that the early artisans must have had. Some birds and wasps also create compound adhesives, but they do so instinctively with simply coded operational sequences, “cognigrams,” in which the distance between problem and solution is far smaller than that demonstrated by the human action of making a composite hunting weapon. One obvious difference in human manufacture of compound glue is the use of pyrotechnology. Temperature control depends on understanding wood types, their moisture contents, and their propensity to form long-lasting coals. Vigilance is essential because our adhesives burned, or boiled to form air bubbles, when they were too close to the fire. Overdehydration caused loss of cohesiveness, whereas boiling adhesive created weakness.  

"The glue maker needs to pay careful attention to the condition of ingredients before and during the procedure and must be able to switch attention between aspects of the methodology. To hold many courses of action in the mind involves multitasking, which is one trait of modern human minds, notwithstanding that even today, some people find multilevel operations difficult. On-the-spot compensations have to be made for the capricious character of natural ingredients. Viscosity of Acacia gums varies, demanding different quantities of loading agent. Powdered ochres are also inconsistent: even when they are visually similar because of red staining by minute quantities of hematite, which has pervasive pigmenting capacity, they can be dissimilar with respect to Fe and Si percentages, particle size, pH, and ZP. Thus, ongoing evaluation and control of texture, viscosity, plasticity, and temperature is required; no set recipe or routine can guarantee a satisfactory adhesive product.  

"Mental flexibility is not the only complex attribute implied by our experiments. Artisans living in the MSA must have been able to think in abstract terms about properties of plant gums and natural iron products, even though they lacked empirical means for gauging them. Qualities of gum, such as wet, sticky, and viscous, were mentally abstracted, and these meanings counterpoised against ochre properties, such as dry, loose, and dehydrating. Simultaneously, the artisan had to think about the correct position for placing stone inserts on the hafts. Successful mental rotation requires advanced working memory capacity  and, in turn, complex cognition. Capacity for multilevel operations, abstract thought, and mental rotation are all required for the process of compound adhesive manufacture. Although fully modern behavior is presently recognizable relatively late in the MSA, the circumstantial evidence provided here implies that people who made compound adhesives in the MSA shared at least some advanced behaviors with their modern successors."

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Computational Micro-Biomechanical Analysis of Neanderthal's Fossilized Hyoid Bone Suggests that Neanderthals Could Speak Circa 60,000 BCE

A computational micro-biomechanical analysis of a Neanderthal hyoid bone found in Kebara Cave, Israel, suggests that Neanderthals could speak. This was suspected since discovery in 1989 of a Neanderthal hyoid that looked like that of humans. A study published in December 2013 suggests that not only did the bone resemble that of humans but it was also used in a similar way.

"Stephen Wroe, from the University of New England, Armidale, NSW, Australia, said: 'We would argue that this is a very significant step forward. It shows that the Kebara 2 hyoid doesn't just look like those of modern humans - it was used in a very similar way.'

"He told BBC News that it not only changed our understanding of Neanderthals, but also of ourselves.

"' Many would argue that our capacity for speech and language is among the most fundamental of characteristics that make us human. If Neanderthals also had language then they were truly human, too.' "

Ruggero D'Anastasio, Stephen Wroe et al, "Micro-Biomechanics of the Kebara 2 Hyoid and Its Implications for Speech in Neanderthals," Plos One, December 18, 2013, DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.008226. The Abstract of the article:

"The description of a Neanderthal hyoid from Kebara Cave (Israel) in 1989 fuelled scientific debate on the evolution of speech and complex language. Gross anatomy of the Kebara 2 hyoid differs little from that of modern humans. However, whether Homo neanderthalensis could use speech or complex language remains controversial. Similarity in overall shape does not necessarily demonstrate that the Kebara 2 hyoid was used in the same way as that of Homo sapiens. The mechanical performance of whole bones is partly controlled by internal trabecular geometries, regulated by bone-remodelling in response to the forces applied. Here we show that the Neanderthal and modern human hyoids also present very similar internal architectures and micro-biomechanical behaviours. Our study incorporates detailed analysis of histology, meticulous reconstruction of musculature, and computational biomechanical analysis with models incorporating internal micro-geometry. Because internal architecture reflects the loadings to which a bone is routinely subjected, our findings are consistent with a capacity for speech in the Neanderthals." 

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Neanderthals Made the First Specialized Bone Tools in Europe Circa 49,000 BCE – 43,000 BCE

A bone tool known as a lissoir, possibly used to prepare animal skins. Image courtesy of the Abri Peyrony and Pech de l'Azé I Projects. (Click on image to view larger.)


In August 2013 archaeologist Marie Soressi from Leiden University and colleagues published a paper describing the oldest specialized bone tools found in Europe, from the Pech-de-l'Azé I excavation site in southwestern France in 2005 and a nearby site called Abri Peyrony (Haut de Combe-Capelle). Notably these tools were created by Neanderthals (Neandertals) before modern humans are thought to have arrived in Europe (circa 42,000-38,000 BCE).

"Modern humans replaced Neandertals ∼40,000 y ago. Close to the time of replacement, Neandertals show behaviors similar to those of the modern humans arriving into Europe, including the use of specialized bone tools, body ornaments, and small blades. It is highly debated whether these modern behaviors developed before or as a result of contact with modern humans. Here we report the identification of a type of specialized bone tool, lissoir, previously only associated with modern humans. The microwear preserved on one of these lissoir is consistent with the use of lissoir in modern times to obtain supple, lustrous, and more impermeable hides. These tools are from a Neandertal context proceeding the replacement period and are the oldest specialized bone tools in Europe. As such, they are either a demonstration of independent invention by Neandertals or an indication that modern humans started influencing European Neandertals much earlier than previously believed. Because these finds clearly predate the oldest known age for the use of similar objects in Europe by anatomically modern humans, they could also be evidence for cultural diffusion from Neandertals to modern humans" (http://www.pnas.org/content/early/2013/08/08/1302730110, accessed 08-14-2013).

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Proof that Neanderthals Ate Vegetables as Well as Meat, in the Earliest Dated Human Faeces Circa 48,000 BCE

Readers of this database will have observed that entries tend to focus on "firsts" of various kinds. This entry describes a very special kind of first: the discovery of the earliest dated human faeces, and conclusions drawn from their analysis.

On June 25, 2014 Ainara Sistiaga, a PhD student at the University of La Laguna on the Canary Islands, and colleagues, reported that Neanderthal faeces collected from the remnants of a campfire dating to about 48,000 BCE at the El Salt archaeological site near Alicante on Spain's Mediterranean coast, contained traces of digested vegetables as well as meat. Prior to this find the only evidence that Neanderthals might have eaten meat was plant matter found in the dental tartar of Neanderthals—some of it cooked and some of it medicinal.

Sitiaga, Mailol, Galván, Summons, "The Neanderthal Meal: A New Perspective Using Faecal Biomarkers," PLOS | ONE. DOI:10.1371/journal.pone.0101045

"Neanderthal dietary reconstructions have, to date, been based on indirect evidence and may underestimate the significance of plants as a food source. While zooarchaeological and stable isotope data have conveyed an image of Neanderthals as largely carnivorous, studies on dental calculus and scattered palaeobotanical evidence suggest some degree of contribution of plants to their diet. However, both views remain plausible and there is no categorical indication of an omnivorous diet. Here we present direct evidence of Neanderthal diet using faecal biomarkers, a valuable analytical tool for identifying dietary provenance. Our gas chromatography-mass spectrometry results from El Salt (Spain), a Middle Palaeolithic site dating to ca. 50,000 yr. BP, represents the oldest positive identification of human faecal matter. We show that Neanderthals, like anatomically modern humans, have a high rate of conversion of cholesterol to coprostanol related to the presence of required bacteria in their guts. Analysis of five sediment samples from different occupation floors suggests that Neanderthals predominantly consumed meat, as indicated by high coprostanol proportions, but also had significant plant intake, as shown by the presence of 5β-stigmastanol. This study highlights the applicability of the biomarker approach in Pleistocene contexts as a provider of direct palaeodietary information and supports the opportunity for further research into cholesterol metabolism throughout human evolution" (Abstract).

Webb, Jonathan, "Oldest human faeces show Neanderthals ate vegetables," BBC.com/news/science-environment-27981702.

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Genome of the Oldest Human Fossil Found Outside of Africa and the Near East Shows that Humans and Neanderthals Interbred 50,000-60,000 Years Ago Circa 43,000 BCE

In 2008 Nikolai V. Peristov, a fossil collector from the Siberian Cultural Center Omsk, Russia, was traveling along the Irtysh River in Siberia, searching for mammoth tusks in the muddy banks. Near a settlement called Ust'-Ishim, he noticed a thighbone in the water. Mr. Peristov fished it out and brought it to scientists at the Russian Academy of Sciences.

The Russian researchers identified the bone as a modern human, not a Neanderthal. To determine its age, they sent samples to the University of Oxford. Scientists there measured the breakdown of radioactive carbon and determined the bone was about 45,000 years old — making it the oldest modern human fossil ever found outside of Africa and the Near East. The genome extracted from this fossil supports the theory that early humans interbred with Neanderthals.

The discovery, published in the journal Nature on October 22, 2014, was reported by Carl Zimmer in The New York Times also on October 22:

“ 'It’s irreplaceable evidence of what once existed that we can’t reconstruct from what people are now,' said John Hawks, a paleoanthropologist at the University of Wisconsin who was not involved in the study. 'It speaks to us with information about a time that’s lost to us.'

"Early on, the scientists were able only to retrieve tiny snippets of ancient genes. But gradually, they have invented better methods for joining the overlapping fragments together, assembling larger pieces of ancient genomes that have helped shed light on the evolution of humans and their relatives.

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Discovery of the Cro-Magnons, the First European Early Modern Humans Circa 41,000 BCE

Cro Magnon skull. (Click on image to view larger.)

Abri de Cro-Magnon - rock shelter of Cro Magnon. (Click on image to view larger.)

After workmen stumbled across extinct animal bones, flint tools and a human skull in a rock shelter near the French village of Les Eyzies, French geologist and prehistorian Louis Lartet was asked to conduct excavations. In March 1868 Lartet discovered the first five skeletons of early modern humans at the Abri de Cro-Magnon (rock shelter of Cro-Magnon), near the commune of Les Eyzies-de-Tayac-Sireuil in southwestern France. He discovered the partial skeletons of four prehistoric adults and one infant along with perforated shells used as ornaments, an object made from ivory, and worked reindeer antler. These Cro-magnon humans were soon identified as a new prehistoric human race distinct from the Neanderthal fossils discovered in Germany in 1856.

Lartet, L. “Mémoire sur une sepulture des anciens troglodytes du Périgord.” Annales des sciences naturelles: Zoologie et paléontologie ser 5, 10 (1868) 133-45.

Lartet, L. “Une sépulture des troglodytes du Périgord,” Bulletins de la Société d’Anthropologie de Paris 3 (1868) 335-349.

(This entry was last revised on April 16, 2014.)

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The First Specimen to be Recognized as an Early Human Fossil Circa 40,000 BCE

Fossilized scullcap of Neanderthal 1. (Click on image to view larger.

Drawing of fossilized scullcap of Neanderthal 1. (Click on image to view larger.)

Map showing range of Neanderthals. From Science Magazine. (Click on image to view larger.)

Map showing location of Neander Valley in Germany. (Click on image to view larger.)

In August 1856, laborers in a mining operation discovered human bones in the Kleine Feldhofer Grotte in the Neandertal (Neanderthal), a small limestone valley in northern Germany. This finding, consisting of a partial skull, pelvis and assorted long bones, which later became known as Neanderthal 1, became the first specimen to be recognized as an early human fossil. The oval shaped skull with a low, receding forehead and distinct browridges, the thick, strong bones were distinctly different from modern humans.

The bones were sent to Johann Carl Fuhlrott, a science teacher in Elberfeld, who immediately recognized that the bones were a previously unknown type of human. This conclusion was borne out by Hermann Schaaffhausen, a physician and anthropologist in Bonn to whom Fuhlrott sent a cast of the cranium. Over the winter of 1856–57 Schaaffhausen examined the Neanderthal bones in detail, and in 1857 he and Fuhlrott published preliminary announcements of the discovery in the Verhandlungen. des naturhistorischen Vereines des preussischen Rheinlande und Westphalens.XIV (1857) xxxviii-xlii, l-lii.  Fuhlrott’s account appears on page l (Roman numeral pagination).

In 1864, Neanderthal 1 became the first fossil hominin species to be named. Geologist William King suggested the name Homo neanderthalensis (Neanderthal Man). Several years after Neanderthal 1 was discovered, scientists realized that prior fossil discoveries, by Philippe-Charles Schmerling in 1829 at Engis, Belgium, and in 1848 at Forbes Quarry, Gibraltar (Gibralter 1)—were also Neanderthals. Even though they weren’t recognized at the time, these earlier discoveries, and that of the so-called "Red Lady of Paviland" by William Buckland at Paviland Cave (Goat's Hole) South Wales in 1823, were among the first early human fossils ever found.

♦ As recently as March 1999 archaeologists Ralf Schmitz and Jurgen Thissen pinpointed the site where Neanderthal 1 was discovered in 1856, and dug up missing parts of the original skeleton that had been passed over in the original excavation. They found 20 bone fragments— a molar, a vertebra, ribs, a toe, and a bit of pelvis; one of the fragments exactly fit the left knee joint of the specimen found in 1856. Continuation of the excavation in 2000 recovered thousands of artefacts. Mitochondrial DNA of two samples fresh from the ground were fully sequenced, and completed in 2009, finally allowing an objective biological means of comparison between Neanderthals and modern humans.


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The Denisova Hominin, a Third Kind of Human Circa 39,000 BCE

Molar found in Denisova Cave of the Altay Mountains in Southern Siberia. (Click on image to view larger.)

The Family Tree - Neanderthals and Denisovans were closely related. DNA comparisons suggest that our ancestors diverged from theirs some 500,000 years ago. (Click on image to view larger.)


 A Tale of Three Humans

A third kind of human, called Denisovans, seems to have coexisted in Asia with Neanderthals and early modern humans. The latter two are known from abundant fossils and artifacts. Denisovans are defined so far only by the DNA from one bone chip and two teeth—but it reveals a new twist to the human story.

Chip Clark, Smithsonian Institution.

On March 24, 2010 scientists announced the discovery of a finger bone fragment of an eight year old girl who lived about 41,000 years ago, found in the remote Denisova Cave in the Altai Mountains in Siberia, a cave which was also inhabited by Neanderthals and modern humans. Discovery of two teeth and a toe bone belonging to different members of the same population were later reported.These three objects are the only specimens from which the Denisova hominins are known. The average annual temperature of Denisova Cave remains at 0°C (32°F), a factor which contributed to the preservation of archaic DNA among the diverse prehistoric remains discovered, in addition to the Denisova hominin remains. 

Using a new technique for sequencing ancient DNA from bone, in August 2012 scientists from the Max Planck Institute reconstructed the genome of the Denisova hominins and announced that they were a new species, that they interbred with our species, and that the DNA results suggest that they had dark hari, eyes, and skin.  

"Analysis of the mtDNA of the finger bone showed it to be genetically distinct from the mtDNAs of Neanderthals and modern humans [Katsnelson 2010]. However, subsequent study of the genome from this specimen suggests this group shares a common origin with Neanderthals. They ranged from Siberia to Southeast Asia, and they lived among and interbred with the ancestors of some present-day modern humans, with up to 6% of the DNA of Melanesians and Australian Aboriginies deriving from Denisovans.

"It was in 2008 when Russian archaeologists discovered the finger bone fragment, and nick-named it 'X Woman'. Artifacts, including a bracelet, excavated in the cave at the same level were carbon dated to approximately 40,000 BP.

"A team of scientists led by Johannes Krause and Svante Paabo from the Max Planck Institute in Germany sequenced mtDNA from the fragment. The analysis indicated that modern humans, Neanderthals and the Denisova hominin last shared a common ancestor around 1 million years ago [Katsnelson 2004].

"The mtDNA analysis further suggested this new hominin species was the result of an early migration out of Africa, distinct from the later out-of-Africa migrations associated with Neanderthals and modern humans. Some argue it may be a relic of the earlier African exodus of Homo erectus, because of the tooth size, although this has not been proved. The conclusions of both the excavations and the sequencing are still debatable because the evidence shows that the Denisova Cave has been occupied by all three human forms" (http://www.bradshawfoundation.com/origins/denisova_hominin.php, accessed 07-07-2013).

For images and a very readable account of these discoveries see "The Case of the Missing Ancestor," nationalgeographic.com, July, 2013.


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The First Sturdy Shoes are Invented 38,000 BCE

The introduction of sturdy shoes led weaker toes.

Basing his conclusions on the small toes of humans from prehistoric periods, physical anthropologist Erik Trinkaus concluded that because humans' small toes had become smaller by this time, sturdy shoes may have become the norm. 

"He [Trinkaus] found Neanderthals and early moderns living in Middle Palaeolithic times (100,000 to 40,000 years ago) had thicker, and therefore stronger, lesser toes than those of Upper Palaeolithic people living 26,000 years ago.  

"A shoe-less lifestyle promotes stronger little toes, says Professor Trinkaus, because "when you walk barefoot, you grip the ground with your toes as a natural reflex". Because hard-soled shoes improve both grip and balance, regularly shod people develop weaker little toes.  

"To test the theory that the more delicate toes resulted from shoe use, the Washington University researcher compared the foot bones of early Native Americans, who regularly went barefoot, and contemporary Alaskan Inuits, who sported heavy sealskin boots.  

"Again, he identified chunkier toes in the population that routinely went without shoes. The research suggests shoe-wearers developed weaker toes simply because of the reduced stresses on them during their lifetime; it was not an evolutionary change" (http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/science/nature/4173838.stm, accessed 01-16-2011).

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Neanderthal Genome Reveals Interbreeding with Humans Circa 36,000 BCE

Svante Pääbo

In May 2010 paleogeneticist Svante Pääbo and colleagues at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig published a draft genome sequence of DNA obtained from Neanderthal bones recovered from Vindija Cave that were around 38,000 years old. Neanderthal fossils found in this cave near the city of VaraždinCroatia, are among the best preserved in the world.

In their preliminary draft of the Neanderthal genome announced in February 2009 the scientists indicated that

"Previous mitochondrial analysis of Neanderthal DNA has uncovered no sign that Neanderthals and humans interbred sufficiently to leave a trace. A preliminary analysis across the new genome seems to confirm this conclusion, but more sequence data could overturn this conclusion" (http://www.newscientist.com/article/dn16587-first-draft-of-neanderthal-genome-is-unveiled.html#.UnKcfFCsim4. accessed 10-31-2013). 

However, comparison in 2010 of the full Neanderthal sequence with that of modern humans suggested that there was some interbreeding between Homo neanderthalensis and Homo sapiens.

"Bone contains DNA that survives long after an animal dies. Over time, though, strands of DNA break up, and microbes with their own DNA invade the bone. Pääbo's team found ways around both problems with 38,000 and 44,000-year-old bones recovered in Croatia: they used a DNA sequencing machine that rapidly decodes short strands and came up with ways to get rid of the microbial contamination.

"They ended up with short stretches of DNA code that computers stitched into a more complete sequence. This process isn't perfect: Pääbo's team decoded about 5.3 billion letters of Neanderthal DNA, but much of this is duplicates, because – assuming it's the same size as the human genome – the actual Neanderthal genome is only about 3 billion letters long. More than a third of the genome remains unsequenced. . . .

"Any human whose ancestral group developed outside Africa has a little Neanderthal in them – between 1 and 4 per cent of their genome, Pääbo's team estimates. In other words, humans and Neanderthals had sex and had hybrid offspring. A small amount of that genetic mingling survives in "non-Africans" today: Neanderthals didn't live in Africa, which is why sub-Saharan African populations have no trace of Neanderthal DNA" (http://www.newscientist.com/article/dn18869-neanderthal-genome-reveals-interbreeding-with-humans.html#.UnKfSFCsim4, accessed 10-31-2013).

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The First Genuine Human Fossil Skeleton Discovered by a Scientist Circa 31,000 BCE

Bones of the "Red Lady of Paviland", who was actually male. (Click on image to view larger.)

Entrance to Paviland Cave. (Click on image to view larger.)

In 1823 British paleontologist the Very Reverend William Buckland published Reliquiae diluvianae; or, Observations on the Organic Remains Contained in Caves, Fissures, and Diluvial Gravel, and on Other Geological Phenomena, Attesting the Action of an Universal DelugeAmong the most notable aspects of this elegant pioneering work on the exploration of so-called "bone caves," was Buckland's report with illustrations, of the discovery of a human skeleton in Paviland Cave (Goat's Hole Cave), one of the limestone caves between Port Eynon and Rhossili, on the Gower Peninsula, south Wales. The skeleton was associated with the bones of extinct animals. Though Buckland initially presumed that the skeleton was male, he later revised his presumption to female because of a bracelet found with the skeleton then thought to be made of ivory, but since recognized to have been made from the bones of a mammoth. Since the skeleton's bones were stained with ochre, the skeleton became known as the "Red Lady of Paviland." This incomplete skeleton Buckland considered “anterior to, or coeval with, the Roman invasion of this country” (p. 92). Because of the prevailing religious/scientific views of his time, Buckland did not recognize its ancient age, and could not accept the idea of human fossils. Much later, the skeleton was recognized as the first genuine human fossil skeleton discovered by a scientist. In 2013 it remained the oldest ceremonial burial of a modern human discovered in Western Europe.

“Decades before the establishment of human antiquity or evolutionary theory, it suggested questions about human origins to science. In fact, Aldhouse-Green has playfully pointed out that our Paleolithic European forebears should be called Pavilandians instead of Cro-Magnons because the Red Lady has priority of nearly forty years over the discoveries made in France” (Sommer, Bones and Ochre. The Curious Afterlife of the Red Lady of Paviland [2007] 2-3).

(This entry was last revised on 04-16-2014.)

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The Earliest Surviving Pottery From Japan Circa 16,000 BCE

Photocredit: Chip Clark, Smithsonian Institution. (View Larger)

Early humans may have made bags from skin long ago. By around 24,000 BCE they were weaving plant fibers to make cords and perhaps baskets. Some of the oldest known pottery, from Japan’s Jomon culture, Lake Anenuma, Honshu, Japan, are about 18,000 years old.

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The Holocene Interglacial Period Begins Circa 10,000 BCE

The Holocene interglacial, a geological interval of warmer global average temperature that separates glacial periods within an ice age, began circa 10,000 BCE.

"Human civilization, in its most widely used definition, dates entirely within the Holocene. The word anthropocene is sometimes used to describe the time period from when humans have had a significant impact on the Earth's climate and ecosystems to the present" (Wikipedia article on Holocene, accessed 07-10-2010).

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8,000 BCE – 1,000 BCE

The Earliest Known Fermented Beverage Circa 7,000 BCE

Chemical analyses of ancient organic compounds absorbed into pottery jars from the early Neolithic village of Jiahu in Henan province in China show that a mixed fermented beverage of rice, honey, and fruit (hawthorn fruit and/or grape) was being produced about 7000 BCE. The rice was probably prepared for fermentation by mastication or malting,

"This prehistoric drink paved the way for unique cereal beverages of the proto-historic second millennium B.C., remarkably preserved as liquids inside sealed bronze vessels of the Shang and Western Zhou Dynasties. These findings provide direct evidence for fermented beverages in ancient Chinese culture, which were of considerable social, religious, and medical significance, and help elucidate their earliest descriptions in the Shang Dynasty oracle inscriptions.

"Throughout history and around the world, human societies at every level of complexity discovered how to make fermented beverages from sugar sources available in their local habitats. This nearly universal phenomenon of fermented beverage production is explained by ethanol's combined analgesic, disinfectant, and profound mind-altering effects. Moreover, fermentation helps to preserve and enhance the nutritional value of foods and beverages. Because of their perceived pharmacological, nutritional, and sensory benefits, fermented beverages thus have played key roles in the development of human culture and technology, contributing to the advance and intensification of agriculture, horticulture, and food-processing techniques. Among all strata of society, they have marked major life events, from birth to death, as well as victories, auspicious events, and harvests, etc. Rulers and “upper class” individuals with leisure and resources particularly were drawn to feasting on a grand scale, which often featured special fermented beverages served in and drunk from special vessels. In their most developed form, such celebrations were formalized into secular or religious ceremonies for the society at large.

"How does ancient China, one of the primal centers for the rise of human civilization, fit into this picture of fermented beverage production, conspicuous consumption, and celebratory and ritual activities that are so well documented archaeologically, historically, and ethnographically elsewhere? Based on the oracle inscriptions from the late Shang Dynasty [circa (ca.) 1200–1046 before Christ (B.C.)], the earliest texts from China, at least three beverages were distinguished: chang (an herbal wine), li (probably a sweet, low-alcoholic rice or millet beverage), and jiu (a fully fermented and filtered rice or millet beverage or “wine,” with an alcoholic content of probably 10–15% by weight). According to inscriptions, the Shang palace administration included officials who made the beverages, which sometimes were inspected by the king. Fermented beverages and other foods were offered as sacrifices to royal ancestors in various forms of bronze vessels, likely accompanied by elite feasting. Later documents, incorporating traditions from the Zhou period (ca. 1046–221 B.C.), describe another two beverages: luo (likely made from a fruit) and lao (an unfiltered, fermented rice or millet beverage or the unfermented wort).  

"A much earlier history for fermented beverages in China has long been hypothesized based on the similar shapes and styles of Neolithic pottery vessels to the magnificent Shang Dynasty bronze vessels, which were used to present, store, serve, drink, and ritually present fermented beverages during that period. By using a combined chemical, archaeobotanical, and archaeological approach, we present evidence here that ancient Chinese fermented beverage production does indeed extend back nearly nine millennia. Moreover, our analyses of unique liquid samples from tightly lidded bronze vessels, dated to the Shang/Western Zhou Dynasties (ca. 1250–1000 B.C.), reveal that refinements in beverage production took place over the ensuing 5,000 years, including the development of a special saccharification (amylolysis) fermentation system in which fungi break down the polysaccharides in rice and millet" (Patrick E. McGovern, Juzhong Zhang, et al, "Fermented beverages of pre-and proto-historic China," Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, Published online before print December 8, 2004, 101, no. 51, December 21, 2004, 17593-17598.)

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The First Prehistoric Human Ever Found with his Everyday Clothing and Equipment Circa 3,300 BCE

Model of Ötzi the Iceman in exhibit at the South Tyrol Museum of Archaeology.

Mummified corpse of Ötzi the Iceman.

The most important item of the Iceman’s equipment is his copper-bladed axe.

The two separate leggings, which the Iceman was still wearing when he was discovered, are made of several pieces of domestic goat hide carefully cross-stitched together with animal sinew.

In September 1991 Ötzi, also called Ötzi the Iceman, the Similaun Man, the Man from Hauslabjoch, Homo tyrolensis, and the Hauslabjoch mummy, was discovered  in the Ötztal Alps near the Mt. Similaun and Hauslabjoch on the border between Austria and Italy. Radiocarbon tests consistently dated the body and associated objects within a range of 3365-2940 BCE. Because the body was preserved in ice for over 5000 years it had only partially deteriorated when it was discovered. 

"Anthropologists are particularly interested in the items found with him, which constitute a unique time-capsule of the stuff of everyday life, may of them made of organic materials that were preserved by the cold and ice. An astonishing variety of woods, and a range of very sophsticated tecyniques of work with leather and grasses can be seen in the collection of seventy objects that have added a new dimension to our knowledge of the period.

The axe, 60 cm (24 in) in length, has a head of copper that was bound to the yew-wood handle with leather thongs. The bow, of yew wood, was almost 180 cm. (6 ft) long. One side is flat, the other rounded. Its odour at room temperature suggests it was smeared with blood or fat to keep it pliable. A quiver of deerskin contained fourteen arrows, only two of which were ready for use. Their 75 cm (30 in) shafts, made of two pieces, were of dogwood and viburnum wood, and had points of stone or bone fixed to them by pitch. The two finished arrows had double-side points of flint and triple feathering whose placement meant the missiles would spin in flight and indicates an advanced ballistic design. The quiver also contained an untreated sinew (possibly for use as a bowstring), a ball of fibrous cord ,bone or antler spines tied togehter with grass, and various objects of flint and bone, together with pitch - it may ahve constituted some kind of repair kit.

"The dagger or knife has a sharp flint blade, only about 4 cm (1.5 in) long set into an 8 cm (3 in) ash-wood handle. Polish on the blade indicates that it was used to cut grass. A woven grass sheath was also found. What was orignally assumed to be a stone-pointed fire-striker was found to be a thick 'pencil' of linden wood with a central spine of bone, probably used for retouching and sharpening flint objects. A U-shaped stick of hazel and two cross-boards of larch are thought to be the frame of a backpack that may have contained some animal bones and residues of the skin of chamois and other small animals, found nearby: blood residues from chamois, ibex and deer have been found on some of the implements" (Paul G. Hahn (ed) 100 Great Archaeological Discoveries [1995] 85).

Ötzi's body and belongings are preserved in the South Tyrol Museum of Archaeology in Bolzano, South Tyrol, Italy.

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The Oldest Non-Clonal, Acknowledged Living Organism Circa 3,051 BCE

Bristlecone pinetree nickednamed Methuselah.

The oldest non-clonal, acknowledged living organism is the Great Basin bristlceone pine Pinus longaeva located in the Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest in the White Mountains of Inyo County in eastern California. One member of this species, the location of which has not been specifically identified, is estimated to have germinated in 3051 BCE, making it 5064 years old in 2014.

In 1964 Donald R. Currey, a student of the University of North Carolina taking core samples of bristlecone pines, discovered "Prometheus" in the Snake Range of eastern Nevada, in a cirque below Wheeler Peak. Currey's coring tool broke and, regrettably the U.S. Forest service granted permission to cut down "Prometheus." 4,844 rings were counted on a cross-section of the tree, making "Prometheus" at least 4,844 years old, and the oldest known non-clonal living thing.

"A specimen of this species, located in the White Mountains of California was measured by Tom Harlan to be 5,062 years old in 2012. The identity of the specimen is being kept secret by Harlan. This is the oldest known tree in North America, and the oldest known individual tree in the world, although a clonal individual, nicknamed "Old Tjikko", a Norway spruce in Sweden is 9,550 years old.

"The previously oldest named specimen of this species, "Methuselah", is also located in the Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest of the White Mountains. Methuselah is 4,844 years old, as measured by annual ring count on a small core taken with an increment borer. Its exact location is also kept secret.

"Among the White Mountain specimens, the oldest trees are found on north-facing slopes, with an average of 2,000 years, as compared to the 1,000 year average on the southern slopes. The climate and the durability of their wood can preserve them long after death, with dead trees as old as 7,000 years persisting next to live ones" (Wikipedia article on Pinus lagaeva, accessed 11-09-2014).


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“Accurate Reckoning for Inquiring into Things, and the Knowledge of All Things, Mysteries . . .All Secrets” Circa 1,650 BCE

The Rhind Mathematical Papyrus. (View Larger)

Dating from the Second Intermediate Period of Egypt, the Rhind Mathematial Papyrus is the most significant document of Egyptian mathematics. It was copied by the scribe Ahmes from a now-lost text from the reign of Amenemhat III (12th dynasty). The manuscript  is 33 cm tall and over 5 meters long, and is written in hieratic script. It is dated  Year 33 of the Hyksos king Apophis and also contains a separate later Year 11 on its verso likely from his successor, Khamudi.

"In the opening paragraphs of the papyrus, Ahmes presents the papyrus as giving 'Accurate reckoning for inquiring into things, and the knowledge of all things, mysteries...all secrets'."

Alexander Henry Rhind, a Scottish antiquarian, purchased the papyrus in 1858 in Luxor, Egypt.  It was apparently found during illegal excavations in or near the Ramesseum. The British Museum acquired it in 1864 along with the Egyptian Mathematical Leather Roll, also owned by Rhind.

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The Nebra Sky Disk 1,600 BCE

The Nebra Sky Disk. (View Larger)

The Nebra Sky Disk, attributed to a site near Nebra, Saxony-Anhalt, Germany, is a bronze disk about 30 cm in diameter, with a blue-green patina inlaid with gold symbols which have generally been interpreted as a sun or full moon, a lunar crescent, and stars, including a cluster interpreted as the Pleiades. The disk is associated with Bronze Age Unetice Culture.

"Two golden arcs along the sides, making the angle between the solstices, were added later. A final addition was another arc at the bottom surrounded with multiple strokes (of uncertain meaning, variously interpreted as a Solar Barge with numerous oars, as the Milky Way or as a rainbow)" (Wikipedia article on Nebra sky disk, accessed 11-04-2010).

When it appeared on the antiquities market in 2001 the disk was widely suspected to be a forgery. Scientific research summarized in the Wikipedia article provided evidence for its authenticity that was widely accepted in 2010.

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How the Inca Quipu System of Mathematical Record-Keeping Worked Circa 1,500 BCE – 1912

In 1912 anthropologist Leslie Leland Locke published "The Ancient Quipu, A Peruvian Knot Record," American Anthropologist, New Series I4 (1912) 325-332. This was the first work to show how the Inca (Inka) Empire and its predecessor societies used the quipu (Khipu) for mathematical and accounting records in the decimal system. Locke stated his conclusions as follows:

"1. These knots were used purely for numerical purposes.

"2. Distances from the main cord were used roughly to locate the orders, which were on a decimal scale.

"3. The quipu was not used for counting or calculating but for record keeping. The mode of tying the knots was not adapted to counting, and there was no need of its use for such a purpose, as the Quichua language contained a complete and adequate system of numeration.

"4. Other specimens examined contain the same types of knots there being but ten variations in all, two forms for the single knot and eight long knots. These eight differ from each other and from the single knot only in the number of turns taken in tying. There is nothing about any specimen examined to give the slightest suggesion that it was used for any other than numerical purposes.

"5. If the hypothesis that this quipu is a record of the same classes of objects be correct, it would seem to indicate the colors in this case have no special significance, but were taken according to the fancy or convenience of the maker. This does not signify that there was not a rough color scheme in sue for some purposes.

"6. These specimens confirm in a remarkable way the accuracy with which [the Inca] Garcilasso [de la Vega] described the manners and customs of his people."

In 1923 Locke published an expanded version of his research in a monograph entitled The Ancient Quipu or Peruvian Knot Record.

According to "The "Storage Engine" website of the Computer History Museum, the quipu numerical record keeping system was in use by the Tiwanaku people, precursors of the Incas, perhaps as early as 1500 BCE:

"The Tiwanaku people lived in the Andes Mountains of South America around Lake Titicaca in today’s Bolivia from circa 1500 BCE until circa 1200 CE. Evidence suggests a sophisticated culture adept at astronomical timekeeping, architecture, agriculture, and social order. Shards of Tiwanaku pottery dated to around 400 CE bear artwork depicting a tribal elder or shaman with his arm extended horizontally. A series of knotted strings that today is known as a quipu dangles from the arm. Predating the Tiwanaku society, archeologists discovered the oldest known quipu made about 4,600 years ago at Caral on the Peruvian coast.

"The Inca civilization that emerged in the region in the 13th century adopted the quipu to record and transmit tax records, census data and other information across the great distances of the Inca Empire. “Quipu” means “knot” in the Peruvian Quechua language. Europeans learned of the quipu when Spanish colonizers arrived in the Inca capital of Cuzco in 1532. Suspicious of the purpose of these assemblies of knotted, colored cotton and wool cords, the conquistadors destroyed most of them. Less than 300 remain."

The first Spanish historian of Peruvian culture, conquistador Pedro Cieza de Léon, wrote in Parte Primera dela Crónica del Perú (1553) that “Each ruler of a province was provided with accountants, and by these knots they kept account of what tribute was to be paid … and with such accuracy that not so much as pair of sandals was missing.” However, the exact way that quipu were used was not understood until Locke's work in the 20th century.

Research on this topic was further advanced by mathematician Marcia Ascher and anthropologist Robert Ascher in Code of the Quipu. A Study of Media, Mathematics, and Culture (1981).

(This entry was last revised on 11-27-2015.)

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Analysis of Pollen Grains Proves that Drought Caused the Collapse of Civilization in the Soutern Levant 1,250 BCE – 1,100 BCE

In the October 2013 issue of Tel Aviv: Journal of the Institute of Archaeology of Tel Aviv University palynologist (pollen researcher) Dafna Langgut and archaeologist Israel Finkelstein published "Climate and the Late Bronze Collapse: New Evidence from the Southern Levant." Using cores drilled from the Dead Sea, the researchers were able to study pollen counts an intervals of 40 years--the highest resolution yet in the region. From this evidence they were able to demonstate that a devastating drought from 1250 to 1100 BCE caused the collapse of civilization in the Southern Levant during the Late Bronze Age.

"A core drilled from the Sea of Galilee was subjected to high resolution pollen analysis for the Bronze and Iron Ages. The detailed pollen diagram (sample/~40 yrs) was used to reconstruct past climate changes and human impact on the vegetation of the Mediterranean zone of the southern Levant. The chronological framework is based on radiocarbon dating of short-lived terrestrial organic material. The results indicate that the driest event throughout the Bronze and Iron Ages occurred ~1250–1100 BCE—at the end of the Late Bronze Age. This arid phase was identified based on a significant decrease in Mediterranean tree values, denoting a reduction in precipitation and the shrinkage of the Mediterranean forest/maquis. The Late Bronze dry event was followed by dramatic recovery in the Iron I, evident in the increased percentages of both Mediterranean trees and cultivated olive trees.

"Archaeology indicates that the crisis in the eastern Mediterranean at the end of the Late Bronze Age took place during the same period—from the mid-13th century to ca. 1100 BCE. In the Levant the crisis years are represented by destruction of a large number of urban centres, shrinkage of other major sites, hoarding activities and changes in settlement patterns. Textual evidence from several places in the Ancient Near East attests to drought and famine starting in the mid-13th and continuing until the second half of the 12th century. All this helps to better understand the 'Crisis Years' in the eastern Mediterranean at the end of the Late Bronze Age and the quick settlement recovery in the Iron I, especially in the highlands of the Levant" (http://www.ingentaconnect.com/content/maney/tav/2013/00000040/00000002/art00002, accessed 10-22-2013). 

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1,000 BCE – 300 BCE

A Wooden Dove Automaton Circa 400 BCE

About 400 BCE Greek philosopher, mathematician, astronomer, statesman, and strategist Archytas (Ἀρχύτας ο Ταραντίνος or Archytus of Tarentum, now Taranto, Southern Italy) "was reputed to have designed and built the first artificial, self-propelled flying device, a bird-shaped model propelled by a jet of what was probably steam, said to have actually flown some 200 meters. This machine, which its inventor called The Pigeon, may have been suspended on a wire or pivot for its flight" (Wikipedia article on Archytas, accessed 12-25-2011).

Nocks, The Robot. The Life Story of a Technology (2008) 11.

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The First Description of Book Scorpions, by Aristotle Circa 350 BCE

Among the many original descriptions in Aristotle's  De historia animalium, the founding work of descriptive zoology, was the first to description of pseudoscorpions. These Aristotle probably found among book rolls in a library where they would have been feeding on booklice. Pseudoscorpions are generally beneficial to humans since they prey on clothes moth larvae, carpet beetle larvae, booklice, ants, mites, and small flies. They are tiny and inoffensive, and are rarely seen due to their size. Aristotle wrote in Book V, Chapter 26 of his De historia animalium:

"1. There are also other minute animals, as I observed before, some of which occur in wool, and in woollen goods; as the moths, which are produced in the greatest abundance when the wool is dusty, as especially if a spider is enclosed with them, for this creature is thirsty, and dries up any fluid which may be present. This worm also occurs in garments. There is one which occurs in old honeycombs, like the creature which inhabits dry wood; this appears to be the least of all creatures, it is called acari, it is white and small. Others also are found in books, some of which are like those which occur in garments; others are like scorpions; they have no tails, and are very small. And on the whole, they occur in everything, so to say, which from being dry, becomes moist, or being moist, becomes dry, if it has any life in it" (Aristotle's History of Animals, In Ten Books, Translated by Richard Cresswell [London, 1862] 135). 

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Euclid's Elements: "The Founding Document of Mathematics" 323 BCE – 283 BCE

Between 323 and 283 BCE mathematician Euclid of Alexandria, a teacher at the Alexandrian Library under the reign of Ptolemy I, wrote the Elements, in which he summarized and codified the preceding two centuries of mathematical research. Considered the founding document of mathematics, the Elements was the standard textbook for mathematical education in the ancient world, in the Islamic world, and in Europe through the Middle Ages, the Renaissance, and until almost the present time. "The system of thought presented by the Elements, in which knowledge was distilled in the form of theorems and then given a written proof, inspired fields as diverse as law and physics. Indeed, Newton’s Principia, which marked the beginning of modern physics, took Euclid’s work as its intellectual and stylistic model.”

♦ For numerous related entries in this database about the transmission and publication of Euclid, and its influence, please search under Euclid in the keyword search.

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300 BCE – 30 CE

The Earliest Surviving Analog Computer: the Antikythera Mechanism Circa 150 BCE – 100 BCE

The Antikythera Mechanism discovered off the island of Antikythera, Greece in 1900 or 1901, includes the only specimen preserved from antiquity of a scientifically graduated instrument. It may also be considered the earliest extant mechanical calculator. The device is displayed at the National Archaeological Museum of Athens, accompanied by a reconstruction made and donated to the museum by physicist and historian of science Derek de Solla Price.

"The Antikythera mechanism must therefore be an arithmetical counterpart of the much more familiar geometrical models of the solar system which were known to Plato and Archimedes and evolved into the orrery and the planetarium. The mechanism is like a great astronomical clock without an escapement, or like a modern analogue computer which uses mechanical parts to save tedious calculation . . . . It is certainly very similar to the great astronomical cathedral clocks that were built. . . ." in Europe beginning in the fourteenth century.

Applying high-resolution imaging systems and three-dimensional X-ray tomography, in 2008 experts deciphered inscriptions and reconstructed functions of the bronze gears on the mechanism. The results of this research, revealed details of dials on the instrument’s back side, including the names of all 12 months of an ancient calendar. Scientists found that the device not only predicted solar eclipses but also organized the calendar in the four-year cycles of the Olympiad, forerunner of the modern Olympic Games.

The new findings also suggested that the mechanism’s concept originated in the colonies of Corinth, possibly Syracuse, in Sicily. The scientists said this implied a likely connection with Archimedes, who lived in Syracuse and died in 212 BCE. It is known that Archimedes invented a planetarium which calculated motions of the moon and the known planets. It is also believed that Archimedes wrote a manuscript, which did not survive, on astronomical mechanisms. Some evidence had previously linked the complex device of gears and dials to the island of Rhodes and the astronomer Hipparchos, who had made a study of irregularities in the Moon’s orbital course.

In June 2106 an international team of archaeologists, astronomers and historians published the results of 10 years of researches on the mechanism in the first 2016 issue of the journal Almagest. Most significantly they were able to read texts preserved in the remains of the mechanisms by innovative imaging techniques.

"This special edition of the Almagest journal investigates the surviving text inscriptions on the Antikythera Mechanism. The structure of the mechanism and the history of the reading of the inscriptions are briefly reviewed. The methods used by the Antikythera Mechanism Research Project to image the inscriptions - computed tomography and polynomial textual mapping - are outlined. The layout of the inscriptions is described, and the dimensions of the mechanism deduced to allow the space available for inscriptions to be estimated. General conventions and notations are provided for the presentation of the inscriptions.

" Table of Contents

The Inscriptions of the Antikythera Mechanism

 1. General Preface to the Publication of the InscriptionsAuthors: : M. Allen , W. Ambrisco , M. Anastasiouc, D. Bate , Y. Bitsakis, A. Crawleyf, M.G.Edmunds, , D. Gelb, R. Hadland, , P. Hockley, A. Jones, T. Malzbender, X. Moussas, A. Ramsey, J.H. Seiradakis, J. M. Steele, A.Tselikas, and M. Zafeiropoulou.

 2. Historical Background and General Observations

Author: A. Jones

 3. The Front Dial and Parapegma Inscriptions

Authors: Y. Bitsakis and A. Jones

 4. The Back Dial and Back Plate Inscriptions

Authors: M. Anastasiou, Y. Bitsakis, A. Jones, J. M. Steele, and M. Zafeiropoulou

 5. The Back Cover Inscription

Authors: Y. Bitsakis and A. Jones

6. The Front Cover Inscription

Authors: M. Anastasiou, Y. Bitsakis, A. Jones, X. Moussas, A.Tselikas, and M. Zafeiropoulou."



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Probably the First Trigonometric Table Circa 150 BCE


Abut 150 BCE Hellenistic astronomer, geographer, and mathematician, Hipparchos of Rhodes, produced a table of chords— an early example of a trigonometric table. 

". . . some historians go so far as to say that trigonometry was invented by him. The purpose of this table of chords was to give a method for solving triangles which avoided solving each triangle from first principles. He also introduced the division of a circle into 360 degrees into Greece" (Mactutor biography of Hipparchus, accessed 11-27-2008).

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Invention of the Astrolabe Circa 150 BCE – 100 BCE

A portrait of Hipparchus from the title page of William Cunningham's Cosmographicall Glasse (1559). (View Larger)

The rudimentary astrolabe was invented in the Hellenistic world, and is often attributed to Hipparchus, who was probably born in Nicaea (now Iznik, Turkey) and probably died on the island of Rhodes. A combination of the planisphere and dioptra, the astrolabe was effectively an analog calculator capable of working out several different kinds of problems in spherical astronomy.

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Julius Caesar Introduces a Calendar and Plans a Great Library 46 BCE


In 46 BCE Julius Caesar introduced the Julian calendar. The Julian Calendar has a regular year of 365 days divided into 12 months, and a leap day is added every four years, so the average Julian year is 365.25 days. This calendar remained in use into the 20th century in some countries and is still used by many national Orthodox churches. "However with this scheme too many leap days are added with respect to the astronomical seasons, which on average occur earlier in the calendar by about 11 minutes per year, causing it to gain a day about every 128 years. It is said that Caesar was aware of the discrepancy, but felt it was of little importance."

Caesar planned to establish a public library to equal or surpass the one at Alexandria. He appointed Marcus Terentius Varro, a noted scholar and book collector, to gather copies of the best-known literature for a Roman public library. However these plans were, of course, shelved when Caesar was assassinated in 44 BCE.

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30 CE – 500 CE

The Last Known Datable Cuneiform Tablet 75 CE

The last known datable cuneiform tablet is an astronomical almanac from 75 CE.

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At Alexandria Ptolemy Writes the Almagest, the Cosmographia, and the Tetrabiblos Circa 100 CE – 178 CE


In the second century CE, probably at the Library of Alexandria, mathematician, astronomer, geographer, and astrologer Claudius Ptolemaeus (Greek: Κλαύδιος Πτολεμαίος , Klaúdios Ptolemaîos) wrote the Almagest, the Cosmographia, and the Tetrabiblos. In the Almgagest (in Greek, Η Μεγάλη Σύνταξις, "The Great Treatise", originally Μαθηματική Σύνταξις, "Mathematical Treatise") Ptolemy compiled the astronomical knowledge of the ancient Greek and Babylonian world, relying mainly on the work of Hipparchus, which had been written three centuries earlier.

Ptolemy's Almagest is the only surviving comprehensive treatise on astronomy from antiquity. It was preserved, like most of classical Greek science, in Arabic manuscripts, hence its familiar Arabic name. The work was first translated into Latin from Arabic texts found in Toledo, in Al-Andalus, or Moorish Iberia, by Gerard of Cremona, in the 12th century, and it is from Gerard's version that the work became known to European scientists in the late Middle Ages and the Renaissance.

"Ptolemy formulated a geocentric model of the solar system which remained the generally accepted model in the Western and Arab worlds until it was superseded by the heliocentric solar system of Copernicus. Likewise his computational methods (supplemented in the 12th century with the Arabic computational Tables of Toledo), were of sufficient accuracy to satisfy the needs of astronomers, astrologers, and navigators, until the time of the great explorations. They were also adopted in the Arab world and in India. The Almagest also contains a star catalogue, which is probably an updated version of a catalogue created by Hipparchus. Its list of forty-eight constellations is ancestral to the modern system of constellations, but unlike the modern system they did not cover the whole sky (only the sky Ptolemy could see).”

Even though Ptolemy's Almagest remained the dominant textbook of theoretical astronomy from the second through the sixteenth centuries, only an epitome or digest appeared in print during the fifteenth century. This was the Epytoma in Almagestum Ptolemai published by the German mathematician, astronomer, astrologer, translator, instrument maker and Catholic bishop Johannes Müller von Königsberg, who is best known by the Latin version of his name, Regiomontanus.  The Epytoma, printed in Venice by Johannes Hamman for Kaspar Grossch and Stephan Roemer, and issued on August 31, 1496, must have been printed in an unusually large edition as it remains one of the most common of all books printed in the fifteenth century, with more than 100 copies recorded in institutional libraries worldwide by the Incunabula Short Title Catalogue (ISTC No. ir00111000.) The first edition of Gerard of Cremona's translation of Ptolemy's complete text was published in Venice by Peter Liechtenstein on January 10, 1515. When I wrote this note only two American libraries had recorded their ownership of this edition in OCLC (Yale and the University of Michigan), and nine copies were cited in European libraries by the Karlsruhe Virtual Catalogue. Why so few copies of this edition were recorded remained unclear, but the most likely explanation was that the original printing was small.  Gerard's text was reprinted many times.

Stillwell, The Awakening Interest in Science During the First Century of Printing 1450-1550, No. 97.

Ptolemy’s Cosmographia “is a compilation of what was known about the world’s geography in the Roman Empire during his time. He relied mainly on the work of an earlier geographer, Marinos of Tyre, and on gazetteers of the Roman and ancient Persian empire, but most of his sources beyond the perimeter of the Empire were unreliable.

“Ptolemy also devised and provided instructions on how to create maps both of the whole inhabited world (oikoumenè) and of the Roman provinces. . . . Ptolemy was well aware that he knew about only a quarter of the globe.”

The world-map from the 1482 Ulm edition of Ptolemy's Cosmographia.

The maps in surviving manuscripts of Ptolemy’s Cosmographia date only from about 1300, after the text was rediscovered by Maximus Planudes, a Byzantine scholar working in Constantinople. In 1475, when the text first appeared in print, it was published without maps. Two years later the first edition with maps was published in Bologna. The famous world map illustrated here was included in the edition published in Ulm, Germany by Lienhart Holle on July 16, 1482. (ISTC No. ip01084000).


"Ptolemy's treatise on astrology, known in Greek as the Apotelesmatika ("Astrological Outcomes" or "Effects") and in Latin as the Tetrabiblos ("Four books"), was the most popular astrological work of antiquity and also had great influence in the Islamic world and the medieval Latin West. The Tetrabiblos is an extensive and continually reprinted treatise on the ancient principles of horoscopic astrology in four books (Greek tetra means "four", biblos is "book"). That it did not quite attain the unrivaled status of the Almagest was perhaps because it did not cover some popular areas of the subject, particularly electional astrology (interpreting astrological charts for a particular moment to determine the outcome of a course of action to be initiated at that time), and medical astrology" (Wikipedia article on Ptolemy, accessed 07-16-2009).

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The Longest Ancient Stone Inscription Circa 125 CE

Originally about 25,000 words long, filling 260 square meters of wall space, the summary of the philosophy of Epicurus by Diogenes of Oenoanda carved onto a portico wall in the ancient city of Oenoanda in Lycia, Anatolia (now southwest Turkey) is the longest surviving Greek stone inscription. It has also been called "die größte antike Inschrift der Welt" (the largest ancient inscription in the world). Less than a third of the original inscription has been recovered. The inscription was assigned on epigraphic grounds to the period of the Roman emperior Hadrian. The inscription expounds upon Epicurus's teachings on physics, epistemology, and ethics.

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One of the Earliest Complete Papyrus Codices on a Secular Subject Circa 300 CE

The Papyrus Graecus Holmiensis (Stockholm Greek Papyrus), a complete 15-leaf (39-page) papyrus codex written in Greek around 300 CE, contains 154 recipes for the manufacture of dyes and colors used in creating artificial stones. It is one of the earliest complete treatises on any technical or chemical subject, one of the earliest surviving complete papyrus codices on a secular subject, and a key record of the transmission of practical, technical information from the Hellenistic world to Byzantium.

The manuscript appears to have been written by the same scribe as a similar codex, Leyden papyrus X, preserved in the Rijksmuseum van Oudheden in Leiden, which also contains different recipes for the manufacture of materials. 

"Sometime around 1828 a considerable number of papyri were recovered (presumably by grave robbers) from burial sites near Thebes in central Egypt, many of which were subsequently acquired by Johann d’Anastasy [Giovanni Anastasi] the Swedish-Norwegian Vice Council at Alexandria. These were not in the form of rolls written in ancient hieroglyphics but rather in the form of separate numbered sheets or codices written in Greek, indicating that the documents and burials were from the Greco-Roman period and probably dated from sometime around the late 3rd or early 4th century AD. The papyri in question were in remarkably good condition, due in part to their having been placed either in tightly sealed coffins or in sealed stone containers, and, in part, because they were, at the time of the original burials, brand new, having been especially copied for that purpose as so-called “Totenbeigaben” or death offerings intended to accompany and serve the deceased in the afterlife. The following year d’Anastasy sold 24 of these papyri to the Museum of Antiquities at the University of Leyden, and in 1832 he made a gift of the remaining items to the Swedish Royal Academy of Antiquities. . . .

" . . . neither papyrus contains the mystical symbolism and allegorical indirec- tion so typical of the true alchemical literature. Rather they consist largely of simple, short recipes. In the case of the Leyden papyrus these focus primarily on the preparation of various metal alloys – many of which are intended to imitate the appearance of either gold or silver – for use in making jewelry, in gilding, or in metallic writing, while a few others deal instead with dyes of various sorts. The contents of the Stockholm papyrus have the same form, but focus more on dyeing and the imitation of various precious stones and gems. Both papyri explicitly acknowledge that the alloys and gems which they describe are imitations and not the real thing. Indeed, so simple and safe are some of the recipes that they have actually been proposed as potential laboratory preparations for use in connection with a modern-day history of chemistry course" (The Leyden and Stockholm Papyri. Greco-Egyptian Chemical Documents from the Early 4th Century AD. An English Translation with Brief Notes by Earle Radcliffe Caley, Edited, with a New General Introduction, A Note on Techniques, and a Materials Index by William B. Jensen. Cincinatti, OH: University of Cincinnati, 2008, 3).

In November 2014 a digital facsimile was available from the World Digital Library at this link.

Caley, E. R. “The Stockholm Papyrus : An English Translation with brief notes” Journal of Chemical Education IV:8 (1927) 979-1002.

Lagercrantz, Otto. Papyrus Graecus Holmiensis, Uppsala: Almquist and Wiksells,1913. (Edition and German Translation)

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The Text of Pappus's Mathematical Collection is Based on a Single 10th Century Manuscript Circa 325 CE – 950

Vat. gr. 218 fols. 39v-40r, two pages of the earliest surviving copy of Pappus's 'Collection.' (View Larger)

Pappus of Alexandria (Πάππος ὁ Ἀλεξανδρεύς) was one of the last great Greek mathematicians, astronomers and geographers of antiquity. His main work, in eight books and titled Synagoge or Collection, did not survive in complete form; its first book is lost, and its other books are lacking portions. Besides a record of Pappus's own work, the Synagoge  is a major source — sometimes the only source — for the work of Pappus's predecessors.

In addition to his Synagoge, Pappus is known for Pappus's Theorem in projective geometry. Virtually nothing is known of his life; even the traditional understanding that he taught at Alexandria cannot be confirmed, and the belief that he had a son named Hermodoros, to whom he dedicated the seventh and eighth books of the Synagoge, is only one possible interpretation of ambiguous language.

The earliest surviving copy of Pappus's text, and the basis for all later versions, is Vat. gr. 218, a 10th century manuscript of the Synagoge written on parchment and preserved in the Vatican Library. The manuscript seems to have been in the Vatican library by 1311 or possibly by 1266, but it does not seem to have been copied until much later. Pappus's Collection was first published in print in the Latin translation and commentaries of Federico Commandino issued by Francisco de Franciscis Senense of Venice in 1588. Because the first book was lost, and the edition did not include book two, the 1588 edition began with book three. The missing book two was first published by John Wallis in Oxford in 1688.

Bulmer-Thomas, Ivor, "Pappus of Alexandria," Dictionary of Scientific Biography 10, 293-304.  Thanks to Juan José Betancur Muñoz who pointed out in an email to me that Pappus's use of Έρμοδωρε τέκνον in his reference to Hermodoros "signifies a certain filial relation between the two persons in the sentence; however, it does not imply necessarily a father-son relation." (This entry was last revised on 11-14-2014.)

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The Oldest Extant Book Illustrations of Plants Circa 400 CE

The Johnson Papyrus, a fragment of an early fifth century herbal. (View Larger)

The Johnson Papyrus (London, Wellcome Library, MS 5753) is a fragment of an early 5th century Greek codex written in Egypt, containing the oldest extant book illustrations of plants. It was discovered by J. da M. Johnson, in 1904 while he was working in Antinoë (Antinopolis), Egypt. Johnson later became Printer to the University of Oxford.

One side of the papyrus shows a sphere of dark blue-green leaves supported by some small scraggly roots. Below the illustration is a fragment of Greek text. The illustrated plant has been identified as  comfrey, symphytum officinale. The reverse side shows "phlommos, perhaps mullein" (Conrad, et al, The Western Medical Tradition 800 BC to AD 1800 [1995] Fig. 10, p. 10).

Both sides of the papyrus fragment are illustrated in color in Ford, Images of Sciences. A History of Scientific Illustration (1993) 23.

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500 CE – 600

One of Few Surviving "Scientific" Manuscripts from Late Antiquity Circa 500 CE – 1554

A page from Corpus Agrimensorum Romanorum, depicting a perspective of a house and the boundaries of the property on which it was built. (View Larger)


The Corpus agrimensorum romanorum, a Roman treatise on land surveying, the earliest text of which is preserved  in the 5th or 6th century codex known as Herzog August Bibliothek, Cod. Guelff. 36.23 Augusteus 2, is one of the few surviving illustrated, non-literary or non-religious texts from late antiquity. The manuscript text is written in an uncial script, with red letters indicating the beginnings of paragraphs.  The codex is preserved in the Herzog August Bibliothek, Wolfenbüttel.

♦ In 1554 the Corpus agrimensorum romanorum was first published in print by Pierre Galland and scholar printer Adrien Turnèbe in Paris as De agrorum conditionibus, & constitutionibus limitum, Siculi Flacci lib. I . Iulii Frontini lib. I. Aggeni Urbici lib. II. Hygeni Gromatici lib. II. Variorum auctorum ordines finitionum. De jugeribus metiundis. Finium regundorum. Lex mamilia. Coloniarum pop. Romani descriptio. Terminorum inscriptiones & formae. De generibus lineamentorum. De mensuris & ponderibus. Omnia figuris illustrata. Parisiis, M. D. LIIII. Apud Adr. Turnebum typoraphum regium. 

Galland and Turnèbe worked

"from a manuscript found in the monastery of St. Bertin at St. Omer during a ‘humanist tour’ of Northern France and Flanders undertaken around 1545, the time that Turnèbe was teaching at the University of Toulouse. In the preface Galland says that they visited each monastery in turn and ‘carefully collected old manuscripts like keen-scented dogs’ (quoted by Lewis, p. 38). The illustrations are of ‘boundary stones, properties, cities, roads, rivers, and swamps, as well as diagrams of the cosmos. The areas to be surveyed are shown in plan from a bird’s-eye view, so that their dimensions can be reproduced accurately.

"Mountains, cities, buildings, and boundary stones, by contrast, are shown receding into space according to the technique that Vitruvius called 'scene drawing' (scaenographia). This scaenographia is not the one-point perspective of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries but rather the Roman technique of varying viewpoints’ (Rowland p. 135). The fact that the Agrimensores manuscripts are illustrated is in marked contrast to the surviving manuscript sources for Vitruvius, none of which retain the illustrations mentioned in the text" (Roger Gaskell, Catalogue 47 [2012] No. 22, with illustrations).

Rowland, The Culture of the High Renaissance (1998). Lewis, Adrien Turnèbe (1512–1565): A Humanist Observed 1998).

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Probably the Most Beautiful of the Earliest Surviving Scientific Codices Circa 512

An illustration of illustration of the species 'Akoniton napellus,' folio 67v. (View Larger)

The oldest surviving copy of Pedanius Dioscorides's treatise on medical botany and pharmacology, De materia medica, is an illuminated Byzantine manuscript produced about 512 CE. Dioscorides, a Greek military physician who served in the Roman army of the emperor Nero, wrote De materia medica in the first century CE. The Anicia Juliana codex also contains the earliest illustrated treatise on ornithology. It is one of the earliest surviving relatively complete codices of a scientific or medical text, one of the earliest relatively complete illustrated codices on any medical or scientific subject, and arguably the most beautiful of the earliest surviving scientific codices. It also contains what are probably the earliest surviving portraits of scientists or physicians in a manuscript.

The manuscript was produced for the Byzantine princess Anicia Juliana, the daughter of Flavius Anicius Olybrius, who had been emperor of the western empire in 472 CE. "The frontispiece of the manuscript, the first donor portrait in the history of manuscript illumination, features her depiction, flanked by the personifications of Magnanimity and Prudence, with an allegory of the "Gratitude of the Arts" prostrate in front of her. The encircling inscription proclaims Juliana as a great patron of art" (Wikipedia article on Anicia Juliana, accessed 11-22-2008).

For this and other commissions Juliana may be considered the first non-reigning patron of the arts in recorded history.

"Splendid though the figures in the Codex Vindobonensis are, they reveal a naturalism so alien to contemporary Byzantine art that it is obvious that they were not drawn from nature but derived from originals of a much earlier date—as early, at least, as the second century AD. They vary, however, very much in quality and are clearly not all by the same hand, possibly not even all after the work of a single artist. In the text accompaying eleven of them there is association with the writings of Krateuas. All these figures are admirable, and clearly by the same hand; it must therefore seem certain that they, at all events, are derived from drawings by Krateuas himself" (Blunt & Raphael, The Illustrated Herbal [1979] 17).

The story of the manuscript's survival is relatively well documented:

"Presented in appreciation for her patronage in the construction of a district church in Constantinople, the parchment codex comprises 491 folios (or almost a thousand pages) and almost four hundred color illustrations, each occupying a full page facing a description of the plant's pharmacological properties. . . .

"In the Anicia codex, the chapter entries of De Materia Medica have been rearranged, the plants alphabetized and their descriptions augmented with observations from Galen and Crateuas (Krateuas), whose own herbal probably had been illustrated. Five supplemental texts also were appended, including paraphrases of the Theriaca and Alexipharmaca of Nicander and the Ornithiaca of Dionysius of Philadelphia (first century AD), which describes more than forty Mediterranean birds, including one sea bird shown with its wings both folded and open" (http://penelope.uchicago.edu/~grout/encyclopaedia_romana/aconite/materiamedica.html, accessed 11-22-2008)

From the time of its creation "Nearly nine centuries were to pass before we have further knowledge of the whereabouts of the codex. Then we learn that in 1406 it was being rebound by a certain John Chortasmenos for Nathanael, a monk and physician in the Prodromos Monastery in Constantinople, where seveteen years later it was seen by a Sicilian traveler named Aurispa. After the Muslim conquest of the city in 1453 the codex fell into the hands of the Turks, and Turkish and Arabic names were then added to the Greek. A century later it was in the possession of a Jew named Hamon, body physician to Suleiman the Magnificent, and it was presumably either by Hamon or by his son, who inherited it, that Hebrew names were also added" (Blunt & Raphael, op. cit., 15).

"Ogier Ghiselin de Busbecq, ambassador of Holy Roman Emperor Ferdinand I to the Ottoman court of Süleyman, attempted to purchase the Anicia codex in 1562 but could not afford the asking price. As he relates at the end of his Turkish Letters (IV, p.243),

"One treasure I left behind in Constantinople, a manuscript of Dioscorides, extremely ancient and written in majuscules, with drawings of the plants and containing also, if I am not mistaken, some fragments of Crateuas and a small treatise on birds. It belongs to a Jew, the son of Hamon, who, while he was still alive, was physician to Soleiman. I should like to have bought it, but the price frightened me; for a hundred ducats was named, a sum which would suit the Emperor's purse better than mine. I shall not cease to urge the Emperor to ransom so noble an author from such slavery. The manuscript, owing to its age, is in a bad state, being externally so worm-eaten that scarcely any one, if he saw if lying in the road, would bother to pick it up.

"In 1569 Emperor Maximilian II did acquire the Anicia codex for the imperial library in Vienna, now the Austrian National Library (Österreichische Nationalbibliothek), where it is designated Codex Vindobonensis Med. Gr. 1. (from Vindobona, the Latin name for Vienna) or, more simply, the Vienna Dioscorides." (http://penelope.uchicago.edu/~grout/encyclopaedia_romana/aconite/materiamedica.html, accessed 11-22-2008)

(This entry was last revised on 05-03-2014.)

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The Plague of Justinian 541 – 542

Detail of image of Phylogenetic tree of y. pseudotuberculosisY. pestis is a recently emerged clone of Y. pseudotuberculosis. Please click on link to view and resize complete image.

Justianian I.

From 541 to 542 the Plague of Justinian, afflicted the Eastern Roman Empire (Byzantine Empire), including its capital Constantinople.  

"The most commonly accepted cause of the pandemic is bubonic plague, which later became infamous for either causing or for contributing to the Black Death of the 14th century. The plagues' social and cultural impact during this period is comparable to that of the Black Death. In the views of 6th century Western historians, it was nearly worldwide in scope, striking central and south Asia, North Africa and Arabia, and Europe as far north as Denmark and as far west as Ireland.

"Until about 750, the plague would return with each generation throughout the Mediterranean basin. The wave of disease would also have a major impact on the future course of European history. Modern historians named this plague incident after the Eastern Roman Emperor Justinian I, who was in power at the time. He contracted the disease, but was one of a limited number of survivors" (Wikipedia article on Plague of Justinian, accessed 11-01-2010). 

Giovanna Morelli et al "Yersinia pestis genome sequencing identifies patterns of global phylogenetic diversity," Nature Genetics, 31 October 2010 | doi:10.1038/ng.705, suggested a common origin for the Plague of Justinian and later pandemics of plague in the bacterial agent Yersinia pestis originating in China. 

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The Most Important Medical Center During 6th and 7th Centuries 550 – 650

Gundishapur, province of Khuzestan, Iran. (View Larger)

The Academy of Gundishapur, located in the present-day province of Khuzestan, in southwest Iran, contained an important library and offered training in medicine, philosophy, theology, and science. According to the Cambridge History of Iran, this Academy was "the most important medical center of the ancient world (defined as Europe, the Mediterranean, and the Near East) during the 6th and 7th centuries."

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The Herbal of Pseudo-Apuleius Circa 550 – 625

Folios 33v-34r from MS. Ashmole 1431, an eleventh century copy of the Herbal of Pseudo-Apuleius. (View Larger)

The Latin herbal associated with the name of Apuleius Barbarus or Apuleius Platonicus or Pseudo-Apuleius, in distinction to Lucius Apuleius Platonicus, author of The Golden Ass, may have been put together from Greek material around 400 CE or might have been compiled earlier, possibly in Roman Africa. Nothing is known about the so-called author except his name, which may have actually been a pseudonym of Lucius Apuleius Platonicus, who described himself as "half-Numidian half-Gaetulian," and who was born in Madaurus (now M'Daourouch, Algeria), a Roman colony in Numidia on the North African coast, bordering Gaetulia.

"The history of the work has been lost with the passage of time, leading to endless speculation on the identity of the author. In all probability 'Apuleius Platonicus' was a pseudonym of Lucius Apuleius of Madaura in Numidia born AD124, [author of The Golden Ass,] while other writers refer to the him as Pseudo-Apuleius. A study of the book shows some of the plants being endemic to North Africa and lends support to the idea that the author was African" (Wikipedia article on Herbarium Apulei Platonici, accessed 06-13-2009).

The earliest surviving manuscript of this herbal, a codex containing a Latin herbarium and other medical texts, was produced in Southern Italy or Southern France in the sixth or early seventh century. It is preserved in the library of Universiteit Leiden, Vos. Lat. Q9. 

"Its figures are much inferior those of the Vienna Dioscorides, and, like them, derivative, though of different origin; it is, therefore, in spite of being denounced by Singer as 'a futile work, with its unrecognisable figures and incomprehensible vocabulary', and by Frank J. Anderson as a 'straw desperately grasped at by despairing men', in its way a landmark in the history both of botany and of botanical illustration. It was probably written in the south of France and for many generations was unhappily to provide western illustrators from Italy to the Rhine with a storehouse for plunder " (Blunt & Raphael, The Illustrated Herbal [1979] 28).

The Herbarium Apulei was one of the most widely used remedy books of the Middle Ages. Over 60 medieval manuscripts of the text survive.

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600 – 700

The Naples Dioscorides Circa 625

Folio 90v of the Naples Dioscurides, a description of the Mandrake. (View Larger)

The Naples Dioscorides (Codex neapolitanus Ms. Ex Vindob. Gr. 1 Salerno) preserved in the Biblioteca Nazionale di Napoli, is an early seventh century Greek herbal based on the De Materia Medica of the first-century Greek military physician Dioscorides (Dioscurides) containing descriptions of plants and  their medicinal uses. Until the early 18th century the manuscript was preserved in the Augustine monastery of San Giovanni a Carbonara in Naples. In 1718, the Habsburgs plundered it for the Viennese Court Library.  At the conclusion of the peace negotiations after World War I, in 1919, the codex returned to the Biblioteca Nazionale in Naples.

"Unlike De Materia Medica, the text is arranged alphabetically by plant. The codex derives independently from the same model as the Vienna Dioscurides, composed ca. 512 for a Byzantine princess, but differs from it significantly: though the illustrations follow the same infered model, they are rendered more naturalistically in the Naples Dioscurides. Additionally, in the Naples manuscript, the illustrations occupy the top half of each folio, rather than being full page miniatures as in the Vienna Dioscurides. The plant descriptions are recorded below the illustration in two or three columns. The style of Greek script used in the manuscript indicates that it was probably written in Byzantine-ruled southern Italy, where ancient Greek cultural traditions remained strong, although it is not known exactly where it was produced. Marginal notes indicate that the manuscript had contact with the medical school at Salerno in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries" (Wikipedia article on Naples Dioscurides, accessed 02-03-2009).

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The Earliest Known Star Atlas 649 – 684

A depiction of a constellation from the Dunhuang Chinese Sky. (View Larger)

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The Dunhuang Chinese Sky, a set of sky maps drawn on a roll of thin paper, displaying the full sky visible from the Northern hemisphere, included in the medieval Chinese manuscript (Or. 8210/S.3326) preserved in the British Library, is the oldest known star atlas. It was discovered in 1907 by the archaeologist Aurel Stein in the Mogao Caves, also known as The Caves of the Thousand Buddhas, in Dunhuang, a town on the northern Silk Road, in Gansu province, China.  The earliest later star atlases in China date from the eleventh century.

The Dunhuang star atlas, drawn in two inks on fine paper and remarkably well preserved,  represents more than 1300 individual stars in the total sky as could be seen with the naked eye from the Chinese imperial observatory along with an explanatory text. It displays the sky "as in the most modern charts with twelve hour-angle maps, plus a North polar region."

"It was discovered by the British-nationalised but Hungarian-born archaeologist Aurel Stein in 1907 among the pile of at least 40,000 manuscripts enclosed in the so-called Library Cave (Cave 17) in the Mogao ensemble, also known as the ‘Caves of the Thousand Buddhas’ near Dunhuang (Gansu). The Mogao caves are a set of several hundred Buddhist temples cut into a cliff and heavily decorated with statues and murals. The site was active from about +3602 to the end of the Mongol period. In about +1000, one cave was apparently sealed (Rong Xinjiang, 1999) to preserve a collection of precious manuscripts and some printed material including the world’s earliest dated complete printed book . The sealed cave was rediscovered by accident and re-opened only a few years before the arrival of Stein in 1907. He was therefore the first European visitor to see the hidden library" (Bonnet-Bidaud, Praderie & Whitfield, The Dunhuang Chinese Sky: A Comprehensive Study of the Oldest Known Star Atlas [2004] 2).

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Foundation of Corbie Abbey, Renowned for its Library 659 – 661

The Abbey at Corbie. (View Larger)

Balthild, widow of Clovis II, and her son Clotaire III, founded Corbie Abbey about 659-661. The first monks at Corbie came from Luxeuil Abbey, which had been founded by Saint Columbanus in 590, and the Irish respect for classical learning fostered at Luxeuil was carried forward at Corbie. The rule of these founders was based on the Benedictine rule, as modified by Columbanus.

"Above all, Corbie was renowned for its library, which was assembled from as far as Italy, and for its scriptorium. In addition to its patristic writings, it is recognized as an important center for the transmission of the works of Antiquity to the Middle Ages. An inventory (of perhaps the 11th century) lists the church history of Hegesippus, now lost, among other extraordinary treasures. In the scriptorium at Corbie the clear and legible hand known as Carolingian minuscule was developed, in about 780, as well as a distinctive style of illumination.

"Three of Corbie's ninth-century scholars were Ratramnus (died ca. 868), Radbertus Paschasius (died 865) and the shadowy figure of Hadoard. Jean Mabillon, the father of paleography, had been a monk at Corbie.

"Among students of Tertullian, the library is of interest as it contained a number of unique copies of Tertullian's works, the so-called corpus Corbiense and included some of his unorthodox Montanist treatises, as well as two works by Novatian issued pseudepigraphically under Tertullian's name. The origin of this group of non-orthodox texts has not satisfactorily been identified.

"Among students of medieval architecture and engineering, such as are preserved in the notebooks of Villard de Honnecourt, Corbie is of interest as the center of renewed interest in geometry and surveying techniques, both theoretical and practical, as they had been transmitted from Euclid through the Geometria of Boëthius and works by Cassiodorus (Zenner).

"In 1638, 400 manuscripts were transferred to the library of the monastery of St. Germain des Prés in Paris. In the French Revolution, the library was closed and the last of the monks dispersed: 300 manuscripts still at Corbie were moved to Amiens, 15 km to the west. Those at St-Germain des Prés were loosed on the market, and many rare manuscripts were obtained by a Russian diplomat, Petrus Dubrowsky [Peter Petrovich Dubrovsky] and sent to St. Petersburg. Other Corbie manuscripts are at the Bibliothèque Nationale. Over two hundred manuscripts from the great library at Corbie are known to survive" (Wikipedia article on Corbie Abbey, accessed 08-20-2009).

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700 – 800

Finger Reckoning and Computus in the Eighth Century 725

A portrait of the Venerable Bede, by John Doyle Penrose, c. 1902.

In De temporum ratione liber (On the Reckoning of Time), written in 725, the Venerable Bede, a monk at the Northumbrian monastery of Saint Peter at Monkwearmouth, England, explained the method of finger reckoning which had evolved since the ancient world. It was, he wrote, a reliable method, especially when a writing surface or writing implements were not available. Bede's discussion of finger reckoning appeared in the first chapter of De temporum ratione entitled "De computo et loquela digitorum" (On Computing and Speaking with the Fingers).

Though finger reckoning was mentioned by classical authors such as Herodotus, no ancient treatises on the subject survived, and it is thought that the technique was passed down mainly through oral tradition. Bede described "upwards of fifty finger symbols, the numbers extending through one million" (Smith, History of Mathematics [1925] II, 200).  Undoubtedly Bede's text, of which numerous medieval manuscripts survived, was influential on conveying the method during the Middle Ages.

Bede's De computo, vel loquela per gestum digitorum appears to have made its first appearance in print in In Hoc in volumine haec continentur M. Val. Probus de notis Roma. ex codice manuscript castigatior . . . , ed. Giovanni Tacuino published in Venice by the editor, Tacuino, who was also a printer, in 1525. Tacuino published Bede's text after the text of the Roman grammarian Marcus Valerius Probus's De notis, a list of legal and administrative abbreviations and formulae used in stone inscriptions that had been discovered in 1417 by humanist Poggio Bracciolini. This was an essential guide to understanding ancient Latin epigraphy. In keeping with that theme the title page of Tacuino's volume was designed to resemble a stone inscription.

The editio princeps of De temporum ratione was published by Sichardus in 1529, four years after Tacuino issued his edition. Portions of De temporum ratione appeared in print as early as 1505, but these do not appear to have included the section on finger-reckoning. Smith, in his Rara arithmetica, stated that the 1522 edition of Johannes Aventinus’s Abacus atque vetustissima, veterum latinorum per digitos manusque numerandi contains a description of Bede’s finger-reckoning; however, this may be an error, since there was no record of this edition in OCLC or the Karlsruhe Virtual Catalogue when we searched the database in March 2013. Smith himself described only the 1532 edition of Aventinus’s work (see Rara arithmetica, pp. 136-138). 

In De computo . . . Bede listed finger and hand symbols for the  numerals 1 through 9999; these roughly work like a placement system. The middle, ring, and little fingers of the left hand denote the  digits; the thumb and index fingers on the left hand express the tens; the thumb and index finger on the right hand the hundreds; and the  middle, ring and little fingers the thousands . . . The informal manner in which Bede explained how to flex the fingers and form gestures seems to retain traces of oral instruction.

Prior to Europe’s adoption of Arabic numerals, finger-reckoning provided a rudimentary method of place-value calculation. “Neither Bede nor any of his contemporaries in Western Europe knew about place value or zero, but finger reckoning enabled them to proceed as if they did. Finger joints supplied place value—one joint 10s, another 100s and so on—and zero was indicated by the normal relaxed position of the fingers—by nothing, so to speak. ” (Crosby, The Measure of Reality: Quantification in Western Europe, 1250-1600, p. 4.)

"The noted historian of science, George Sarton, called the eighth century 'The Age of Bede'. Bede wrote several major scientific works: a treatise On the Nature of Things, modeled in part after the work of the same title by Isidore of Seville; a work On Time, providing an introduction to the principles of Easter computus; and a longer work on the same subject; On the Reckoning of Time, which became the cornerstone of clerical scientific education during the so-called Carolingian renaissance of the ninth century. He also wrote several shorter letters and essays discussing specific aspects of computus and a treatise on grammar and on figures of speech for his pupils.

"On the Reckoning of Time (De temporum ratione) included an introduction to the traditional ancient and medieval view of the cosmos, including an explanation of how the spherical earth influenced the changing length of daylight, of how the seasonal motion of the Sun and Moon influenced the changing appearance of the New Moon at evening twilight, and a quantitative relation between the changes of the Tides at a given place and the daily motion of the moon. Since the focus of his book was calculation, Bede gave instructions for computing the date of Easter and the related time of the Easter Full Moon, for calculating the motion of the Sun and Moon through the zodiac, and for many other calculations related to the calendar. He gives some information about the months of the Anglo-Saxon calendar in chapter XV. Any codex of Bede's Easter cycle is normally found together with a codex of his 'De Temporum Ratione' " (Wikipedia article on Bede, accessed on 11-22-2008).

For a discussion of the manual calculating methods described by Bede see Sherman, Writing on Hands. Memory and Knowledge in Early Modern Europe (2000) 28-30.

(This entry was last revised on 10-02-2014.)

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The Foundation of English Historical Writing Circa 731

Historia ecclasiastica gentis Anglorum, folio 3v of Beda Petersburgiensis, dated 746. (View Larger)

About 731 The Venerable Bede, a Benedictine monk at the Northumbrian monastery of Saint Peter at Monkwearmouth, England, and of its companion monastery, Saint Paul's, in modern Jarrow, completed Historia ecclesiastica gentis Anglorum (The Ecclesiastical History of the English People). This work was the founding document of English History.

Bede's works show that he had at his command virtually all of the learning of his time. It is thought that the library at Wearmouth-Jarrow, built up by abbot Benedict Biscop through his extensive travels, might have included as many as 250 titles, probably in fewer volumes, making it the largest and most extensive in England at the time.

"Bede's writings are classed as scientific, historical and theological, reflecting the range of his writings from music and metrics to exegetical Scripture commentaries. He was proficient in patristic literature, and quotes Pliny the Elder, Virgil, Lucretius, Ovid, Horace and other classical writers, but with some disapproval. He knew some Greek, but no Hebrew. His Latin is generally clear and without affectation, and he was a skilful story-teller. . ." (Wikipedia article on Bede, accessed 11-22-2008).

(This entry was last revised on 08-11-2014.)

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The Graeco-Arabic Translation Movement in Baghdad Circa 750 – 975

"A century and a half of Graeco-Arabic scholarship has amply documented that from about the middle of the eighth century to the end of the tenth, almost all non-literary and non-historical secular Greek books that were available throughout the Eastern Byzantine Empire and the Near East were translated into Arabic. What this means is that all of the following Greek writings, other than the exceptions just noted, which have reached us from Hellenistic, Roman, and late antiquity times, and many more that have not survied in the original Greek, were subjected to the transformative magic of the translator's pen: astrology and alchemy and the rest of the occult sciences; the subjects of the quadrivium: arithmetic, geometry, astronomy, and theory of music; the entire field of Aristotelian philosophy throughout its history; metaphysics, ehtics, physics, zoology, botany, and especially logic — the Organon: all the health sciences; medicine, pharmacology, and veterinary science; and various other marginal genres of writings, such as Byzantine handbooks on military science (the tactica), popular collections of wisdom sayings, and even books on falconry— all these subjects passed through the hands of the translators. . . . In terms of the extent of the translated material, the enormity of the undertaking can best grasped if one were to consider that the edition of Galen's complete works by Kühn, and the Berlin Acadmey edition of the Greek commentaries on Aristotle—works that form only a small fraction of the books translated— comprise seventy-four large volumes. One can justly claim that the study of post-classical Greek secular writings can hardly proceed without the evidence in Arabic, which in this context becomes the second classical language, even before Latin. 

"The translation movement which began with the accession of the Abbasids to power and took place primarily in Badhdad, represents an astounding achievement which independently of its significance for Greek and Arabic philology and the history of philosophy and science (the aspects which have been overwhelmingly studied to this day), can hardly be grasped and accounted for otherwise than as a social phenonomenon (the aspect of which has been very little investigated). To elaborate: The Graeco-Arabic translation movement lasted first of all, well over two centuries; it was no ephemeral phenomenon. Second, it was supported by the entire elite of 'Abbasid society: caliphs and princes, civil servants and military leaders, merchants and bankers, and scholars and scientists; it was not the pet project of any particular group in the furtherance of their restricted agenda. Third, it was subsized by an enormous outlay of funds, both public and private; it was no eccentric whim of a Maecenas or the fashionable affectation of a few wealthy patrons seeking to invest in a philanthropic or self-aggrandizing cause. Finally, it was eventually conducted with rigorous scholarly methodology and strict philological exactitude— by the famous Hunayn ibn-Ishaq and his associates — on the basis of a sustained program that spanned generations and which reflects, in the final analysis, a social attitude and the public culture of early 'Abbasid society; it was not the result of the haphazard and random research interests of a few eccentric individuals who, in any age or time, might indulge in arcane philological and textual pursuits that in historical terms are proven irrelevant" (Gutas, Greek Thought, Arabic Culture. The Graeco-Arabic Translation Movement in Baghdad and Early 'Abbasid Society (2nd-4th/8th-10th centuries) [1998] 1-2.)

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Foundation of the House of Wisdom in Baghdad 762

A modern photograph of a courtyard in the House of Wisdom, also known as the Bait al-Hikma. (View Larger)


In 751 the second Abbassid Caliph, Abu Ja'far Al-Mansur, founded the city of Baghdad. There he founded a palace library, which, according to some sources, evolved into The House of Wisdom. According to those sources, the library was originally concerned with translating and preserving Persian works, first from Pahlavi (Middle Persian), then from Syriac and eventually Greek and Sanskrit. One standard view was encountered in the Wikipedia article, from which I quote:

"The House of Wisdom acted as a society founded by Abbasid caliphs Harun al-Rashid and his son al-Ma'mun who reigned from 813-833 CE. Based in Baghdad from the 9th to 13th centuries, many of the most learned Muslim scholars were part of this excellent research and educational institute. In the reign of al-Ma'mun, observatories were set up, and The House was an unrivalled centre for the study of humanities and for sciences, including mathematics, astronomy, medicine, chemistry, zoology and geography. Drawing on Persian, Indian and Greek texts—including those of Pythagoras, Plato, Aristotle, Hippocrates, Euclid, Plotinus, Galen, Sushruta, Charaka, Aryabhata and Brahmagupta—the scholars accumulated a great collection of knowledge in the world, and built on it through their own discoveries. Baghdad was known as the world's richest city and centre for intellectual development of the time, and had a population of over a million, the largest in its time.The great scholars of the House of Wisdom included Al-Khawarizmi, the "father" of algebra, which takes its name from his book Kitab al-Jabr" (Wikipedia article on House of Wisdom, accessed 12-01-2008).

In 2014 I read Dimitri Gutas's Greek Thought, Arabic Culture. The Graeco-Arabic Translation Movement in Baghdad and Early 'Abbasid Society (2nd-4th/8th-10th centuries.) (1998). In that book Gutas presented a significantly different view of the bayt al-hikma, or House of Wisdom. From his summary on the topic (pp. 58-60) I quote:

"This is all the substantive and reliable evidence that we have and it allows only the following reconstruction of the nature and function of the bayt al-hikma: It was a library, most likely established as a 'bureau' under al Mansur, part of the 'Abbasid administration modeled on that of the Sasanians. Its primary function was to house both the activity and the results of translations from Persian into Arabic of Sasanian history and culture. As such there were hired translators capable to perform this function as well as book binders for the preservation of books. . . This was its function in Sasanian times, and it remained it throughout the time of Harun ar-Rasid, i.e. the time of Barmakids. Under al-Ma'mun it appears to have gained an additional function related to astrononomical and mathematical activities; at least this is what the names associated with the bayt-al-hikma during that period would imply. We have, however, no specific information about what those activities actually were; one would guess research and study only, since none of the people mentioned was himself actually a translator. Al-Ma'mun's new rationalist ideological orientations, discussed in chapter 4, would explain the additional functions of the library during his reign.

"This then is all we can safely say about the bayt al-hikma. We have abolutely no evidence for any other sort of activity. It was certainly not a center for the translation of Greek works into Arabic; the Graeco-Arabic translation movement was completely unrelated to any of the activities of the bayt-al-hikma. Among the dozens of reports about the translation of Greek works into Arabic that we have, there is not even a single one that mentions the bayt-al-hikma. This is to be contrasted with the references to translations from the Persian; we have few such references and yet two of them, both in the Fihrist cited above, do mention the bayt-al-hikma. Most amazingly, the first hand-report about the translation movement by the great Hunayn himself does not mention it. By the same token, the library was not one which stored, as part of its mission, Greek manuscripts. Hunayn mentions the efforts he expended in search of Greek manuscripts and again he never mentions that he looked for them right under his nose in the bayt al-hikma in Baghdad (cf. chapter 7.4). Ibn-an-Nadim, who claims that his Himyarite and Ethiopian manuscripts came from al-Ma'mun's library, says nothing of the sort when he describes the different kinds of Greek writing.

"The bayt-al-hikma was certainly also not an 'academy' for teaching the 'ancient sciences as they were being translated; such a preposterous idea did not even occur to the authors of the spurious reports about the transmission of the teaching of these sciences that we do have (discussed in chater 4.2). Finally, it was not a 'conference' center for the meetings of scholars even under al-Ma'mun's sponsorship. Al-Ma'mun, of course (and all the early 'Abbasid caliphs), did host scholarly conferences or rather gatherings, but not in the library; such gauche social behavior on the part of the caliph would have been inconceivable. Sessions (magalis) were held in the residences of the caliphs, when the caliphs were present, or in private residences otherwise, as the numerous descriptions of them that we have indicate (for one hosted by al-Ma-mun see chapter 4.3).

"What the bayt-al-hikma did do for the Graeco-Arabic translation movement, however, is to foster a climate in which it could be both demanded and then conducted successfully. If indeed the bayt-al-hikma was an 'Abbasid administrative bureau, then it institutionalized the Pahlavi into Arabic translation culture. This means that all activities implied or suggested by this culture—the Zorastrian ideology of the recovery of ancient Avestan texts through the (re-) translation of Greek works and all that that implied—could be conducted as semi-official activities, or at least as condoned by official policy. The numerous translations from the Greek which were commissioned by the Barmakids, for example should be seen in this light. The example set by the caliphs and the highest adminstrators was naturally followed by the others of lesser rank, both civil servants and private individuals. Once the existence of this additional official—though indirectly so—sanction for Graeco-Arabic translations is realized, the origins and rapid spread of the movement in early 'Abbasid times is better understood."

The House of Wisdom is thought to have flourished until it was destroyed by the Mongols in the sacking of Baghdad in 1258.

(This entry was last revised on 05-02-2014.)

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800 – 900

The Archetype of De architectura Circa 800

Folio f32v of Harley 2767, the document from which most manuscripts of De architectura were copied. (View Larger)

Marcus Vitruvius Pollio wrote De architectura, the only surviving classical treatise on architecture, between 31 and 27 BCE, while he was employed as military engineer for the Emperor Augustus. The work, which Vitruvius claimed to be the first comprehensive study on its subject, comprised ten books on the theory and practice of architecture, which in ancient times encompassed not only building construction but also many aspects of mechanical engineering, including construction management, construction engineering, chemical engineering, civil engineering, materials engineering, mechanical engineering, military engineering and urban planning. The work contained much useful information on ancient materials and techniques, but it was the theoretical aspects of De architectura that were most influential. Drawing on his own preferences and a selective study of Greek architectural writings, most of which are no longer extant, Vitruvius defined architectural perfection in quantitative terms, and derived from these definitions finite rules governing planning and perfection. These rules had little effect on the architecture of his day, but were adopted as true doctrine during the Renaissance.

Of the eighty or so extant manuscripts of De architectura the great majority descend from a manuscript in the British Library known as Harley 2767 (H). This was written on the border between east and west Francia about 800.

"Its splendid calligraphy, and its dominant influence on the later tradition suggest that it might well have been written at the palace scriptorium of Charlemagne [at Aachen]. This is supported by the fact that the first two men to show any knowledge of Vitruvius after the Dark Ages are Alcuin, in a letter written to Charlemagne between 801 and 804, and Einhard, who in addition to his close association with the court, had a practical interest in building. The whole tradition shows signs of a derivation from an archetype in Anglo-Saxon script, and it has been suggested that Alcuin had imported a text from England.

"Among the descendants of H are a number of early manuscripts, all dating from the twelfth century, which show that by then this form of the text had spread over a wide area ranging from north-west Germany, through the Low Countries and France to England. . . .

"Germany obviously dominated the vital phase of Vitruvius' transmission, and we know that there were copies, too, in the ninth century at Reichenau, and its daughter house Murbach. It is difficult not to see such figures as Einhard lurking in the background, men equally at home in the workshop as in the library and scriptorium. An interest in technology has fused at an early age the α tradition of Vitruvius with that of a series of technical recipes known as the Mappae clavicula. This remarkable collection tells one how to gild metals and distill alcohol, how to make various compounds, from pigments and varnish to incendiary bombs. It has a particular bearing on the making of stained glass and the illumination of manuscripts. These recipes appear in various degrees, and combinations in H (and some of its descendants). . . ." (Reynolds, Texts and Transmission [1983] 441-42).

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The Leiden Aratea Manuscript of Ancient Constellations & the First Printed Facsimile of a Medieval Illuminated Manuscript Circa 818 – 1600

The Leiden Aratea (Leiden, Universiteitsbibliotheek, VLQ 79), an illuminated astronomical manuscript, was written and illuminated in Lorraine around 816 CE. It is a copy of a Latin translation from the Greek by the Roman general Claudius Caesar Germanicus (15 BCE - 19 CE), based on the Phaenomena (Φαινόμενα "Appearances") by the Greek didactic poet Aratus of Soli ( Ἄρᾱτος ὁ Σολεύς; circa 315-310 BCE – 240 BCE). The text was supplemented by portions of a second Latin version of Aratus's poem, written by Rufius Festus Avienus in the fourth century CE.

"The Phaenomena appears to be based on two prose works—Phaenomena and Enoptron (Ἔνοπτρον "Mirror", presumably a descriptive image of the heavens)—by Eudoxus of Cnidus, written about a century earlier. We are told by the biographers of Aratus that it was the desire of Antigonus to have them turned into verse, which gave rise to the Phaenomena of Aratus; and it appears from the fragments of them preserved by Hipparchus, that Aratus has in fact versified, or closely imitated parts of them both, but especially of the first.

"The purpose of the Phaenomena is to give an introduction to the constellations, with the rules for their risings and settings; and of the circles of the sphere, amongst which the Milky Way is reckoned. The positions of the constellations, north of the ecliptic, are described by reference to the principal groups surrounding the north pole (Ursa Major, Ursa Minor, Draco, and Cepheus), whilst Orion serves as a point of departure for those to the south. The immobility of the earth, and the revolution of the sky about a fixed axis are maintained; the path of the sun in the zodiac is described; but the planets are introduced merely as bodies having a motion of their own, without any attempt to define their periods; nor is anything said about the moon's orbit. The opening of the poem asserts the dependence of all things upon Zeus. From the lack of precision in the descriptions, it would seem that Aratus was neither a mathematician nor observer or, at any rate, that in this work he did not aim at scientific accuracy. He not only represents the configurations of particular groups incorrectly, but describes some phenomena which are inconsistent with any one supposed latitude of the spectator, and others which could not coexist at any one epoch. These errors are partly to be attributed to Eudoxus himself, and partly to the way in which Aratus has used the materials supplied by him. Hipparchus (about a century later), who was a scientific astronomer and observer, has left a commentary upon the Phaenomena of Eudoxus and Aratus, accompanied by the discrepancies which he had noticed between his own observations and their descriptions (Wikipedia article on Aratus, accessed 01-15-2016).

The 99 extant folios (225 x 200 mm) in the Leiden Aratea include 35 full-page miniatures, at least 4 of which are missing. The illustrations include some of the earliest artistic depictions of the constellations as known by the Greeks; however, the artist of the Leiden manuscript made no effort to place the stars accurately according to their positions in the sky, so the images cannot be considered true star charts. These images are presumed to be copies of miniatures made for a Late Antique manuscript, probably written in the mid-fourth or fifth century, and now lost. Written in narrow rustic capitals, the manuscript preserves the writting style and the squarish page format of the Late Antique, and its miniatures, framed as though they were independent paintings, reflect conventions developed in antiquity. Katzenstein suggests that the opening verses of the Leiden Aratea, in which Germanicus presents his work to a member of the imperial family of ancient Rome, may indicate that this copy was originally made for a member of the ruling Carolingian family (perhaps Judith, the second wife of Louis the Pious, son of Charlemagne). She also suggests (p. 7) that the manuscript was "almost certainly in northern France, at the monastery of Saint-Bertin at Saint-Omer, by at least the early eleventh century, when it served as a basis of another manuscript of Aratus' poem now in the Bibliothèque Municipale in Boulogne."

Jacob Susius (Suys), Lord of Grysenoordt, about whom I have found little information, acquired the manuscript in Ghent in 1573, according to the Wikipedia. In 1600 the age of only 17, the young and apparently precocious, Hugo Grotius (1583-1645), who later became a founder of international law, used the manuscript as a basis for his remarkable Greek and Latin extensively annotated edition entitled Syntagma Arateorum: Opus poeticae et astronomiae studiosis utilissimum published in Leiden by Christoph van Ravelingen (Raphelengius). Grotius's edition, which reproduced all of the images in the Leiden Aratea as black & white engravings by Jacques de Gheyn II (1565-1629), with letterpress renditions of the Latin text of the manuscript on facing pages, is considered the first printed facsimile edition of an illuminated manuscript. In his edition Grotius included the Greek text of Aratus, Cicero's Aratea with the lacunae supplied in the same meter by Grotius. Following his reproduction of the Carolingian / Late Antique style manuscript Grotius published an elaborate apparatus criticus with notes in Latin, Hebrew and Arabic. He was, however, vague in his citations of previous printed editions or manuscripts that he used. One of the more significant of the Greek texts of Aratus, possibly used by Grotius, is the 14th century Codex Palatinus Graecus 40 at Heidelberg University. In January 2016 the relevant portion of this codex was available in digital facsimile at this link. In January 2016 a digital facsimile of Grotius's 1600 edition was available from Google Books at this link.

The Leiden Aratea was later in the library of Christina, Queen of Sweden, after which it came into the possession of her librarian, the Dutch scholar and manuscript collector Isaac Vossius (1618-89). It was acquired by Leiden University Library as part of their acquisition of Vossius's library in 1690. In January 2016 a complete digital facsimile of the manuscript was available from Leiden University at this link. A scholarly account of the manuscript, The Leiden Aratea: Ancient Constellations in a Medieval Manuscript by Ranee Katzenstein and Emile Savage-Smith, was published by the J. Paul Getty Museum in 1988. In January 2016 this was available online from the Getty Museum at this link.

Aratus's Phaenomena was among the earliest astronomical works to be published in print. It was first issued along with Manilius's Astonomicon by Ugo Rugerius and Doninus Bertochus of Bologna on March 20, 1474 (ISTC No. im00203000); the last edition printed in the 15th century was in Aldus Manutius's edition of a collection of classical works on astronomy issued in Venice, 1499 (ISTC No. if00191000). 


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The Only Surviving Major Architectural Drawing from the Fall of the Roman Empire to Circa 1250 820 – 830

The Plan of Saint Gall. (View Larger)

Codex Sangallensis 1092, The Plan of Saint Gall (St. Gall), "the only surviving major architectural drawing from the roughly 700-year period between the fall of the Roman Empire and the 13th century," was created between 820 and 830 CE.

The plan, which includes a library, probably depicts an ideal Benedictine monastic compound,

"including churches, houses, stables, kitchens, workshops, brewery, infirmary, and even a special house for bloodletting. . . . much has been learned about medieval life from the Plan. The absence of heating in the dining hall, for instance, was not an oversight but was meant to discourage excessive enjoyment of meals. In the quarters for the 120-150 monks, their guests, and visitors, the ratio of toilet seats was better than what modern hygenic codes would prescribe." 

In 1979 the University of California Press published a monumental three-volume study in folio format by Walter Horn and Ernest Born entitled The Plan of St. Gall. A Study of the Architecture & Economy of, & Life in a Paradigmatic Carolinian Monastery.  From the standpoint of book design and production this work with more than 1000 pages was one of the most spectacular scholarly publications of the late 20th century. Three years later, in 1982 to accompany an exhibition concerning the plan, the U.C. Press issued another spectacular, but much thinner volume of 100 pages, The Plan of St. Gall in Brief: An overview based on the 3-volume work. . . including selected facsimile illustrations color and black and white, and also a Note on Architectural Scale Models, with illustrations in color of the Reconstruction Scale Model of the Monastery of the Pllan of St. Gall, as interpreted by Horn and Born, and crafted in bassword by Carl Bertil Lund.

By 2012 a website at www.stgallplan.org was built to place the Plan of St. Gall in its widest cultural context. Aspects of this website were summarized by Richard Matthew Pollard and Julian Hendrix in "Digital Devotion from Carolingian Reichenau and St. Gall," Digital Philology: A Journal of Medieval Cultures I (2012) 292-302. | 10.1353/dph.2012.0021, from which I quote:

"A long-term digitization project ( www.stgallplan.org) to bring the Carolingian plan for the monastery of St. Gall in Switzerland to life has earned justified praise for its impact. The project calls attention to and increases understanding of Carolingian monastic life at one of the great houses of the time. Whether the library was ever intended to be constructed or whether it was an imaginative conceptualization of an ideal library is immaterial to the light the project has shed on Carolingian spirituality. This article both introduces the project and demonstrates how digitization of manuscripts can increase the data available for studying devotion and the religious emotions that it entailed.

"There are few single documents more important for the history of medieval art, architecture, monasticism, and, as we hope to show in this essay, devotional emotions, than the famous drawing known as the Plan of St. Gall. This document, now preserved at the monastery Stiftsbibliothek in Switzerland, was drawn up for abbot Gosbert of St. Gall by two scribes of the sister monastery of Reichenau, on Lake Constance, around 820. An early and accomplished piece of technical drawing, the Plan measures 112 by 77.5 cm (slightly smaller than A0 paper, for those keeping track) and is made of five pieces of parchment sewn together. It depicts a large monastery complex, centred around an elaborate church, with cloister and refectories, scriptorium and library, alongside breweries, bakeries, a mill, and even a shoemaker'€™s shop. We do not know why exactly it was drawn up, but the dedication, probably written by Haito, abbot of Reichenau, indicates that it was given to Gosbert so that he might 'exercise your ingenuity and recognize my devotion.'€  Gosbert was undertaking building projects at the time, and so the plan may have been prompted by Gosbert'€™s desire to begin construction at St. Gall. It is clear, however, that St. Gall was not built from this plan, though some of the buildings there might have been inspired by it (Jacobsen). It is perhaps better to think of the Plan as a very detailed sketch of '€œthe ideal monastery' in the Carolingian imagination, where the whole world is reordered to the service of God (Dey 1940).  

"It is an unfailing axiom of medieval history that the ease of access to a document declines in proportion to its importance. This, and the Plan'€™s unwieldy size, has made it a difficult resource to use. Several years ago, therefore, Patrick Geary, of UCLA, and Bernard Frischer, of the University of Virginia, conceived of a project to make the Plan, and ancillary bibliography and analysis of it, accessible in virtual form. With the cooperation of the St. Gall librarians, extremely high-resolution pictures were taken of the Plan, and displayed using a special java applet, allowing the images to be panned, rotated, and zoomed. The result is actually much more useful and detailed than what one could experience with the large and unwieldy Plan.  In this first phase of the project, ancillary documents were added alongside to help contextualize the monastic environment that produced the Plan. Initially this focused on material culture: for instance, images of hundreds of Carolingian objects (pots, brooches, carvings, etc.) were put online to give a sense of the things used and produced in a monastery like that represented in the Plan. The second phase of the project aims to give a sense of the intellectual environment that produced the Plan by giving access to the books that were present at Reichenau (and St. Gall) when the Plan was produced. The project has acquired digital reproductions of 168 manuscripts present at Carolingian Reichenau and St. Gall. These are being presented in the same, high-resolution, zoomable form as the Plan, and are paired with updated descriptions."

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Medieval Natural History Bestseller 825 – 850

A folio from the Bern Physiologus. (View Larger)

The Bern Physiologus, an illuminated copy of the Latin translation, preserved at the Burgerbibliothek, Bern, Switzerland, was probably produced at Reims about 825 CE. It is one of the oldest extant illustrated copies of the Physiologus, a didactic text written or compiled in Greek by an unknown author in Alexandria, between the second and fourth centuries. 

"The Physiologus consists of descriptions of animals, birds, and fantastic creatures, sometimes stones and plants, provided with moral content. Each animal is described, and an anecdote follows, from which the moral and symbolic qualities of the animal are derived. Manuscripts are often, but not always, given illustrations, often lavish."

The book was translated into Latin in about 400, then into European and Middle-Eastern languages. Numerous illuminated manuscript copies survive.  For over 1000 years the text —a predecessor to bestiaries — retained its influence in Europe over ideas of the "meaning" of animals.  Medieval poetical literature is full of allusions that can be traced to the Physiologus tradition, and the text also exerted great influence on the symbolism of medieval ecclesiastical art: symbols like the phoenix rising from its ashes and the pelican feeding her young with her own blood remain well-known.

"Epiphanius used Physiologus in his Panarion and from his time numerous further quotations and references to the Physiologus in the Greek and the Latin Church fathers show that it was one of the most generally known works of Christian Late Antiquity. Various translations and revisions were current in the Middle Ages. The earliest translation into Latin was followed by various recensions" (Wikipedia article on Physiologus, accessed 11-27-2008).

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A Studio for Royal Mayan Scribes in the Ninth Century Circa 825

In 2011 a small painted room was excavated at the extensive ancient Maya ruins of Xultun in the Petén lowlands of northeastern Guatemala, dating to the early 9th century CE. The walls and ceiling of the room were painted with several human figures, and scientists concluded that the room was a studio for royal scribes with "a taste for art and a devotion to the heavens as the source of calculations for the ancient culture’s elaborate calendars." Two walls also displayed a large number of delicate black, red, and incised hieroglyphs. Many of these hieroglyphs, written on the walls like we might write on a blackboard, howed astronomical computations, including at least two tables concerning the movement of the Moon, and perhaps Mars and Venus. Calculations of this type were central to Mayan astrology and rituals, in which astronomy was driven by religion. These writings, which are the earliest writing preserved in the Western hemisphere, may shed light on tables preserved in the Dresden Codex which dates from the 11th century.

"David Stuart, professor of Mesoamerican art and writing at the University of Texas at Austin, who deciphered the glyphs, said, 'This is tremendously exciting,' noting that the columns of numbers interspersed with glyphs inside circles was 'the kind of thing that only appears in one place — the Dresden Codex.'  

"Some of the columns of numbers, for example, are topped by the profile of a lunar deity and represent multiples of 177 or 178, numbers that the archaeologists said were important in ancient Maya astronomy. Eclipse tables in the Dresden Codex are based on sequences of multiples of such numbers. Some texts 'defy translation right now,' he said, and some writing is barely legible even with infrared imagery and other enhancements" (http://www.nytimes.com/2012/05/11/science/archaeologists-unearth-ancient-maya-calendar-writing.html?hp, accessed 05-10-2012).

William A. Saturno, David Stuart, Anthony F. Aveni, Franco Rossi, "Ancient Maya Astronomical Tables from Xultun, Guatemala," Science  11 May 2012: Vol. 336 no. 6082 pp. 714-717 DOI: 10.1126/science.1221444

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The Earliest Surviving Text of Lucretius's De rerum natura Circa 825

"In practice the text of Lucretius rests upon two Leiden manuscripts traditonally known from the format as the Oblongus (O) and Quadratus (Q). The older and better is O (Voss. Lat. F. 30). It was written not long after 800 in the Palace School of Charlemagne. A contemporary corrector, using a distinctive insular hand, emended the text and in places filled up lacunae left by the orignal scribe. This hand has been recognized as that of Dungal, who became, after the death of Alcuin, the foremost Carolinian authority on astronomy and computus. It is agreeable to wonder, in the duller moments of life, if this formidable Irishman would have much rejoiced in his posthumous title of the 'corrector Saxonicus' (O). The history of O during the later Middle Ages is obscure, but by 1479 it had reached St. Martins at Mainz. Q (Voss. Lat. Q. 94) was written in the ninth century in north-east France; it appears to have spent most of the Middle Ages in Saint-Bertin....

"It would seem that Lucretius emerged towards the end of the eighth century, that the archetype of our manuscripts found its home in the Carolingian court, and that the text was disseminated from there, radiating westwards into the Low Countries and northern France and southwards along the Rhine. Excerpts show that the text was disseminated and used, and it seems to have been well established in the area of Lake Constance. Lines from the De rerum natura occur in two metrical florilegia, that of Mico of Saint-Riquier, put together at Reichenau about 825, and the Florilegium Sangallense (St. Gall 870, c.900). Lucretius is also quoted in a letter written from St. Gall by Ermenrich of Ellwangen c. 850, and there was a copy of his poem in the ninth century at Murbach. Then, despite this promising start, Lucretius went underground for the rest of the Middle Ages, an eclipse which may be partly explained by the passionately anti-religious nature of his message. All we have until the fifteenth century are a few fleeting glimpses. The abbey of Lobbes acquired a Lucretius, probably in the early twelfth century, and he is listed in the twelfth-century catalogue of Corbie.  The presence of Q at Saint-Bertin may well explain the echoes of Lucretius in the Encomium Emmae and the Lucretian gloss in Sigebert of Gembloux (c. 1030-1112) fits with the availability of his poem in the closely connected abbey of Lobbes. The degree to which the De rerum natura was known in Italy before the fifteenth century is more problematical. There was a manuscript at Bobbio in the ninth century, faint echoes have been detected in medieval Italian works, and one line, probably quoted at second hand and important from northern Europe, occurs in a florilegium of south Italian origin preserved in Venice, Marc. Lat. Z 497 (1811)" (L. D. Reynolds, "Lucretius," Texts and Transmission, Reynolds [ed] [1983] 219-21).

Regarding the earliest surviving text of Lucretius, the codex oblongus, Leiden University Library commented as follows on their website:

"This manuscript distinguishes itself by the spacious layout of the page. In spite of its large dimensions, the page counts only twenty lines. The ample spacing does full justice to the excellent Carolingian minuscule, the new script which was developed towards the end of the 8th century. As happened so often, this original manuscript was corrected afterwards. Sometimes this was done by comparing the copied text carefully with the exemplar, the book which served as a model for the copy. At other times the corrector would use his own judgment. Of course it was desirable to save the book's appearance as much as possible. In the case of parchment this is not difficult, for the writing is easily scratched out with a knife. This is what the corrector of this Lucretius manuscript did. One alteration on the presented page, folio 22r., immediately catches the eye, because the corrector replaced one single line by two new ones, marring the layout of the page in the process. The corrector's adjustments are easily recognizable, because he used another script, the so-called Insular script, which originated in England and Ireland" (http://www.mmdc.nl/static/site/highlights/352/Scribe_and_corrector.html, accessed 05-28-2012).  


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The Earliest Surviving Copy of Aristotle's Biological Works Circa 850

A Greek manuscript of Aristotle's Biological Works, written in Constantinople in the mid-9th century, and preserved at Corpus Christi College, Oxford(Corpus Christi College, MS. 108) is probably the oldest surviving manuscript of the texts that founded the science of biology. It contains annotations in Greek hands of the 12th and 13th centuries.

"A list of contents has been added on the last page (fol. 183v) in an English hand of the mid-13th century, which may be that of Robert Grosseteste, one of the earliest Englishmen to study Greek. Two titles and a few words of the 13th-cent. Latin translation by William of Moerbeke were added. . . in an English humanistic hand possibly identifiable as that of John Farley (d. 1464), fellow of New College and registrar of Oxford University, whose study of Greek is known from other manuscripts" (Hunt, R.W., The Survival of the Classics, Oxford: Bodleian Library [1975] No. 54.).

The manuscript was given to Corpus Christi College, Oxford by Henry Parry in 1623.

"The surviving corpus of Aristotle derives from medieval manuscripts based on a 1st century BC edition. There were no commentaries on the biological works written until they were collectively translated into Arabic. The first appearance of Aristotle's biological writings in the West are Latin translations of an Arabic edition by Michael Scot, which forms the basis of Albertus Magnus's De animalibus. In the 13th century William of Moerbeke produced a Latin translation directly from the Greek. The first printed editions and translations date to the late 15th century, the most widely circulated being that of Theodorus Gaza. In addition to the three works traditionally referred to as History of Animals, Parts of Animals and Generation of Animals, there are a number of briefer ‘essays’ on more specialized topics: On animal motion, On animal locomotion, On respiration, On life and death, On youth and old age, On length and shortness of life, On sleeping and waking, On the senses and their objects (the last six being included in the so-called Parva naturalia). Whether one should consider De Anima (On the soul) part of this project or not is a difficult question. What is certainly clear, however, is that there are important connections between the theoretical approach to the relationship between body and soul defended in that work and the distinctive way that Aristotle approaches the investigation of animals" (http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/aristotle-biology/).

(This entry was last revised on 04-30-2014.)

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Apicius's De Re Coquinaria, the Earliest Surviving Cookbook Circa 850

The frontispiece of a 1709 edition of De re coquinaria. (View Larger)

The earliest surviving codex of the earliest cookbook, entitled De re coquinaria, and attributed to Apicius, a gastronome of the first century, was copied at the monastery of Fulda, Germany, by seven different monks. It was written in language that is closer to Vulgar than to Classical Latin, partly in Carolingian minuscule and partly in Anglo-Saxon script of the Fulda type, and because so many hands were involved, it is thought that this manuscript may have been used for training monks in the Fulda scriptorium. The manuscript

"was known to Poggio in 1417, but remained at Fulda until brought to Rome by Enoch of Ascoli in 1455. It subequently had a long series of Italian owners, beginning with Basilios Bessarion, and had sojourned in France and England before it emigrated to the United States in 1929" (L.D. Reynolds, Texts and Transmission [1983] 13-14).

The manuscript of 57 leaves is preserved in the New York Academy of Medicine Library, where it was recently restored and rebound. 

"The book had been rebound in the 18th century by a French book dealer in mottled calf with gilt edges. The book dealer had removed the 9th century binding to separate the Apicius from a text by Hippocrates—the two had been bound together. (The Hippocrates now resides in a collection in Geneva, Switzerland, and is bound in the same 18th century mottled calf as formerly on the Academy’s Apicius manuscript)."

Marcus Gavius Apicius, was a gastronome in the age of Tiberius,

"but the cookbook that bears his name, reveals strands and layers which been selected and combined from various sources, medical and agricultural as well as purely gastonomic, and successively added, as time went on, to what remains of the original Apician recipes. The Excerpta of the Ostrogoth Vinidarius, made a little later, [and preserved in a single eighth century manuscript,] is a highly abbreviated version of a similar compilation. These works were subsequently transmitted, except for the inevitable excerpting, essentially in the forms in which they existed in antiquity" (Reynolds & Wilson 235).

A slightly later and more elegant copy of Apicius is preserved in the Vatican Library (Urb. Lat. 1146) It was written and illuminated at Tours in the 9th century, under Abbot Vivian. Bernard Bischoff believed that this manuscript was produced as a gift for Charles the Bald. A facsimile of this manuscript was produced by Trident Editore in 2014.

Apicius's work was first printed in Milano by Guillaume le Signerre on January 20, 1498.  ISTC No.: ia00921000. In February 2014 a digital facsimile of the first printed edition was available from the Bayerische Staatsbibliothek at this link.

(This entry was last revised on 01-14-2015.)

Reynolds & Wilson, Scribes and Scholars, 3rd ed. (1991) 145-46, 235, 263.  Notaker, Printed Cookbooks in Europe 1470-1700 (2010) no. 1002.1

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The Periplus of Hanno the Navigator Circa 850 – 950

Codex Heidelbergensis 398: the single document, edited by Sigismund Gelenius, that recounts the periplus of Hanno. (View Larger)

The periplus (literally "a sailing-around") of Hanno the Navigator, a Carthaginian colonist and explorer circa 500 BCE, which recounts his exploration of the West coast of Africa, is one of the earliest surviving manuscript documents listing in order the ports and coastal landmarks, with approximate distances between, that the captain of a vessel could expect to find along a shore.

In his periplus Hanno states that he brought new colonists to four Carthaginian settlements established where the chain of the Atlas Mountains reaches the Atlantic and then, having founded a new colony at the Tropic, proceeded from there to explore the coast of Africa as far as the Equator. It also contains a description of an active volcano and the first known report about gorillas.

Hanno's periplus survives in a single Byzantine manuscript, which also contains various other texts, and dates from the 9th or 10th century—Codex Heidelbergensis 398. In February 2014 a digital facsimile of the manuscript was available from the Universitätsbibliothek, Heidelberg at this link. Hanno's text was first edited for publication in print by Sigismund Gelenius, and issued from Basel in 1533. It was translated into English by Wilfred Schott and published as The Periplus of Hanno. A Voyage of Discovery Down the West African Coast by a Carthaginian Admiral of the Fifth Century B.C. (1912).

"The primary source for the account of Hanno's expedition is a Greek translation, titled Periplus, of a tablet Hanno is reported to have hung up on his return to Carthage in the temple of Ba'al Hammon whom Greek writers identified with Kronos. The full title translated from Greek is The Voyage of Hanno, commander of the Carthaginians, round the parts of Libya beyond the Pillars of Heracles, which he deposited in the Temple of Kronos. This was known to Pliny the Elder and Arrian, who mentions it at the end of his Anabasis of Alexander VIII (Indica):

" 'Moreover, Hanno the Libyan started out from Carthage and passed the Pillars of Heracles and sailed into the outer Ocean, with Libya on his port side, and he sailed on towards the east, five-and-thirty days all told. But when at last he turned southward, he fell in with every sort of difficulty, want of water, blazing heat, and fiery streams running into the sea" (Wikipedia article on Hanno the Navigator, accessed 05-30-2009).

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900 – 1000

One of the Oldest Medical or Scientific Treatises Written in English Circa 900

Folio 1r of Harley MS 55, the only surviving copy of the Leechbook of Bald. The manuscript resides in the British Library. (View Larger)

"The Leechbook of Bald is an Old English medical text probably compiled in the ninth-century, possibly under the influence of Alfred the Great's educational reforms. It takes its name from a Latin verse colophon at the end of the second book which begins Bald habet hunc librum Cild quem conscribere iussit, meaning 'Bald owns this book which he ordered Cild to compile.' The text survives in only one manuscript: London, British Library, Royal 12, D xvii.

"Both books are organised in a head-to-foot order, but the first book deals with external maladies, the second with internal disorders. Cameron notes that 'This separation of external and internal diseases may be unique in medieval medical texts'. Cameron notes that 'in Bald's Leechbook is the only plastic surgery mentioned in Anglo-Saxon records'. The recipe in particular prescribes surgery for a hare lip, Leechbook i, chapter 13 (pr Cockayne p 56). Cameron also notes that of the Old English Medical compilations 'Leechbook iii reflects most closely the medical practice of the Anglo-Saxons while they were still relatively free of Mediterranean influences,' in contrast to Bald's Leechbook which 'shows a conscious effort to transfer to Anglo-Saxon practice what one physician considered most useful in native and Mediterranean medicine,' and the Lacnunga, which is 'a sort of common place book with no other apparent aim than to record whatever items of medical interest came to the scribe's attention' " (Wikipedia article on Bald's leechbook, accessed 02-03-2009).

"Athough on the fringes of the learned world, Bede and his English monks possessed many of the same medical writings as their contemporaries further South, even if, as Bishop Cyneheard of Worcester put it in 754, the foreign ingredients prescribed therein were unknown or difficult to obtain, even through contacts in Germany or Italy. Anglo-Saxon English, like contemporary Ireland, possessed a written medical literature (from c. 900) in a non-Latin language, but this does not mean that the Anglo-Saxon healer, the laece or leech, was less competent than the medicus. Chants and charms, and explanations of a few diseases as the result of darts hurled by mischievous elves or involving a great worm constitute only a small part of the medicine that survives, and are not unique to the Anglo-Saxons. Similar recipes are found in other regions and in earlier Latin learned texts. Anglo-Saxon knowledge of plant remedies was wide and effective, and authors recognised the problems of identifying Mediterrtanean with British flora. When the otherwise unknown Bald and Cild wrote their Leechbook around 900, perhaps at Winchester, they adapted the best Continental practical medicine to an English environment. Their Leechbook has close parallels with both later Salernitan texts and with fifth-and six-century medical tracts common elsewhere in Western Europe. The simplified some of their Latin recipes by removing some of the more exotic ingredients and added remedies obtained from Ireland or Irish scholars. . . " (Conrad et al, The Western Medical Tradition 800 BC to AD 1800 [1995] 86).

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The Earliest Surviving Dated Astrolabe 927 – 928

The earliest astrolabe. (View Larger)


The astrolabe, a type of analog calculator, and an astronomical instrument used for observing planetary movements, was indispensable for navigation. Brass astrolabes were developed in the medieval Islamic world, and were also used to determine the location of the Kaaba in Mecca, in which direction all Muslims face during prayer. Planispheric, or flat, astrolabes, were more common than the linear or spherical types. In planispheric astrolabes the celestial sphere was drawn on a flat surface and represented on one plate.

The earliest known dated astrolabe is of the planispheric type. Made of cast bronze, it bears the name of its maker. The inscription at the back of the kursi, or throne, is written in Kufic , the oldest calligraphic form of the various Arabic scripts, and states that the astrolabe was made by Nastulus (or Bastulus) and gives the date, which corresponds to 927/928. The date is rendered in Arabic letters, whose numerical values total 315, signifying the year in the Islamic calendar in which the astrolabe was made. It is preserved in the School of Oriental and African Studies at the University of London.

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The Morgan Dioscorides Circa 930 – 970

Folio 114v of MS M 652, in the Pierpont Morgan Library. (View Larger)

MS M 652 in the Morgan Library & Museum, written in Greek miniscule and illuminated in Constantinople during the mid-10th century, contains an alphabetical five-book version of Dioscorides, De Materia Medica, including 769 illustrations and several headpieces and tailpieces, on 385 leaves.

Its contents, according to the Morgan Library's online description, are:

"fols. 1v-199v: Dioscorides, De Materia Medica, Book I. Roots and Herbs -- fols. 200r-220v: Dioscorides, De Materia Medica, Book II. Animals, Parts of Animals and Products from Living Creatures -- fols. 221r-242v: Dioscorides, De Materia Medica, Book III. Oils and Ointments. -- fols. 243r-269v: Dioscorides, De Materia Medica, Book IV. Trees -- fols. 270v-305v: Dioscorides, De Materia Medica, Book V. Wines and Minerals etc. -- fols. 306r-319v: Dioscorides, attr., On the Power of Strong Drugs to Help or Harm -- fols. 319v-327v: Dioscorides, attr., On Poisons and their Effect -- fols. 328r-330v: Dioscorides, attr., On the Cure of Efficacious Poisons -- fols. 331r-333v: A Mithridatic Antidote -- fols. 334r-338r: Anonymous Poem on the Powers of Herbs -- fols. 338r-361r, 377r-384v: Eutecnius, Paraphrase of the Theriaca of Nicander -- fols. 361v-375r: Eutecnius, Paraphrase of the Alexipharmaca of Nicander -- fols. 375r-376v: Paraphrase of the Haliutica of Oppianos (incomplete)."

The manuscript was bound in Byzantium in the 14th or 15th century in dark brown leather blind tooled in a lozenge pattern over heavy boards. It was in Constantinople in the 15th century, where it was owned by an Arabic-speaking person, who added inscriptions in Arabic and genitalia to some animals. In the 16th century it remained in Constantinople where was owned by Manuel Eugenicos, 1578 and listed in his library catalogue. By the nineteenth century the manuscript was in Italy where it was owned by Domenico Sestini, ca. 1820. Later it was in the collection of Marchese C. Rinuccini, Florence, 1820-1849 (MS Cod. 69). From the middle of the nineteenth century it appears to have been in England with the booksellers John Thomas Payne and Henry Foss, London, 1849-1857. In the Payne sale (London, Sotheby’s, Apr. 30, 1857) it was sold to Charles Phillipps for Sir Thomas Phillipps (Phillipps Collection, no. 21975).  In 1920 J. P. Morgan Jr. purchased the manuscript from Phillipps’s estate.

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The Earliest Evidence of European Acquisition of Islamic Science Circa 950

"The earliest evidence of European acquisition of Islamic science is a tenth-century Latin manuscript from the library of monastery of Santa Maria de Ripoll, Catalonia, now in the archives of the Crown of Aragon in Barcelona. The manuscript begins with a brief treatise on the astrolabe and contains a table of the brightest stars, which are referred to by the Arabic names by which they are still known today, such as Altair, Vega, Rigel, Aldebaran, and Algol" (Freely, Aladdin's Lamp. How Greek Science Came to Europe Through the Islamic World [2009] 120).

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The Archimedes Palimpsest: Recovering the Lost Mathematics of Archimedes Circa 950

On October 29, 1998 the Archimedes Palimpsest, a 10th-century copy written in Constantinople of an otherwise unknown work of Archimedes of Syracuse and other authors, palimpsested with Christian religious texts by 13th-century monks, was sold at auction by Christie's in New York for $2,000,000 to antiquarian bookseller Simon Finch acting for an anonymous American private collector. The Archimedes Palimpsest had disappeared in the 1910s or 1920s and ended up in a French collection. Its consignor at the auction, Anne Guersan, said that her father, Marie Louis Sirieux, acquired the book from in Constantinople in the 1920s. In 1932, her father-in-law Solomon Guerson, a French Jewish merchant in rare carpets and antique tapestries working in Paris, tried selling the palimpsest, and a manuscript curator identified a leaf as Folio 57 of the Archimedes Manuscript. It seems Guerson used leaves from his manuscripts to make elaborate forgeries. Not recognizing or appreciating the significance of the Archimedes undertext, sometime after 1938 Guerson possibly attempted to enhance the religious value of the palimpsest by painting on four of its leaves forgeries of portraits of the Four Evangelists that resembled images he had seen in Greek manuscripts at the Bibliothèque nationale de France. The paintings were forged after 1938 as they contain a synthetic pigment called phlalocyanine green, which was only available after that date. 

At some time in the distant past the palimpsest was in the library of the monastery of Mar Saba, near Jerusalem, a monastery acquired by the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Jerusalem in 1625. Before the auction the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Jerusalem contended that the palimpsest had been stolen from one of its monasteries in Constantinople in the 1920s. In 1998, prior to the auction, ownership of the palimpsest was litigated in federal court in New York in the case of the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Jerusalem v. Christie's, Inc. The judge ruled in favor of Anne Guerson and Christie's.

The palimpsest seems to have first gained the attention of scholars when the Biblical scholar Constantin von Tischendorf  visited Constantinople in the 1840s, and took a page of it. This page is preserved in Cambridge University Library. In 1906 the historian of mathematics Johan Heiberg studied the manuscript in Constantinople, realized that the undertext was Archimedes, and that the palimpsest included works otherwise lost. Heiberg took photographs, from which he produced transcriptions published between 1910 and 1915 in his edition of the complete works of Archimedes. Shortly thereafter Archimedes' Greek text was translated into English by historian of mathematics T. L. Heath

Because the erasure during the palimpsesting process was incomplete, from 1998 to 2008 scientific and scholarly work using digital image processing produced by ultraviolet, infrared, visible and raking light, and X-ray has made Archimedes' undertext legible. The most remarkable work in the palimpsest is Archimedes' The Method, of which the palimpsest contains the only known copy.

"At the Walters Art Museum in Baltimore, the palimpsest was the subject of an extensive imaging study from 1999 to 2008, and conservation (as it had suffered considerably from mold). This was directed by Dr. Will Noel, curator of manuscripts at the Walters Art Museum, and managed by Michael B. Toth of R.B. Toth Associates, with Dr. Abigail Quandt performing the conservation of the manuscript.

"A team of imaging scientists including Dr. Roger L. Easton, Jr. from the Rochester Institute of Technology, Dr. William A. Christens-Barry from Equipoise Imaging, and Dr. Keith Knox (then with Boeing LTS, now with USAF Research Laboratory) used computer processing of digital images from various spectral bands, including ultraviolet, visible, and infrared wavelengths to reveal most of the underlying text, including of Archimedes. After imaging and digitally processing the entire palimpsest in three spectral bands prior to 2006, in 2007 they reimaged the entire palimpsest in 12 spectral bands, plus raking light: UV: 365 nanometers; Visible Light: 445, 470, 505, 530, 570, 617, and 625 nm; Infrared: 700, 735, and 870 nm; and Raking Light: 910 and 470 nm. The team digitally processed these images to reveal more of the underlying text with pseudocolor. They also digitized the original Heiberg images. Dr. Reviel Netz of Stanford Universityand Nigel Wilson have produced a diplomatic transcription of the text, filling in gaps in Heiberg's account with these images.

"Sometime after 1938, one owner of the manuscript forged four Byzantine-style religious images in the manuscript in an effort to increase its value. It appeared that these had rendered the underlying text forever illegible. However, in May 2005, highly focused X-rays produced at the Stanford Linear Accelerator Center in Menlo Park, California, were used by Drs. Uwe Bergman and Bob Morton to begin deciphering the parts of the 174-page text that had not yet been revealed. The production of X-ray fluorescence was described by Keith Hodgson, director of SSRL: "Synchrotron light is created when electrons traveling near the speed of light take a curved path around a storage ring—emitting electromagnetic light in X-ray through infrared wavelengths. The resulting light beam has characteristics that make it ideal for revealing the intricate architecture and utility of many kinds of matter—in this case, the previously hidden work of one of the founding fathers of all science."

"In April 2007, it was announced that a new text had been found in the palimpsest, which was a commentary on the work of Aristotle attributed to Alexander of Aphrodisias. Most of this text was recovered in early 2009 by applying principal component analysis to the three color bands (red, green, and blue) of fluorescent light generated by ultraviolet illumination. Dr. Will Noel said in an interview: "You start thinking striking one palimpsest is gold, and striking two is utterly astonishing. But then something even more extraordinary happened." This referred to the previous discovery of a text by Hypereides, an Athenian politician from the fourth century BC, which has also been found within the palimpsest. It is from his speech Against Diondas, and was published in 2008 in the German scholarly magazine Zeitschrift für Papyrologie und Epigraphik, vol. 165, becoming the first new text from the palimpsest to be published in a scholarly journal" (Wikipedia article on Archimedes Palimpsest, accessed 01-26-2014).

In addition to the website and digital editions, thanks to the generosity of its owner, the Archimedes Palimpsest was published in one of the finest scholarly and most physically attractive, large and impressive sets of printed books ever issued on an historical manuscript: Netz, Noel, Tchernetska & Wilson eds., The Archimedes Palimpsest. Volume I: Catalogue and Commentary; Volume II: Images and Transcriptions. Cambridge & Baltimore: Cambridge University Press for The Walters Art Museum, 2011. The set was designed by Jerry Kelly.

A popular account is Netz, Reviel & Noel, William, The Archimedes Codex. How a Medieval Prayer Book is Revealing the true Genius of Antiquity's Greatest Scientist (2007).

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First Discovery of the Law of Refraction 984

A diagram of an anaclastic lens, reproduced from Ibn Sahl's manuscript, 'On Burning Mirrors and Lenses.' (View Larger)

In 984 Arabian mathematician, and physicist Ibn Sahl (Abu Sa`d al-`Ala' ibn Sahl), associated with the Abbasid court of Baghdad, wrote a treatise On Burning Mirrors and Lenses, setting out his understanding of how curved mirrors and lenses bend and focus light. In this work Ibn Sahl is credited with first discovering the law of refraction, usually called Snell's law.

"Ibn Sahl used the law of refraction to derive lens shapes that focus light with no geometric aberrations, known as anaclastic lenses. In the reproduction of the figure from Ibn Sahl's manuscript, the critical part is the right-angled triangle. The inner hypotenuse shows the path of an incident ray and the outer hypotenuse shows an extension of the path of the refracted ray if the incident ray met a crystal whose face is vertical at the point where the two hypotenuses intersect. According to Rashed, the ratio of the length of the smaller hypotenuse to the larger is the reciprocal of the refractive index of the crystal.

"The lower part of the figure shows a representation of a plano-convex lens (at the right) and its principal axis (the intersecting horizontal line). The curvature of the convex part of the lens brings all rays parallel to the horizontal axis (and approaching the lens from the right) to a focal point on the axis at the left.

"In the remaining parts of the treatise, Ibn Sahl dealt with parabolic mirrors, ellipsoidal mirrors, biconvex lenses, and techniques for drawing hyperbolic arcs. Ibn Sahl's treatise was used by Ibn al-Haitham [Alhazen]" (Wikipedia article on Ibn Sahl, accessed 04-24-2009).

R. Rashed found the two parts of Ibn Sahl's manuscript separated in two libraries, reassembled it, translated it, and published it in Géométrie et dioptrique au Xe siècle: Ibn Sahl, al-Quhi et Ibn al-Haytham (1993).

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Gerbert Requests a Latin Transation of an Arabic Text May 984

In May 984 Gerbert d'Aurillac, as abbot of Bobbio, wrote a letter to a certain Lupitus of Barcelona (Lupito Barchinonensi) asking Lupitus to send him a copy of a treatise on astrology which Lupito had translated from the Arabic. Lynn Thorndike, in his History of Magic and Experimental Science II, 698, refers to this letter as an indication that Arabic scientific (or pseudo-scientific) texts were being translated into Latin by this time.

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Filed under: Science

1000 – 1100

The Mathematician Pope Reintroduces the Abacus and Armillary Sphere Circa 1000

Gerbert d'Aurillac, scholar, teacher, tutor, and counsellor to Otto II and Pope Sylvester II. (View Larger)

Gerbert d'Aurillac was a scholar, teacher, tutor and counsellor to Otto III before being elevated to the papacy as Sylvester II (or Silvester II) from 999 till his death in 1002. He was influential in introducing Arabic knowledge of arithmetic, mathematics, and astronomy to Europe, reintroducing the abacus and armillary sphere which had been lost to Europe since the end of the Greco-Roman era.

"According to William of Malmesbury (c.1080 – c.1143), Gerbert stole the idea of the computing device of the abacus from a Spanish Arab. The abacus that Gerbert reintroduced into Europe had its length divided into 27 parts with 9 number symbols (this would exclude zero, which was represented by an empty column) and 1,000 characters in all, crafted out of animal horn by a shieldmaker of Rheims. According to his pupil Richer, Gerbert could perform speedy calculations with his abacus that were extremely difficult for people in his day to think through in using only Roman numerals. Due to Gerbert's reintroduction, the abacus became widely used in Europe once again during the 11th century" (Wikipedia article on Pope Sylvester II, accessed 11-24-2008).

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The Oldest Surviving Illustrated Manuscript Written in Arabic 1009 – 1010

Folios 325r and 326v of MS. Marsh 144, depicting the constellation Orion. (View Larger)

According to historian Jonathan Bloom, the oldest surviving illustrated manuscript written in Arabic on any subject is a manuscript on paper of Abd al-Rahman al-Sufi's Treatise on the Fixed Stars preserved in the Bodleian Library, Oxford [Ms. Marsh 144. p. 165].

"The pictures show the configurations of the stars in the forty-eight constellations recognized by Ptolemy, but the figures are dressed in Oriental rather than classical Greek garb. Al-Sufi wrote in his text that although he knew of another illustrated astronomical treatise, he copied his illustrations directly from images engraved on a celestial globe, indicating that he was not working in a manuscript tradition. According to the eleventh-century scholar al-Biruni, al-Sufi explained that he had laid a very thin piece of paper over a celestial globe and fitted it carefully over the surface of the sphere. He then traced the outlines of the constellations and the locations of individual stars on the paper. Al-Biruni later commented that this procedure 'is an [adequate] approximation when the figures are small but it is far [from adequate] if they are large.' The Oxford manuscript of al-Sufi's text was copied from the author's original by his son" (Bloom, Paper Before Print. The History and Impact of Paper in the Islamic World [2001]  143-44 and figure 51).

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Foundation of Experimental Physics, Optics, and the Science of Vision 1011 – 1021

A portrait of Ibn al_Haytham, once printed on the obverse side of an Iraqi 10-dinar bill.

Under house arrest in Cairo, Egypt, between 1011 and 1021, Iraqi Muslim scientist Ibn al-Haytham (Latinized as Alhacen or Alhazen) wrote The Book of Optics (Arabic: Kitab al-Manazir‎; Latin: De aspectibus or Opticae Thesaurus: Alhazeni Arabis,)  a seven-volume treatise on optics, physics, mathematics, anatomy and psychology.

"The book had an important influence on the development of optics, as it laid the foundations for modern physical optics after drastically transforming the way in which light and vision had been understood, and on science in general with its introduction of the experimental scientific method. Ibn al-Haytham has been called the "father of modern optics", the 'pioneer of the modern scientific method,' and the founder of experimental physics, and for these reasons he has been described as the 'first scientist.'

"The Book of Optics has been ranked alongside Isaac Newton's Philosophiae Naturalis Principia Mathematica as one of the most influential books in the history of physics, as it is widely considered to have initiated a revolution in the fields of optics and visual perception. It established experimentation as the norm of proof in optics, and gave optics a physico-mathematical conception at a much earlier date than the other mathematical disciplines of astronomy and mechanics.

"The Book of Optics also contains the earliest discussions and descriptions of the psychology of visual perception and optical illusions, as well as experimental psychology, and the first accurate descriptions of the camera obscura, a precursor to the modern camera. In medicine and ophthalmology, the book also made important advances in eye surgery, as it correctly explained the process of sight for the first time" (Wikipedia article on Book of Optics, accessed 04-23-2009).

Translated into Latin by an unknown scholar at the end of the 12th century or the beginning of the 13th, Alhazen's Book of Optics enjoyed great reputation and circulated by manuscript copying to the few who could understand it during the Middle Ages. It was first edited for print publication by the German mathematician Friedrich Risner and issued  as Opticae thesaurus. . . libri septem, nunc primum editi . . . item Vitellonis Thuringopoloni libri X in Basel by Episcopus in 1572.

Hook & Norman, The Haskell F. Norman Library of Science and Medicine (1991) no. 1027.

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Construction of the First Camera Obscura 1012 – 1021

A Qatarian postage stamp portraying Ibn al-Haitham. (View Larger)  <p>Persian scientist Abu Ali Al-Hasan <a href=,

Abū ʿAlī al-Ḥasan ibn al-Ḥasan ibn al-Haytham  (أبو علي، الحسن بن الحسن بن الهيثم‎), frequently referred to as Ibn al-Haytham (Arabic: ابن الهيثم, known in the west as Alhazen, built the first camera obscura or pinhole camera—significant in the history of optics, photography, and the history of art.

In his Book of Optics, written in Cairo between 1012 and 1021, Ibn al-Haytham used the term “Al-Bayt al-Muthlim", translated into English as "dark room."

"In the experiment he undertook, in order to establish that light travels in time and with speed, he says: 'If the hole was covered with a curtain and the curtain was taken off, the light traveling from the hole to the opposite wall will consume time.' He reiterated the same experience when he established that light travels in straight lines. A revealing experiment introduced the camera obscura in studies of the half-moon shape of the sun's image during eclipses which he observed on the wall opposite a small hole made in the window shutters. In his famous essay 'On the form of the Eclipse' (Maqalah-fi-Surat-al-Kosuf) he commented on his observation 'The image of the sun at the time of the eclipse, unless it is total, demonstrates that when its light passes through a narrow, round hole and is cast on a plane opposite to the hole it takes on the form of a moon-sickle'.

"In his experiment of the sun light he extended his observation of the penetration of light through the pinhole to conclude that when the sun light reaches and penetrates the hole it makes a conic shape at the points meeting at the pinhole, forming later another conic shape reverse to the first one on the opposite wall in the dark room. This happens when sun light diverges from point “ﺍ” until it reaches an aperture and is projected through it onto a screen at the luminous spot. Since the distance between the aperture and the screen is insignificant in comparison to the distance between the aperture and the sun, the divergence of sunlight after going through the aperture should be insignificant. In other words, should be about equal to. However, it is observed to be much greater when the paths of the rays which form the extremities of are retraced in the reverse direction, it is found that they meet at a point outside the aperture and then diverge again toward the sun as illustrated in figure 1. This an early accurate description of the Camera Obscura phenomenon."

"In 13th-century England Roger Bacon described the use of a camera obscura for the safe observation of solar eclipses. Its potential as a drawing aid may have been familiar to artists by as early as the 15th century; Leonardo da Vinci (1452-1519 AD) described camera obscura in Codex Atlanticus. . . .

"The Dutch Masters, such as Johannes Vermeer, who were hired as painters in the 17th century, were known for their magnificent attention to detail. It has been widely speculated that they made use of such a camera, but the extent of their use by artists at this period remains a matter of considerable controversy, recently revived by the Hockney-Falco thesis. The term "camera obscura" was first used by the German astronomer Johannes Kepler in 1604.

"Early models were large; comprising either a whole darkened room or a tent (as employed by Johannes Kepler). By the 18th century, following developments by Robert Boyle and Robert Hooke, more easily portable models became available. These were extensively used by amateur artists while on their travels, but they were also employed by professionals, including Paul Sandby, Canaletto and Joshua Reynolds, whose camera (disguised as a book) is now in the Science Museum (London). Such cameras were later adapted by Louis Daguerre and William Fox Talbot for creating the first photographs" (Wikipedia article on Camera obscura, accessed 04-24-2009).

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Production of Medieval Arabic Manuscripts Circa 1025

About 1025 royal patron of the arts, Tamin ibn al Mu'izz ibn Badis, the fourth ruler of the Zirids in Ifriqiya, North Africa, wrote the 'Umbdat alk-kuttab wa 'uddat dhawi al-albab (Book of the Staff of the Scribes and Implements of the Discerning with a Description of the Line, the Pens, Soot Inks, Liq, Gall Inks, Dyeing, and Details of Bookbinding).

This Arabic manuscript, partly written by Ibn Badis, and preserved in Cairo, is a the primary source for information on writing, illuminating, and binding Arabic manuscripts of this period, as well as a resource on the history of chemistry. The portion of the manuscript describing bookbinding is incomplete, lacking details on the techniques of decoration.

The text was translated by Martin Levey as "Mediaeval Arabic Bookmaking and its Relation to Early Chemistry and Pharmacology" and published in the Transactions of the American Philosophical Society, new series, Vol. 52 (1962) 5-79. Because of the incompleteness of the bookbinding section of ibn Badis's manuscript Levey added an appendix to this work, containing his translation of Abu'l-Abbas Ahmed ibn Muhammed al Sufyani's Sinaat tasfir alkutub wa-hill aldhahab (Art of Bookbinding and Gilding) written in 1619.

Pollard, Early Bookbinding Manuals (1984) no. 2.  See also Bosch, Carswell, Petherbridge, Islamic Bindings & Bookmaking. A Catalogue of an Exhibition, The Oriental Institute, The University of Chicago (1981). The earliest bindings illustrated and described in this exhibition dated from the 13th to 15th centuries.

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Medieval Islamic Views of the Cosmos: The Book of Curiosities Circa 1025

In 2002 the Bodleian Library at Oxford acquired one of the only known copies of an illustrated anonymous cosmography compiled in Egypt during the first half of the 11th century. This manuscript contains a series of early maps and astronomical diagrams, most of which are unparalleled in any other known Greek, Latin or Arabic material. The rhyming title of the volume, يKitāb Gharā’ib al-funūn wa-mulaḥ al-ʿuyūn, loosely translates as The Book of Curiosities of the Sciences and Marvels for the Eyes. The Bodleian's copy may have been made in the late 12th or early 13th century. 

"Its unique maps and diagrams include: diagrams of star-groups and comets; a rectangular map of the world with a graphic scale (the earliest surviving example of such a map); a circular world map; individual maps of islands and ports in the eastern Mediterranean, including Sicily, Tinnis, Mahdia, Cyprus, and the Byzantine coasts of Asia Minor; maps illustrating the Mediterranean Sea as a whole, the Indian Ocean, and the Caspian Sea; and maps of five major rivers (the Nile, Indus, Oxus, Euphrates, and Tigris)" (http://www.bodleian.ox.ac.uk/news/2007_mar_29, accessed 01-23-2014).

The significance of the manuscript is such that the Bodleian created a separate website for the manuscript entitled Medieval Islamic Views of the Cosmos. The Book of Curiosities, in which the manuscript is reproduced in facsimile, with translation and commentary, and aids for teachers.

"The volume (now given the shelfmark MS. Arab. c. 90) consists of 48 folios (96 pages), each measuring 324 x 245 mm. Pages without illustrations have 27 lines of text per page. The treatise begins with a dedication to an unnamed patron and an abbreviated table of contents. The manuscript copy is incomplete, however, for the copyist has omitted the eighth and ninth chapters of the second book, and the manuscript has lost part of the penultimate chapter and all of the last one.

The Paper

"The lightly glossed, biscuit-brown paper is sturdy, rather soft, and relatively opaque. The paper has thick horizontal laid lines, slightly curved, and there are rib shadows, but no chain lines or watermarks are visible. The thickness of the paper varies between 0.17 and 0.20 mm and measures 3 on the Sharp Scale of Opaqueness; the laid lines are 6-7 wires/cm, with the space between lines less than the width of one line. The paper would appear to have been made using a grass mould. Paper of such construction was produced in Egypt and Greater Syria in the 12th and 13th centuries (greater precision is not possible). For similar Islamic papers, see Helen Loveday, Islamic Paper: A Study of the Ancient Craft (London, 2001); we thank the author for examining and discussing with us the paper in this particular manuscript.

Authorship, date and provenance

"The author of The Book of Curiosities is not named and has not been identified, although he refers to another composition of his titled يal-Muḥītي(‘The Comprehensive’). On the basis of internal evidence, we can suggest that the treatise was composed in the first half of the 11th century, probably in Egypt. The copy we have today is more recent and appears to have been made some hundred and fifty to two hundred years later. Although the copy is undated and unsigned, the paper, inks, and pigments appear consistent with Egyptian-Syrian products made from the early 13th through the 14th century.ي

"Our author recognized the legitimate authority of the Fāṭimid imāms who came to power in Ifrīqiyah (modern Tunisia) in 909 and ruled at Cairo from 973 until their dynasty was brought to an end by Ṣalāḥ al-Dīn (Saladin) in 1171. At their heyday, the Fāṭimids ruled all over Syria, Egypt and North Africa. Whereas the ʿAbbāsid caliphs of Baghdad were recognized as the rightful leaders of the Muslim community by the Sunnī majority, the Fāṭimid imāms—who claimed to be the biological descendants of the Prophet Muḥammad through his daughter Fāṭimah—were recognized as legitimate by a faithful minority of Ismāʿīlī Muslims. Our author not only opens his work with an explicit acknowledgement of the Fāṭimids but also, further on, gives a brief but highly doctrinaire history of the rise of the dynasty, from the accession of the first imām, al-Mahdī, to the defeat of Abū Yazīd (al-dajjāl, the Antichrist) by his son, al-Qāʾim.ي

"The geographical focus of The Book of Curiosities is Muslim commercial centres of the 9th- to 11th-century eastern Mediterranean, such as Sicily, the textile-producing town of Tinnīs in the Nile Delta, and Mahdīyah in modern Tunisia. The author is equally acquainted with Byzantine-controlled areas of the Mediterranean, such as Cyprus, the Aegean Sea, and the southern coasts of Anatolia. The author’s occasional use of Coptic terms and Coptic months, together with the allegiance to the Fāṭimid caliphs based in Cairo, suggest Egypt as a likely place of production.ي

"The treatise was almost certainly composed before 1050. The tribal group of the Banū Qurrah are mentioned in chapter 6 of Book 2 as inhabiting the lowlands near Alexandria. As the Banū Qurrah are known to have been banished from the region of Alexandria by the Fāṭimid authorities in 1051–1052, it is very likely that this treatise was written before that date. Since Sicily is described as being under Muslim rule, the treatise could definitely not have been composed later than the Norman invasion of Sicily in 1070.ي

"The last dated event mentioned in the treatise is the construction buildings for merchants in the city of Tinnīs in 1014-1015. Moreover, al-Ḥākim bi-Amr Allāh, the Fāṭimid ruler of Egypt and Syria from 996 to 1021, is referred to in the chapter on Tinnīs as if he were no longer reigning. Therefore, the treatise was probably composed after 1021" (http://cosmos.bodley.ox.ac.uk/content.php/boc?expand=732, accessed 01-23-2014)

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The Earliest Surviving Book Written in the Americas Circa 1050 – 1150

Page 74 of the Dresden Codex, depicting a great flood, flowing from the mouth of a celestial dragon. This represents the Central American notion of apocolypse. (View Larger)

The earliest surviving book written in the Americas is the Dresden Codex, a Mayan codex written about 1150 by the Yucatecan Maya in Chichén ItzaYucatan, Mexico. It is the most complete of the four surviving codices written in the Americas before the Spanish conquest.

The codex was made from Amatl paper ("kopó", fig-bark that has been flattened and covered with a lime paste), doubled in folds in an accordion-like form of folding-screen texts. The bark paper was coated with fine stucco or gesso and is eight inches high by eleven feet long.

The Dresden Codex was written by eight different scribes. Each had a particular writing style, glyphs and subject matter. On its 74 pages it incorporates  "images painted with extraordinary clarity using very fine brushes. The basic colors used from vegetable dyes for the codex were red, black and the so-called Mayan blue."

"The Dresden Codex contains astronomical tables of outstanding accuracy. Contained in the codex are almanacs, astronomical and astrological tables, and religious references.The specific god references have to do with a 260 day ritual count divided up in several ways.The Dresden Codex contains predictions for agriculture favorable timing. It has information on rainy seasons, floods, illness and medicine. It also seems to show conjunctions of constellations, planets and the Moon. It is most famous for its Venus table." (quotations from the Wikipedia article Dresden Codex, accessed 11-30-2008).

The history of the survival of the manuscript is only partly known. It is believed that in 1519 it was sent by the conquistador Hernán Cortés as a tribute to Holy Roman Emperor Charles V, who was also King Charles I of Spain. Charles had appointed Cortés governor and captain general of the newly conquered Mexican territory. In 1739 Johann Christian Götze, Director of the Royal Library at Dresden, purchased the codex from a private owner in Vienna. Götze gave it to the Royal Library in Dresden in 1744.

During the bombing of Dresden in World War II, and the resulting fire storms, the Dresden Codex was heavily water damaged. Twelve pages of the codex were harmed and other parts of the codex were destroyed. However, the codex was meticulously restored after this damage. It is preserved in the Buchmuseum of the Sächsische Landesbibliothek, Dresden. In February 2014 a high-resolution digital facsimile of the codex was available from that library at this link.

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Earliest Description of the Compass 1086

A bust of Shen Kua. (View Larger)

In 1086 Chinese scholar and scientist of the Song Dynasty Shen Kua (Shen Gua) wrote Dream Pool Essays while virtually isolated on his lavish garden estate near modern-day Zhenjiang, in the southwest of Jiangsu province.

Dream Pool Essays contained the earliest description of the principle of the compass—magnetizing a needle by rubbing its tip with lodestone, hanging the magnetic needle with one single strain of silk with a bit of wax attached to the center of the needle. Shen Kua pointed out that the needle prepared this way sometimes points south, sometimes points north.

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1100 – 1200

Medieval Handbook of Applied Arts Including Book Production 1100 – 1120

Folio 1 of Codex 2527, preserved at the Austrian National Library. (View Larger)

Between 1100 and 1120 Benedictine (?) monk Theophilus Presbyter (possibly same as Roger of Helmarshausen) wrote Schedula diversarum artium ("List of various arts") or De diversibus artibus ("On various arts"), containing detailed descriptions of various medieval applied arts, including drawing, painting, manuscript illumination, and bookbinding.

"The work is divided into three volumes. The first covers the production and use of painting and drawing materials (painting techniques, paints, and inks), especially for illumination of texts and painting of walls. The second deals with the production of stained glass and techniques of glass painting, while the last deals with various techniques of goldsmithing. It also includes an introduction into the building of organs. Theophilus contains perhaps the earliest reference to oil paint."

Volume 1 includes directions for making glue and gold leaf.

"Vol. III on metal work covers: openwork sheets of silver and copper for book covers inter alia (chapter 72); die-stamping, also used for book covers (chapter 75); studs for fastening leather covers to the boards (chapter 76) and repoussé work for book covers (chapter 78)" (Pollard, Early Bookbinding Manuals [1984] no. 3).

Theophilus also provides some of the earliest instructions for the use of metalpoints in drawing:

"Indications of the use of metalpoints for artistic purposes, other than those mentioned in connection with manuscripts, were rare until the late fourteenth century, a period which can be associated with the early fourishing of drawing as an important art form. Therefore, instructions for the use of metalpoints by the monk Theophilus, written sometime during the tenth to twelfth centuries, were exceptional. In Diversarum Artium Schedula Theophilus wrote that preparatory designs for windows were delineated upon large boards or 'tables' which had been rubbed with chalk. Over this surface one drew images with lead or tin. Moreover, in his directions for design figures to be incised on ivroy Theophilus recommended that the ivory tablet be covered with chalk, upon which one drew figures  with a piece of lead. These medieval 'grounds' of chalk dust were antecedents of a rudimentary method of preparing metalpoint surfaces with the dust of bones, chalk, or white lead which was described by Cennino in the late fourteen or early fifteenth century, and of a similar practice used during the seventeenth, eighteenth, and nineteenth centuries for quickly preparing a metalpoint ground for sketching outlines for miniatures or for writing on little ivory sheets.

"It is impossible to determine when metalpoint media were first used for producing sketches and studies in the form and character we now assign to master drawings. But during the fourteenth century both Petrarch and Boccaccio mention drawing with the stylus. The former, in his sonnets to Laura, wrote of Simone (Martini) taking the likeness of his love with the metalpoint and the latter in the Decamerone expressed his admiration for the skill of the incomparable Giotto in the statement that there was nothing in nature which the master could not draw or paint with the stylus, pen, or brush. Although we may hesitate to accept these statements at face value, nevertheless they indicate that the metallic stylus was an accepted instrument for drawing by artists of the late middle ages" (Watrous, The Craft of Old Master Drawings [1957] 4).

The oldest surviving copies of Theophilus's work are Codex 2527 preserved at the Österreichische Nationalbibliothek, Vienna, and Codex Guelf 69 preserved at the Herzog-August-Bibliothek, Wolfenbüttel.

For centuries after the Middle Ages Theophilus's work was forgotten until the poet, philosopher, and critic Gotthold Ephraim Lessing rediscovered the text while he worked as librarian in Wolfenbüttel around 1770.

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Earliest Record of the Use of the Compass in Navigation 1119

Chinese author Zhu Yu 's book Pingzhou Ke Tan (Pingzhou Table Talks), named after his country house in Huanggang(黄岗), Hubei province, named "Pingzhou," and written in 1119, contains the earliest record of the use of the mariner's magnetic needle compass in navigation.

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The Leading Translator from the Arabic Circa 1150 – 1175

Book X Chapters 6-7 of Gerard de Cremona's thirteenth century translation of Ptolemy's Almagest. (View Larger)

Between 1150 and 1175 Gerard of Cremona, in Toledo, Spain, translated Ptolemy's Almagest from Arabic into Latin. He also edited for Latin readers the Tables of Toledo, the most accurate compilation of astronomical data available in Europe at the time. The Tables were partly the work of Al-Zargali, known to the West as Arzachel, a mathematician and astronomer who flourished in Córdoba in the eleventh century.

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Originator of the Concept of Mathematical Function Circa 1150

About 1150 Persian mathematician and astronomer of the Islamic Golden Age Sharaf al-Dīn al-Muẓaffar ibn Muḥammad ibn al-Muẓaffar al-Ṭūsī, who taught in Aleppo and Mosul, originated the concept of mathematical function. 

"In his analysis of the equation x3 + d = bx2 for example, he begins by changing the equation's form to x2(b − x) = d. He then states that the question of whether the equation has a solution depends on whether or not the 'function' on the left side reaches the value d. To determine this, he finds a maximum value for the function. Sharaf al-Din then states that if this value is less than d, there are no positive solutions; if it is equal to d, then there is one solution; and if it is greater than d, then there are two solutions" (Wikipedia article on Function (mathematics), accessed 03-26-2009)

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Simultaneous Appearance in Medieval Europe of the College, the Recursive Argument Method, Translations of Scientific Works from the Arabic, & Translations of Aristotle's Works Circa 1175 – 1250

"Late twelfth-to early thirteenth-century Western Europe thus saw the more or less simultaneous appearance of the college, the recursive argument method, and translations of independent Greek and Classic Arabic scientific-philosophical works as well as translation of many of Aristotle's works from Greek and from Arabic, along with Arabic commentaries on them.

'Traveling clerics, French prelates posted in Spanish cities, and others kept scholars in France, England, and elsewhere in Europe in constant contact with the scholars working on translation of Arabic texts in Spain. Translations of Aristotle, Avicenna, and related works seem to have been in circulation in Paris within a decade or two after their translation. Because the translators focused on the one hand on works by classical Greek authors, especially Aristotle and his Arabic commentators, and, on the other, on Arabic scientific works, including the magisterial works of Avicenna on medicine and natural philosophy, the translations instantly acquired extremely high prestige in Europe. Western Europeans welcomed with open arms what became a flood of literature by philosopher scientists with the exotic Latin names Alfarabius, Agorithmus, Alhazen, Akindius, Avicenna, Averroës, and many others. The result was the 'intellectual revolution' of the twelfth and thirteenth centuries in Medieval Latin Europe.

"The newly translated texts became so popular so quickly that study of many of them by students of the University of Paris was banned in 1210 by a Church decree. As similar decree issued in 1215, also considered to be the charter of the university, was promulgated by Robert of Cuzon (Robert de Courçon, d. 1218), an English cleric who studied and taught in Paris, but that decree was apparently also ignored. By 1255 all of Aristotle's works were being taught at the University of Paris. The new translations were officially approved (with the exception of a few specific arguments considered heretical), and were assigned as the new 'liberal arts' curriculum—most of which consisted of logic and 'natural philosophy'—that was required of all bachelor's level university students in Western Europe" (Christopher Beckwith, Warriors of the Cloisters. The Central Asian Origins of Science in the Medieval World [2012] 107-08).

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1200 – 1300

Fibonacci Introduces Arabic Numerals to the European Public and Describes the Fibonacci Sequence 1202

Folio 124r of the Codex magliabechiano, a manuscript of Liber Abaci preserved in the Biblioteca Nazionale di Firenze. (View Larger)

In 1202 Leonardo of Pisa (Leonardo Pisano) later known by his nickname Fibonacci, wrote Liber Abaci or The Book of the Abacus or The Book of Calculation. In Liber Abaci Fibonacci introduced Arabic numerals to the European public. These Fibonacci had learned while in Africa with his father who wanted him to become a merchant.

"Liber Abaci was not the first Western book to describe Arabic numerals, but by addressing tradesmen rather than academics, it was the book that convinced the public of the superiority of the new system. The first section introduces the Arabic numeral system. The second section presents examples from commerce, such as conversions of currency and measurements, and calculations of profit and interest. The third section discusses a number of mathematical problems. One example, describing the growth of a population of rabbits, was the origin of the Fibonacci sequence for which the author is most famous today. The fourth section derives approximations, both numerical and geometrical, of irrational numbers such as square roots. The book also includes Euclidean geometric proofs and a study of simultaneous linear equations."

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al-Jazari's Clocks: Perhaps the Earliest Programmable Analog Computer 1206

A depiction of the Castle Water Clock from al-Jazari's 'Book of Knowledge of Ingenious Mechanical Devices.' This manuscript is preserved at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston. (View Larger)

In the al-Jāmiʿ bain al-ʿilm wa al-ʿamal al-nāfiʿ fī ṣināʿat al-ḥiyal (The Book of Knowledge of Ingenious Mechanical Devices) written in 1206, the year of his death, Muslim polymath, engineer and inventor Badi'al-Zaman Abū al-'Izz ibn Ismā'īl ibn al-Razāz al-Jazarī (بديع الزمان أَبُو اَلْعِزِ بْنُ إسْماعِيلِ بْنُ الرِّزاز الجزري‎, Turkish: Ebû’l İz İbni İsmail İbni Rezzaz El Cezerî) from Jazirat ibn Umar (current Cizre,Turkey), described 100 mechanical devices, about 80 of which were trick vessels of various kinds, along with instructions on how to construct them. These included his elephant clock, scribe clock, and castle clock. The castle clock, a most sophisticated water-powered astronomical clock, has been called the earliest programmable analog computer. 

"It was a complex device that was about 11 feet high, and had multiple functions alongside timekeeping. It included a display of the zodiac and the solar and lunar orbits, and a pointer in the shape of the crescent moon which travelled across the top of a gateway, moved by a hidden cart and causing automatic doors to open, each revealing a mannequin, every hour. It was possible to re-program the length of day and night everyday in order to account for the changing lengths of day and night throughout the year, and it also featured five robotic musicians who automatically play[ed] music when moved by levers operated by a hidden camshaft attached to a water wheel. Other components of the castle clock included a main reservoir with a float, a float chamber and flow regulator, plate and valve trough, two pulleys, crescent disc displaying the zodiac, and two falcon automata dropping balls into vases" (Wikipedia article on Al-Jazari, accessed 04-02-2009).

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No Fewer than Twelve Libraries Available to the Public in Merv 1228

The Greater Kyz Kala at Merv, presumed to be the residence of a noble or royal personage. (View Larger)

In 1228 the geographer Yakut al-Hamawi, visiting Merv, a major oasis-city in Central Asia, on the Silk Road, located near today's Mary in Turkmenistan, "found no fewer than twelve libraries there available to the public. Ten were endowed libraries and two were in mosques. One had over 12,000 volumes in codex form and another had been in existence since 494 A.D. Yakut noted that the lending policies of the libraries in Merv were so liberal that he was able to have 200 volumes to work with in his rooms at one time." (Harris, History of Libraries in the Western World 4th ed [1999] 79).

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The Most Extensive Medieval Encyclopedia Circa 1250

About 1250 Dominican friar Vincent de Beauvais (Vincent of Beauvais, Vincentius Bellovacensis or Vincentius Burgundus), whose name is associated with the Dominican monastery founded by Louis IX of France at Beauvais, France, compiled the Speculum maius, the largest medieval encyclopedia, and probably the largest reference work compiled in the west until 1600. A compendium of all medieval knowledge, the Speculum maius, or Great Mirror, consisted of three parts: the Speculum naturaleSpeculum doctrinale and Speculum historiale. After the invention of printing all the editions included a fourth part, the Speculum morale, added in the 14th century and mainly compiled from the works of Thomas Aquinas, Stephen de Bourbon, and others. In this form the work contained eighty books and 9, 885 chapters, and extended to about 4.5 million words.

On November 15, 2013 I read medievalist Linda Fagin Davis's entry entitled "Monks and Minnesota" in her very distinctive Manuscript Road Trip blog. In that she reminded me about a two-volume medieval manuscript of Vincent's Speculum naturale which I sold to The Bakken Museum in Minneapolis during the 1970s. This was the first significant medieval manuscript that I ever handled. It was purchased by The Bakken because it contains some of the earliest recorded references to magnetism, as cited in Mottelay's Bibliographical History of Electricity And Magnetism (1922).

The Bakken's volumes were copied about 1280 by the monk Johannes de Resbais and his Cisterican brethren in the scriptorium of the Abbey of Cambron in Belgium. They were part of a seven volume set that eventually extended to about 1500 leaves (3000 pages) of vellum in small folio—an immense project of manuscript book production, and a very expensive set at the time for the cost of the vellum and the scriptorium labor. Linda Davis stated that "Johannes signed two of the volumes ('Johannes de Resbais wrote this; pray for him, beloved brothers, men of God'), and most include the fourteenth-century ex libris 'Liber sanctae mariae de camberonae” ('This book belongs to St. Mary of Cambron')." According to a catalogue of the Cambron Abbey library all seven volumes were still in the abbey as late as 1782. However, it is likely that they were dispersed in the closure of many religious establishments during the Napoleonic Wars (1800-1815). 

"Research into the medieval reception of Vincent's Speculum has turned up only two extant copies of the whole work from a handful that were made in the Middle Ages. The Speculum circulated mostly in partial copies, three hundred of which survive, most of them focused on the Speculum historiale. But even the Speculum historiale survives in only thirty-seven complete copies. Given its massive size, the Speculum was prohibitively expensive to copy except partially. Printing was the key to its circulation either as complete parts during the incunabular period or as a complete set of four in 1591 and 1624. But Vincent of Beauvais was widely known and used as a source in shorter, more portable and affordable encyclopedic compilations. Among these the Libri de proprietatibus by Bartholomaeus Anglicus was widely copied in the Middle Ages and printed nine times down to 1491 and in English as late as 1582" (Blair, Too Much to Know: Managing Scholarly Information before the Modern Age [2010] 43-44, see also 41-45).

When I sold the manuscript to The Bakken I knew little about medieval manuscripts, and had only modest appreciation of the significance of this very large compendium. Nor was I aware that the Speculum naturale was rarer than the Speculum historiale, though it would stand to reason that a compilation on "science" might have had smaller circulation during the Middle Ages. The Wikipedia article on Vincent of Beauvais provides a good summary of the vast scope of the Speculum naturale, chiefly adapted from the 11th edition of the Encyclopedia Britannica (1911):

"The vast tome of the Speculum Naturale (Mirror of Nature), divided into thirty-two books and 3,718 chapters, is a summary of all of the science and natural history known to Western Europe towards the middle of the 13th century, a mosaic of quotations from Latin, Greek,Arabic, and even Hebrew authors, with the sources given. Vincent distinguishes, however, his own remarks.

The Speculum Naturale deals with its subjects in the order that they were created: it is essentially a gigantic commentary on Genesis 1. Thus, book i. opens with an account of the Trinity and its relation to creation; then follows a similar series of chapters about angels, their attributes, powers, orders, etc., down to such minute points such as their methods of communicating thought, on which matter the author decides, in his own person, that they have a kind of intelligible speech, and that with angels, to think and to speak are not the same process.

Book ii. treats of the created world, of light, color, the four elements, Lucifer and his fallen angels and the work of the first day.

Books iii. and iv. deal with the phenomena of the heavens and of time, which is measured by the motions of the heavenly bodies, with the sky and all its wonders, fire, rain, thunder, dew, winds, etc.

Books v.-xiv. treat of the sea and the dry land: the discourse of the seas, the ocean and the great rivers, agricultural operations, metals, precious stones, plants, herbs with their seeds, grains and juices, trees wild and cultivated, their fruits and their saps. Under each species, where possible, Vincent gives a chapter on its use in medicine, and he adopts for the most part an alphabetical arrangement. In book vi. c. 7, he incidentally discusses what would become of a stone if it were dropped down a hole, pierced right through the earth, and, curiously enough, decides that it would stay in the centre. In book ix., he gives an early instance of the use of the magnet in navigation.

Book xv. deals with astronomy: the moon, the stars, the zodiac, the sun, the planets, the seasons and the calendar.

Books xvi. and xvii. treat of fowls and fishes, mainly in alphabetical order and with reference to their medical qualities.

Books xviii.-xxii. deal in a similar way with domesticated and wild animals, including the dog, serpents, bees and insects; they also include a general treatise on animal physiology spread over books xxi.-xxii.

Books xxiii.-xxviii. discuss psychology, physiology and anatomy of man, the five senses and their organs, sleep, dreams, ecstasy, memory, reason, etc.

The remaining four books seem more or less supplementary; the last (xxxii.) is a summary of geography and history down to the year 1250, when the book seems to have been given to the world, perhaps along with the Speculum Historiale and possibly an earlier form of the Speculum Doctrinale."

In her blog Ms. Davis told an extraordinary story of the Vincent de Beauvais manuscript, and reminded me of the remarkable coincidence, which I vaguely remember understanding forty years ago, that the Bakken's manuscript belonged to the same medieval copy of Vincent's encyclopedia as two volumes of the Speculum historiale at the James Ford Bell Library at the University of Minnesota, also in Minneapolis. From her account of the history of the original set of seven volumes I quote:

"S[peculum]H[istoriale] III was lost, probably destroyed.

"S[peculum]N[aturale] III was acquired by the British Library in 1845, where it is now MS Add. 15583.

"SH II/IV and SN I/II were acquired in 1836 by the great collector Sir Thomas Phillipps (1792 – 1872) in whose collection they were collectively known as MS 8753. Phillipps already owned SH I, having purchased it from the Abbey about a decade before; it was his MS 335. Did he know that the four volumes he bought in 1836 were sisters to the volume he already owned? Your guess is as good as mine.

"After Phillipps’ death in 1872, the five volumes in his collection were further divided. SH I was acquired by the Royal Library of Belgium in 1888 (it’s MS BR II.941). The four remaining Phillipps manuscripts were sold together at an 1897 auction as a single lot to dealer Bernard Quaritch.

"Quaritch seems to have had a hard time selling the volumes. He offered them for sale in 1898 for £60 (here’s the catalogue) and again in 1904 for the same price (here’s that catalogue), selling them at last in 1907 to noted bibliophile Sir Sydney Cockerell (1867-1962). Cockerell sold SN I and II to his friend C. S. St. John Hornby for £40 in 1907; he kept the other two until 1956, when he sold them to New York bookdealer H. P Kraus for £500 (a whopping profit). Kraus sold them in 1957 to the John Ford Bell Library at the University of Minnesota, where they can still be found under the shelfmark 1280 oVi.

"To recap, we have watched as two volumes (SH II and SH IV) made their way from Belgium to England to New York to Minnesota. But we’re not done yet.

"Hornby kept the remaining two manuscripts (SN I and II) until 1946, when he sold them for £100 to British collector John R. Abbey (1894-1969). In 1975, the volumes were sold at auction by Sotheby’s London to a dealer named Jeremy Norman, who bought them for £4000 (another whopping profit, this time for the Abbey estate) on behalf of…The Bakken! After a journey of hundreds of years and thousands of miles, four of the seven Cambron volumes have been reunited in Minneapolis, in libraries just a few miles apart."

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Discovery of the Compass--The Earliest Known European Work of Experimental Science 1269

A schematic for Pierre de Maricourt's perpetual motion machine, from an early edition of the Epistola. (View Larger)

In 1269 Pierre de Maricourt (Petrus Peregrinus) an engineer in a French army besieging Lucera in southern Italy, was in charge of fortifying the camp, laying mines and constructing machines to hurl stones and fireballs into the besieged city. In his spare time he attempted to solve the problem of perpetual motion. He devised a diagram to show how a wheel might be driven round forever by the power of magnetic attraction. Excited by his discovery, he wrote a treatise in the form of a letter on the properties of the lodestone which he had discovered during his experiments. This letter, which circulated in manuscript, was given the title Epistola de magnete. In it Peregrinus was the first to assign a position to the poles of a lodestone.  He proved that unlike poles attract, while like poles repel. He also established by experiments "that every fragment of a lodestone, however small, is a complete magnet, and determined the position of an object by its magnetic bearing . . . ." Peregrinus also described how a compass is constructed.

The Epistola is considered the earliest known European work of experimental science, and the foundation of the study of electricity and magnetism. It was first issued as a printed book in 1558.

"Prior to the introduction of the compass, wayfinding at sea was primarily done via celestial navigation, supplemented in some places by the use of soundings. Difficulties arose where the sea was too deep for soundings and conditions were continually overcast or foggy. Thus the compass was not of the same utility everywhere. For example, the Arabs could generally rely on clear skies in navigating the Persian Gulf and the Indian Ocean (as well as the predictable nature of the monsoons). This may explain in part their relatively late adoption of the compass. Mariners in the relatively shallow Baltic made extensive use of soundings.

"In the Mediterranean, however, the practice from ancient times had been to curtail sea travel between October and April, due in part to the lack of dependable clear skies during the Mediterranean winter (and much of the sea is too deep for soundings). With improvements in dead reckoning methods, and the development of better charts, this changed during the second half of the 13th century. By around 1290 the sailing season could start in late January or February, and end in December. The additional few months were of considerable economic importance; it enabled Venetian convoys, for instance, to make two round trips a year to the eastern Mediterranean, instead of one."

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Survival of the Works of Archimedes was Dependent upon Three Manuscripts, Only One of Which Survived to the Present 1269 – 1544

In contrast to Euclid's Elements, which were written at the Royal Library of Alexandria, and widely disseminated, the writings of the Greek mathematician, physicist, engineer, inventor, and astronomer Archimedes were not widely known in antiquity. Survival of their texts was due to interest in Archimedes' writings at the Byzantine capital of Constantinople from the sixth through the tenth centuries.

"It is true that before that time individual works of Archimedes were obviously studied at Alexandria, since Archimedes was often quoted by three eminent mathematicians of Alexandria: Hero, Pappus, and Theon. But it is with the activity of Eutocius of Ascalon, who was born toward the end of the fifth century and studied at Alexandria, that the textual history of a collected edition of Archimedes properly begins. Eutocius composed commentaries on three of Archimedes' works: On the Sphere and the Cylinder, On the Measurement of the Circle, and On the Equilibrium of Planes. These were no doubt the most popular of Archimedes' works at that time. . . . The works of Archimedes and the commentaries of Eutocius were studied and taught by Isidore of Miletus and Anthemius of Tralles, Justinian's architects of Hagia Sophia in Constantinople. It was apparently Isidore who was responsible for the first collected edition of at least the three works commented on by Eutocius as well as the commentaries. Later Byzantine authors seem gradually to have added other works to this first collected edition until the ninth century when the educational reformer Leon of Thessalonica produced the compilation represented by Greek manuscript A (adopting the designation used by the editor, J. L. Heiberg).  Manuscript A contained all of the Greek works now known excepting On Floating Bodies, On the Method, Stomachion, and The Cattle Problem. This was one of the two manuscripts available to William of Moerbeke when he made his Latin translations in 1269.  It was the source, directly or indirectly, of all of the Renaissance copies of Archimedes. A second Byzantine manuscript, designated as B, included only the mechanical works: On the Equilibrium of Planes, On the Quadrature of the Parabola and On Floating Bodies (and possibly On Spirals).  It too was available to Moerbeke. But it disappears after an early fourteenth-century reference. Finally we can mention a third Byzantine manuscript, C, a palimpsest whose Archimedean parts are in a hand of the tenth century. It was not available to the Latin West in the Middle Ages, or indeed in modern times until its identification by Heiberg in 1906 at Constantinople (where it had been brought from Jerusalem)" (Marshall Clagett, "Archimedes," Dictionary of Scientific Biography I [1970] 223).

Transmission of Archimedes' writings to the west was largely dependent upon the translation into Latin of most of the Archimedean texts in manuscripts A and B by the Flemish Dominican William of Moerbeke (Willem van Moerbeke) in 1269.  These manuscripts had passed into the Pope's library from the collection of the Norman kings of the Two Sicilies.  Moerbeke's translations of the two manuscripts were not without errors, but they presented the texts in an understandable way. The holograph of Moerbeke's translation survives in the Vatican Library (MS Vat. Ottob. lat. 1850). It was not widely copied. Manuscripts A and B no longer survive.

"In the fifteenth century, knowledge of Archimedes in Europe began to expand. A new latin translation was made by James of Cremona in about 1450 by order of Pope Nicholas V. Since this translation was made exclusively from manuscript A, the translation failed to include On Floating Bodies, but it did include the two treatises in A omitted by Moerbeke, namely The Sand Reckoner and Eutocius' Commentary on the Measurement of the Circle. It appears that this new translation was made with an eye on Moerbeke's translation. . . . There are at least nine extant manuscripts of this translation, one of which was corrrected by Regiomontanus and brought to Germany about 1468. . . . Greek manuscript A itself was copied a number of times. Cardinal Bessarion had one copy prepared between 1449 and 1468 (MS E). Another (MS D) was made from A when it was in the possession fo the well-kinown humanist George [Giorgio] Valla. The fate of A and its various copies has been traced skillfully by J. L. Heiberg in his edition of Archimedes' Opera. The last known use of manuscript A occurred in 1544, after which time it seems to have disappeared.  The first printed Archimedean materials were in fact merely latin excerpts that appeared in George Valla's De expetendis et fugiendis rebus opus (Venice, 1501) and were based on his reading of manuscript A. But the earliest actual printed texts of Archimedes were the Moerbeke translations of On the Measurement of the Circle and On the Quadrature of the Parabola (Teragonismus, id est circuli quadratura etc.) published from the Madrid manuscript by L.[uca] Gaurico (Venice, 1503). In 1543 also at Venice N.[iccolo] Tartaglia republished the same two translations directly from Gaurico's work, and in addition, from the same Madrid manuscript, the Moerbeke translations of On the Equilbrium of Planes and Book I of On Floating Bodes (leaving the erroneous impression that he had made these translations from a Greek manuscript, which he had not since he merely repeated the texts of the Madrid manuscript, with virtually all their errors.) . . . The key event, however, in the further spread of Archimedes was the aforementioned editio princeps of the Greek text with the accompanying Latin translation of James of Cremona at Basel in 1544. . . ." Clagett, op. cit., 228-229).

For the editio princeps the editor Thomas Gechauff, called Venatorius (d. 1551), was able to use the above-mentioned manuscript of James of Cremona's (Jacopo da Cremona's) Latin translation corrected by Regiomontanus, which included the commentaries of Eutocius of Ascalon. For the Greek text Gechauff used a manuscript which had been acquired in Rome by humanist Willibald Pirckheimer, and is preserved today today in Nuremberg City Library.

Existence of a reliable Greek and Latin edition made the texts available to a wider range of scholars, exerting a strong influence on mathematics and physics in the sixteenth century. "One of the imortant effects of that influence can be seen in Kepler's Astronomia nova, in which Archimedes's so-called 'exhaustion procedure' was applied to the measurement of time elapsed between any two points in Mars's orbit" (Hook & Norman, Haskell F. Norman Library of Science and Medicine [1991] no. 61).

♦ After disappearing into a European private collection in the early twentieth century, the third key record of Archimedes' texts discussed above, the tenth century Byzantine manuscript C, known as the Archimedes Palimpsest, re-appeared at a Christie's auction in New York on October 28, 1998, where it was purchased by an anonymous private collector in the United States. Since then it has been made widely available to scholars, and has been the subject of much research.

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1300 – 1400

The Most Accurate World Map for Three Centuries Circa 1300

A reproduction of Tabula Rogeriana. (View Larger)

Of the ten surviving manuscript copies of the Kitab Rudjdjar (literally "The book of Roger" in Arabic) or Tabula Rogeriana, the earliest surviving copy, preserved in the Bibliothèque nationale de France (MS Arabe 2221), has been dated to about 1300. It is copy of a world map drawn in 1154 by the Arab geographer, Abu Abd Allah Muhammad al-Idrisi al-Qurtubi al-Hasani al-Sabti, or simply El Idrisi, or  Muhammad al-Idrisi.

"Al-Idrisi worked on the accompanying commentaries and illustrations of the map for eighteen years at the court of the Norman King Roger II of Sicily in Palermo. The map, written in Arabic, shows the Eurasian continent in its entirety, but only shows the northern part of the African continent. The map is actually oriented with the North at the bottom. It remained the most accurate world map for the next three centuries.

"Roger II of Sicily had his world map drawn on a circle of silver weighing about 400 pounds. The works of Al-Idrisi include Nozhat al-mushtaq fi ikhtiraq al-afaq - a compendium of the geographic and sociological knowledge of his time as well as descriptions of his own travels illustrated with over seventy maps; Kharitat al-`alam al-ma`mour min al-ard (Map of the inhabited regions of the earth) wherein he divided the world into 7 regions, the first extending from the equator to 23 degrees latitude, and the seventh being from 54 to 63 degrees followed by a region uninhabitable due to cold and snow.

On the work of al-Idrisi, S. P. Scott commented:

"The compilation of Edrisi marks an era in the history of science. Not only is its historical information most interesting and valuable, but its descriptions of many parts of the earth are still authoritative. For three centuries geographers copied his maps without alteration. The relative position of the lakes which form the Nile, as delineated in his work, does not differ greatly from that established by Baker and Stanley more than seven hundred years afterwards, and their number is the same. The mechanical genius of the author was not inferior to his erudition. The celestial and terrestrial planisphere of silver which he constructed for his royal patron was nearly six feet in diameter, and weighed four hundred and fifty pounds; upon the one side the zodiac and the constellations, upon the other-divided for convenience into segments-the bodies of land and water, with the respective situations of the various countries, were engraved" (Wikipedia article on Muhammad al-Idrisi, accessed 01-12-2009).

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Agriculture, Animal Husbandry, and Horticulture Circa 1304 – 1309

Folio 11 of MS M.232, the Morgan Library's 1470 Belgian manuscript of Ruralia Commoda. (View Larger)

Between 1304 and 1309 Bolognese jurist Pietro Crescenzi (Petrus de Crescentius, Petrus de Crescentiis) wrote Ruralia commoda. Derived in part from the writings of Romans ColumellaCato the Elder, and Varro, this was one of the most widely read medieval works on agriculture, animal husbandry, and horticulture, and it continued to be widely read throughout the 15th and 16th centuries, resulting in numerous printed editions, many illustrated. The text was divided into twelve sections:

1. The best location and arrangement of a manor, villa or farm

2. The botanical background needed to raise different crops

3.  Building a granary and cultivation of cereal, forage and food

4. On vines and wine-making

5 & 6.  Arboriculture and horticulture, including 185 plants useful for medicine and nourishment

7.  Meadows and woods

8.  Gardens

9.  Animal husbandry and bee-keeping

10. Hawking and hunting

11. General summary of the book

12. Calendar of duties and tasks, month by month

Ruralia commoda was first printed in an unillustrated edition in Augsburg by Johann Schüssler in 1471. In February 2014 a digital facsimile was available from the Bayerische Staatsbibliothek at this link.  ISTC no. ic00965000. Thirteen editions were printed in the 15th century: six in Latin, three in Italian and two each in French and German. Various were illustrated with woodcuts.

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Logical Machines for the Production of Knowledge 1305

A portrait of Ramon Llull. (View Larger)

Around 1305 Majorcan writer and philosopher Ramon Llull (Lull) published in his Ars generalis ultima or Ars magna  (the "The Ultimate General Art") a method of combining religious and philosophical attributes selected from a number of lists, which he invented about 1275. It is believed that Llull's inspiration for the Ars magna came from observing Arab astrologers using a mechanical device called a zairja to calculate ideas.

Llull's method

"was intended as a debating tool for winning Muslims to the Christian faith through logic and reason. Through his detailed analytical efforts, Llull built an in-depth theological reference by which a reader could enter in an argument or question about the Christian faith. The reader would then turn to the appropriate index and page to find the correct answer.

"Llull also invented numerous 'machines' for the purpose. One method is now called the Lullian Circle, each of which consisted of two or more paper discs inscribed with alphabetical letters or symbols that referred to lists of attributes. The discs could be rotated individually to generate a large number of combinations of ideas. A number of terms, or symbols relating to those terms, were laid around the full circumference of the circle. They were then repeated on an inner circle which could be rotated. These combinations were said to show all possible truth about the subject of the circle. Llull based this on the notion that there were a limited number of basic, undeniable truths in all fields of knowledge, and that we could understand everything about these fields of knowledge by studying combinations of these elemental truths.

"The method was an early attempt to use logical means to produce knowledge. Llull hoped to show that Christian doctrines could be obtained artificially from a fixed set of preliminary ideas. For example, one of the tables listed the attributes of God: goodness, greatness, eternity, power, wisdom, will , virtue, truth and glory. Llull knew that all believers in the monotheistic religions - whether Jews, Muslims or Christians - would agree with these attributes, giving him a firm platform from which to argue.

"The idea was developed further by Giordano Bruno in the 16th century, and by Gottfried Leibniz in the 17th century for investigations into the philosophy of science.

"Leibniz gave Llull's idea the name ars combinatoria, by which it is now often known. Some computer scientists have adopted Llull as a sort of founding father, claiming that his system of logic was the beginning of information science" (Wikipedia article on Ramon Llull, accessed 04-02-2009).

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The Earliest Dated Astrolabe Made in Europe 1326

The Chaucer astrolabe, preserved in the British Museum, remains the earliest dated astrolabe made in Europe. It is of the type described by the poet Geoffrey Chaucer in his A Treatise on the Astrolabe, written circa 1390. That text is considered the earliest technical manual written in English. No specific surviving astrolabe has been identified as the one used by Chaucer.

The first rudimentary astrolabes were invented in the Hellenistic world, circa 150-100 BCE, and were often attributed to Hipparchus.

An astronomical instrument used for observing planetary movements, the astrolabe was indispensable for navigation. Brass astrolabes, a type of analog calculator, were developed in the medieval Islamic world, and were also used to determine the location of the Kaaba in Mecca, in which direction all Muslims face during prayer. Planispheric, or flat, astrolabes, were more common than the linear or spherical types. In planispheric astrolabes the celestial sphere was drawn on a flat surface and represented on one plate.

The earliest surviving dated astrolabe of the planispheric type dates from 927 or 928. Coincidentally it is also preserved in London, at the School of Oriental and African Studies at the University of London.

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The Black Death 1347 – 1353

The spread of the Bubonic plague in Europe. (View Larger)

Between 1347 and 1353 the Black Death, one of the deadliest pandemics in human history, killed thirty to sixty percent of Europe's population.  For centuries the epidemic continued to strike every 10 years or so, its last major outbreak being the Great Plague of London from 1665 to 1666. Though the vectors were not understood at the time, the disease was spread by rats and transmitted to people by fleas or, in some cases, directly by breathing.

"The pandemic is thought to have begun in Central Asia, and spread to Europe during the 1340s. The total number of deaths worldwide is estimated at 75 million people, approximately 25–50 million of which occurred in Europe. . . . It may have reduced the world's population from an estimated 450 million to between 350 and 375 million in 1400.

"The 14th century eruption of the Black Death had a drastic effect on Europe's population, irrevocably changing the social structure. It was a serious blow to the Roman Catholic Church, and resulted in widespread persecution of minorities such as Jews, foreigners, beggars, and lepers. The uncertainty of daily survival created a general mood of morbidity, influencing people to 'live for the moment', as illustrated by Giovanni Boccaccio in The Decameron (1353)" (Wikipedia article on Black Death, accessed 01-03-2009).

"The three plague waves [Plague of Justinian, Black Death, and that beginning in China's Yunnan province in 1894] have now been tied together in common family tree by a team of medical geneticists led by Mark Achtman of University College Cork in Ireland. By looking at genetic variations in living strains of Yersinia pestis, Dr. Achtman’s team has reconstructed a family tree of the bacterium. By counting the number of genetic changes, which clock up at a generally steady rate, they have dated the branch points of the tree, which enables the major branches to be correlated with historical events.  

"In the issue of Nature Genetics published online Sunday [October 31, 2010], they conclude that all three of the great waves of plague originated from China, where the root of their tree is situated. Plague would have reached Europe across the Silk Road, they say. An epidemic of plague that reached East Africa was probably spread by the voyages of the Chinese admiral Zheng He who led a fleet of 300 ships to Africa in 1409 (http://www.nytimes.com/2010/11/01/health/01plague.html, accessed 11-01-2010).

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The Earliest Surviving Spectacles Circa 1350

A pair of leather spectacles, found, among other artifacts, in 1953 beneath the floorboards of Kloster Wienhausen, near Celle, in Germany. (View Larger)

In spite of the obvious fragility of spectacles (eyeglasses), a reasonable number of extremely early examples have survived from the mid-fourteenth century onward. Images and information about them have been collected by David A. Fleishman on his website, Antique Spectacles and other Vision Aids.

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The Earliest Depiction of Eyeglasses in a Painted Work of Art 1352

The first depiction of spectacles in art: a portrait of Cardinal Hugo of Provence at his writing desk, painted by Tommaso de Mondena in fresco in the Basilica San Nicolo in Treviso, Italy. (View Larger)

"The earliest depiction of spectacles [eyeglasses] in a painted work of art occurs in a series of frescoes dated 1352 by Tommaso da Modena in the Chapter House of the Seminario attached to the Basilica San Nicolo in Treviso, north of Venice. Cardinal Hugo of Provence [Hugh de St. Cher] is shown at his writing desk wearing a pair of rivet spectacles that appear to stay in place on the nose without additional support. The Cardinal actually died in the 1260s and could never have worn spectacles! Across the room Cardinal Nicholas of Rouen is depicted using a monocular lens in the style of later quizzing glasses. The artist has even tried to represent the physical effort of straining to see the book through the lens. The men depicted in this series of paintings are Dominicans (like Fra Rivalto), members of a dynamic monastic order founded in 1217 and regarded as 'the carrier of the sciences'. It is notable that visual aids are portrayed as devices for the use of literate men as well as aesthetes - they had, after all, commissioned this important work of early Renaissance art" (London College of Optometrists web page on the Invention of Spectacles, accessed 06-22-2009).

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1400 – 1450

Portable Medieval English Information Retrieval Device Circa 1415 – 1420

On November 20, 2013 Christie's auctioned an English folding almanac in London.  This they described as a previously unrecorded example in its original embroidered cloth binding.  

A portable compendium of calendrical, computational, medical and astrological material intended to be worn hanging from the body, probably handing from the belt at the waist,  the folding almanac—or vade mecum, girdle book, physician's calendar—was one of the earliest portable information retrieval devices.

"Although the Faltbuch and various livres plicatifs were present in Europe at this time, by all accounts the compression of this specific type of data into a portable format seems to have been an exclusively English phenomenon of the late 14th and 15th centuries. Twenty-nine other such manuscripts survive, ten of which are in the British Library, with only one other in private hands (Talbot private collection, see C.H. Talbot, 'A Mediaeval Physician's vade mecum', Journal of the History of Medicine, 16, 1961). Of these, the present manuscript is the only one to preserve its contemporary, bright, decorative soft binding in a near-original state; the remnants of the Turk's head indicating how it would have been worn hanging from the body, likely attached to a belt at the waist. Hilary M. Carey discusses the importance of the folding almanac as a facilitator for the development of more sophisticated astro-medical practice of the later age and gives a detailed and comprehensive analysis of the twenty-nine other extant folding almanacs in her recent articles on the subject ('A Key Manuscript Source for Astro-Medical Practice', SHM vol. 16, no 3, 2003 and 'Astrological Medicine and the Medieval Folded Almanac', SHM, vol. 17, no 4, 2004" (Christie's Sale 1160, 20 November 2013, Lot 52).

Also in 2013, Rebecca J. Rosen published "Book as Mobile Device: No Really, a Medieval Almanac That Attached to your Belt," The Atlantic, march 6, 2013. This contained several fine illustrations.  Images of another English folding almanac are available in the British Library's digitized version of Harley MS 3812.

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The Aztec Calendar Stone 1427 – 1479

The Aztec Calendar Stone. (View Larger)

The Aztec calendar stone or Aztec Sunstone Calendar, carved in basalt, is 3.6 meters (12 feet) in diameter and weighs about 24 metric tons. Containing images representing Aztec measurement of days, months, and cosmic cycles, the stone was completed during the 52 year period between 1427 and 1479 CE. It was originally placed atop the main temple in Tenochtitlan, the capital of the Aztec empire, facing south in a vertical position and was painted a vibrant red, blue, yellow and white.

When the Spaniards conquered Tenochtitlan in 1521 they buried the stone, and built the cathedral of Mexico City on the site. For over 250 years the stone was lost until December of 1790 when it was excavated by accident during repair work on the cathedral. Today it is located in the  Museo Nacional de Antropologia, Mexico City.

"The stone was first described by the Mexican astronomer, anthropologist and writer, Antonio de León y Gama in Descripción histórica y cronológica de las dos piedras: que con ocasión del empedrado que se está formando en la plaza Principal de México, se hallaron en ella el año de 1790. Impr. de F. de Zúñiga y Ontiveros, 1792. "In it Leon y Gama described the discovery in 1790 of two of the most important pieces of aztec art in the Zócalo, main plaza of the city of Mexico: the sun stone and a statue of Coatlicue, an aztec goddess. Leon y Gama also included in it most of his knowledge and theories on how Aztecs measured time. The work, as opposed to authors of previous centuries, praised Aztec society and their scientific and artistic achievements in line with the growing Mexican nationalism in the late 18th century. It was published by Felipe de Zúñiga y Ontiveros, [scientist and cartographer and] owner of one of the most important printing establishments in America at the time. In addition to print the book had three folded manuscript watercolor drawings [presumably hand-colored engravings.] Thanks to the publication of the book Leon y Gama is considered by many the first Mexican archeologist" (Wikipedia article on Antonio de León y Gama, accessed 01-01-2010).

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1450 – 1500

The Library of Hartmann Schedel, One of the Largest Libraries Formed by an Individual in the 15th Century 1450 – 1571

A woodcut from the Nuremburg Chronicle, showing Erfurt, 1493.

Portrait of Johann Jakob Fugger, 1541.

16th century portrait of Albert V, Duke of Bavaria by Hans Mielich.

The library of Hartmann Schedel, physician and author of the Nuremberg Chronicle, was unequalled in fifteenth-century Germany. Schedel was interested in virtually all areas of knowledge of the late Middle Ages: rhetoric, astronomy, philosophy, classical and humanist literature, historiography, geography and cosmography, medicine, law, and theology. As early as the 1450s and 1460s, during his studies at the universities of Leipzig and Padua, he transcribed many works in his own hand. Later Schedel took advantage of the growing supply of printed books in Nuremberg, a center of European trade and publishing. He also made use of an international network of correspondents and suppliers to acquire new publications from other places. At the end of his long life, Schedel's library comprised nearly 700 volumes, including many composite volumes with several items. 

Even though Schedel stipulated in his last will that his library should remain a family heirloom, Schedel's grandson and heir, Melchior (1516-1571), an imperial soldier, sold his grandfather's books to the Augsburg merchant Johann Jakob Fugger in 1552. In 1571 Fugger sold his library, incorporating Schedel's, to Duke Albert V of Bavaria. It became the cornerstone of the what is now the Bayerische Staatsbibliothek. Today, more than 370 manuscripts and 460 printed items from Schedel's collection are preserved in the Bayerische Staatsbibliothek. This is the largest private collection of books that survived from fifteenth century Germany.

In November 2014, honoring the 500th anniversary of Schedel's death, the Bayerische Staatsbibliothek opened a physical and virtual exhibition of books from Schedel's library. In November 2014 the home page of the virtual exhibition, with links to many downloads of digital editions, including all five editions of the Nuremberg Chronicle, was available at this link.

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The Aderlasskalender, the First Known Medical or Scientific Work to be Printed, Surviving in Only One Copy 1456

The Aderlasskalender for the year 1457, also known as the Laxierkalender, was issued in Mainz, printed in the type of the 36-line Bible, presumably in 1456. It survives in only one incomplete copy in the Bibliothèque nationale de France (ISTC No. ia00051700).

"Bleeding- and purgation-calendars, which gave details of the lucky and unlucky days on which to bleed or take medicine in a given year, were popular in the Middle Ages. They maintained their popularity with the coming of the printed book. According to Osler, 'forty-six of these bleeding-and purgation-calendars were printed before 1480; one hundred of them before 1501 have been collected. . . .' The Mainz Kalendar for 1457 is much more a purgation-than a bleeding-calendar" (Berry & Poole, Annals of Printing [1966] 13).

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Adolf Rusch Issues the First Printed Encyclopedia, by Hrabanus Maurus 1467

Adolf Rusch's printing of the encyclopedia 'De Sermonum Propietate,

Before July 20, 1467 Adolf Rusch, the "R" printer, of Strasbourg, issued the first printed edition of De sermonum proprietate, seu de universo, written by Hrabanus Maurus (Rabanus Maurus), Archbishop of Mainz in the first half of the ninth century. This was the first printed encyclopedia, and the first printed book to contain a chapter on medicine. That section may also be the first significant printed text on a scientific subject.

ISTC no. ir00001000:

"Dating is based on a MS. note in a copy at Paris BN (cf. CIBN). P. Needham in Christie's, Doheny 16, disputes the date, placing the types 1473-75 and regarding Mentelin in association with Rusch as responsible for the work of the R-printer."

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First Printed Edition of the Only Formal Roman Treatise on Geography September 25, 1471

On September 25, 1471 printer Antonius Zarotus (Antonio Zaroto), "with the material of Pamfilo Castaldi," issued from Milan, Italy, Cosmographia, sive De situ orbis by the Roman geographer Pomponius Mela. Pomponius Mela's text, of which this was the first printed edition, was the only surviving formal treatise on geography by a Roman author. It was widely copied and used during the Middle Ages. Nine printed editions appeared during the 15th century.

Printer Zarotus worked as foreman for the Milanese prototypographer Pamfilo (Panfilo, Pamphilo) Castaldi in 1471, before entering into partnership with Gabriel de Ossonibus and others in May 1472. The surviving contract, published in 1745 in Milan by Giuseppe Antonio Sassi (Saxius) in his Historia literario-typographica Mediolanensis, is one of the most detailed records of such an arrangement so early in the printing business.

ISTC No.: im00447000

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"De re militari", the First Printed Book on Technology with the First Woodcuts on a Scientific or Technological Subject 1472

This edition of Roberto Valturio's 'De re militari' contains the first woodcuts on a scientific subject, used not for artistic embellishment but for diagraming and explanation. (View Larger)

In 1472 printer Johannes Nicolai de Verona issued from Verona, Italy, the first printed edition of Roberto Valturio's (Valturius's) De re militari, a work which first circulated in manuscript circa 1455-1460. Some of the extant manuscripts appear to have been copied from the printed edition, reflecting the interplay between printed book and manuscript production in the first decades of printing. As Valturio lived until 1475, his De re militari has also been called the first printed book by a living author. It vies for that title with Paolo Bagellardo's De infantium aegritudinibus et remediis issued from Padua also in 1472.

Valturio's work was the first book printed in Verona, the second Italian book printed with illustrations, and the first book printed with woodcuts by Italian artists. Depending on how the counts are made, the book contains at least 90 woodcuts, though because some of the images are composite it is possible to arrive at a higher count. The images were printed in blank spaces left on the page, presumably after the text was printed, using a thinner ink. Some pages in the edition remain blank.

". . . the illustrations are the first true Italian book illustrations, probably after designs by Matteo de Pasti, the medallist and pupil of Alberti. They were preceeded in Italy only by a blockbook [cf. Essling 1] and the 1467 Rome edition of Torquemada which contains a series of rather crude woodcuts probably designed under German influence” (Printing and the Mind of Man No. 10).

From the scientific standpoint  Valturio's work was first printed book on technology, with the first scientific or technological illustrations— in this case woodcuts of war machines. In Prints and Visual Communication (1953; 32) William Ivins pointed out that these woodcuts were the first dated set of book illustrations made for "informational" rather than decorative or religious purposes.

The images in Valturio's book . . ."the majority of which are in Book X, consist of representations of weapons, war chariots, siege engines, canons, flags, water floats, bridges and pontoons and much else. . . . They depend on a tradition of military illustration, which extends from the late Roman Empire, the best-known text being the De rebus bellicis of the 4th century, to Byzantine and Western medieval texts. The text of the De rebus bellicis was rediscovered in an illustrated manuscript of 9th- or 10th-century date in the library of the Cathedral of Speyer, and it was copied for the book collector and humanist Bishop of Padua, Pietro Donato, during the Council of Basel in 1436. These illustrations, in one or another of the various copies made of them, are likely to have been among the sources for the illustrations in the Valturio text. Two other relevant texts concerning military equipment, both illustrated, are those by Konrad Kyeser of Eichstätt, written shortly after 1400, and Mariano Taccola of Siena, known in various versions dating from c. 1427 to 1449“ (Alexander [ed.] The Painted Page. Italian Renaissance Book Illumination 1450-1550 [1994] No. 63). Alexander describes an illustrates a manuscript written circa 1475-80, of Valturio (Munich, Bayerisch Staatsbibliothek, CLM 23467) which, "is a direct copy of the printed edition. The illustrations also are clearly copied from the woodcuts."

Valturio's work may frequently be confused with the Epitoma rei militaris (also referred to as De re militari) by the late 4th century-early 5th century Roman writer Publius Flavius Vegetius Renatus, the first edition of which was published in print in Utrecht, probably one or two years after the first edition of Valturio's work, in 1473 or 1474.

"A secretary to Pope Eugene IV, then adviser to Sigismondo Pandolfo Malatesta, humanist Roberto Valturio is chiefly known for his treatise on warfare, De re militari, of 1455. The work celebrates the military prowess of Malatesta, who sent copies to Mathias Corvinus, Francesco Sforza, Sultan Mohammed II, and perhaps also King Louis XI of France and Lorenzo de Medici. The illustrations are probably the work of Matteo de Pasti, who built the church of San Francesco in Rimini on the model prescribed by Leon Battista Alberti. Matteo also often drew inspiration from the treatises of Guido da Vigevano, Conrad Kyeser, and Taccola" (website of the Institute and Museum of the History of Science in Florence, where you can also watch a brief video about Valturio in Italian, accessed 01-15-2009).

ISTC no. iv00088000. In November 2013 a digital facsimile of the 1472 edition was available from the Bayerische Staatsbibliothek at this link.

On February 13, 1483 printer Boninus de Boninis, de Ragusia of Verona issued a second edition of Valturio's De re militari in Latin (ISTC no. iv00089000), followed 4 days later by his Opera dell' arte militare, translated into Italian by Paolo Ramusio on February 17, 1483 (ISTC no. iv00090000).  The Italian translation is the first illustrated book on technology published in a vernacular.

In November 2013 a digital facsimile of the 1483 edition was available from the Bayerische Staatsbibliothek at this link.

Dibner, Heralds of Science, no. 172 (citing an incomplete copy of the first edition). 

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Bagellardo's Pediatrics, the First Medical or Scientific Treatise to be First Published as a Printed Book Rather than a Manuscript April 21, 1472

On April 21, 1472 Italian physician Paolo Bagellardo (d. 1494) had his treatise on pediatrics, De infantium aegritudinibus et remediis, printed in Padua at the press of Bartholomaeus de Valdezoccho and Martinus de Septem Arboribus. 

This was the first medical treatise, and probably also the first scientific treatise, to make its original appearance in printed form rather than having prior circulation in manuscript. It is also one of the two first books published in print by a living author, the other being Valturio's De re militari (1472).

Hook & Norman, The Haskell F. Norman Library of Science and Medicine (1991) no. 102. ISTC no. ib00010000.  In November 2013 a digital facsimile was available from the Bayerische Staatsbibliothek at this link.

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Günther Zainer Issues "Vocabularius", the First Technical Dictionary 1473 – 1474

In 1473 or 1474 printer Günther Zainer of Augsburg, Germany, issued Vocabularius, with text in both Latin and German. Vocabularius rerum was the first technical dictionary, and after the Vocabularius ex quo (1467), the first bi-lingual dictionary, of which one copy, printed in Eltville, Germany, is recorded (ISTC no. iv00361700).  The work was "devoted entirely to technical terms, each with its own section, of medicine (four sections), culinary and medicinal herbs and food plants, zoology, mining and mineralogy, navigation, architecture, textiles, tanning and leather work, musical instruments, books and book production, cooking and kitchen utensils, baking, wine and viticulture, gambling, carpentry, horses and carriages, etc.

"Some of the words are highly technical, lexicographical rarities. In the section on scribes and book production we find definitions not only of the traditional scribal tools (calamus, stilus, graphius, pugillaris, etc.), but also of such specialist words as antipira (= the scribe's eye-shade, for protection against the fire or candle-light), corrosorium (= the mill or grinder to reduce chalk to a powder for the preparation of vellum), and epicausterium (= the table-cloth on which the parchment is laid for ease of writing). None of these last words occurs, for example, in Karen Gould's "Terms for Book Production in a Fifteenth-Century Latin-English Nominale", The Papers of the Bibliographical Society of America, 79 (1985), pp. 75-99. There is also an entry on the distinction between the words liber, volumen, and codex; likewise between exemplar and exemplum.' (Nicholas Poole-Wilson). . . ." (W. P. Watson Antiquarian Books, online description, accessed 08-09-2009).

"Possessed of a knowledge of names rather than of things, the mediaeval student had one urgent need - a dictionary. New words began to pour in—in Arabic, Syriac, Hebrew, and Greek—whose meanings he sought to know; and, for the medical student, there were new drugs, the composition and uses of which were essential to his practice. It is not surprising then to find books of the dictionary class among the first to be printed. . . . The Vocabularius . . . has four sections devoted to medicine: (1) De homine et de diversis membris, in which the parts of the body are defined in order, with the German equivalents; brief references to authors are given. (2) De nominibus balneatorum etc., containing all the terms relating to bathing, bleeding, and cupping. (3) De medicis et eorum que pertinent ad medicine artes. The definitions here are most interesting... Siringa is described as a metallic instrument with which a surgeon injects resolving medicines into the Virile member in order to dissolve calculi in the bladder. (4) De nominibus quorundam egritudinum, contains seven and a half folios of definitions of diseases." (Osler, Incunabula medica).

ISTC no. iv00322000. In November 2013 a digital facsimile was available from the Bayerische Staatsbibliothek at this link.

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The Library of Giovanni di Marco da Rimini, Possibly the Earliest Physician's Library Preserved Intact 1474

On his death in 1474 Giovanni di Marco da Rimini, physician to Malatesta Novello,  bequeathed his library of medical manuscripts to the recently established Biblioteca Malatestiana in Cesena, Italy. 

Giovanni's library, which was preserved along with the rest of the Bibliotheca Malatestiana, may be the earliest physician's library to have survived intact. The library contains numerous spectacular codices of the expected standard European and Arab scientific and medical authorities, several dating from the 11th, 12th, and 13th centuries, and one (S. XXI.5) dating from the 8th century. Some are finely illuminated. That Giovanni owned several manuscripts from prior centuries suggests that he collected books not only for reference but also out of humanistic and antiquarian interest.

An excellent annotated catalogue of this library was published in large 4to format: Manfron (ed.) La Biblioteca di un Medico del Quattrocento. I codici di Giovanni di Marco da Rimini nella Bibliotheca Malatestiana (1998).  The catalogue contains numerous fine color plates.

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The First Printed Edition of the First Geography Contains No Maps September 13, 1475

On September 13, 1475 Claudius Ptolemaeus's (Ptolemy's) Cosmographia or Geographia, translated from Greek into Latin by humanist Giacomo d'Angelo da Scarperia (Jacopo d’Angelo (Jacopus Angelus) da Scarperia), and edited by Angelius Vadius and Barnabas Picardus, was first published as a printed book in Vicenza, Italy by Hermannus Liechtenstein, without any maps.

ISTC no. ip01081000.

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Konrad von Megenberg's "Buch der Natur", the First Illustrated Printed Book on Natural History October 30, 1475

The first edition of Konrad von Megenberg's 'Buch der Natur' was both the first German natural history and the first woodcut-illustrated natural history, including this woodcut from the chapter on zoology. (View Larger)

On October 30, 1475 printer Johann Bämler of Augsburg issued the first printed edition of Konrad von Megenberg's Buch der Natur. This was the first natural history written in German, and the series of woodcuts in the first edition were the first natural history book illustrations. There were also two woodcuts of plants—the first botanical woodcuts in a printed book.

"The work has 8 chapters

" * the nature of man

" * sky, 7 planets, astronomy and meteorology

" * zoology

" * ordinary and aromatic trees

" * plants and vegetables

" * invaluable and semi-precious stones

" * 10 kinds of metals

" * water and rivers" (Wikipedia article on Konrad of Megenburg, accessed 06-13-2009).

♦ ISTC no. ic00842000. In November 2013 a digital facsimile was available from the Bayerische Staatsbibliothek at this link.

Also in November 2013 a digital facsimile of an illustrated fifteenth century manuscript of von Megenberg's work, Cod. Pal. germ. 300 Konrad von Megenberg Das Buch der Natur Hagenau - Werkstatt Diebold Lauber, um 1442-1448?, was available from Universitätsbibliothek Heidelberg at this link.

Blunt & Raphael, The Illustrated Herbal (1979) 112-13.

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Erhard Ratdolt Issues Regiomontanus's "Kalendario", with the First "Modern" Title Page 1476

In 1476 printers Erhard Ratdolt, Bernhard Maler (Pictor), and Peter Löslein of Venice issued the Kalendario of Johannes Müller (Regiomontanus) in Italian. (ISTC no. ir00103000.) This was the first book in which the title and place, date, and printer's name appeared on a separate title page— an innovation that did not come into common use until the early 16th century. This book and a Latin version that Ratdolt, Maler and Löslein also issued in 1476 (ISTC ir00093000) were also the first books to be dated with Arabic rather than Roman numerals, and their title page was the first to be decorated with a woodcut border.

Prior to this date, and throughout the remainder of the 15th century, the title, place, and date of printing, as well as the printer's name were usually printed on the colophon leaf at the end of books, in the manner of medieval manuscripts. It took about 50 years after the invention of printing by movable type for the separate title page to become a convention.

♦ In November 2013 a digital facsimile of the Italian Kalendario was available from the Bayerisches Staatsbibliothek at this link.  Also in November 2013 a digital facsimile of the Latin Kalendarium was available from the University of Oklahoma at this link.

Smith, The Title-Page, its Early Development 1460-1510 (2000) 43-46.

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Aristotle's "De animalibus", the First Printed Compilation of Works on Biology 1476

In 1476 printers Johann de Colonia and Johannes Manthen of Venice issued Aristotle's De animalibus, translated from the Greek by Greek humanist Theodorus Gaza (Greek: Θεόδωρος Γαζής, Theodoros Gazis), and edited by Ludovicus Podocatharus, perhaps with expenses born by Podocatharus. Aristotle was the first scientist to gather empirical evidence about the biological world through observation. The printed edition, which contained his De historia animalium (descriptive zoology), De partibus animalium (animal physiology), and De generatione animalium (embryology), was the first printed compilation of works relating to biology. The Historia's "comprehensiveness and acumen made it the outstanding descriptive zoology of ancient times. . . . It outlasted the work of such later encyclopedic compilers as Pliny, and combined with Aristotle's other zoological works it became-- through the Arabic version translated into Latin by Michael Scot-- the major ingredient in Albertus Magnus' De animalibus, which dominated the field until the sixteenth century" (Dictionary of Scientific Biography). Joseph Needham (p. 39) called De generatione animalium "the first great compendium of embryology ever written"; it contained Aristotle's studies of the chick in embryo, and introduced his hypothesis that embryos were produced by the working of the male dynamic element (semen) upon the female plastic element (menstrual blood), to which the semen gave form. Book II presented Aristotle's embryological classification of animals and a discussion of the question of epigenesis versus preformation-- an antithesis that Aristotle was the first to perceive, and which was to define the subsequent history of embryology.

On June 8, 2016 Bonham's in New York auctioned a remarkable copy of this work printed on vellum. Rebecca Rego Barry published an excellent account of it in TheGardian.com on May 11, 2016, from which I quote:

"The rediscovery of a 15th-century illuminated edition of Aristotle’s De animalibus (On Animals) in Tennessee late last year was 'pretty incredible', said Christina Geiger, director of fine books and manuscripts at Bonhams auction house in New York. Not only is the book an 'incunable' – printed before 1501, when the ink was still wet on moveable type – but this deluxe copy was printed on vellum, or animal skin. Only one other copy [printed on vellum] exists and it belongs to the Bibliothèque Nationale in Paris....

"An invitation from Pope Nicholas V prompted a new Latin translation of the book by Greek scholar and refugee Theodore Gaza, printed in Venice by John of Cologne and John Manthen in 1476. The auctioneers believe that Gaspare da Padova is the artist responsible for the volume’s decorative initials and borders painted in gold and various colors. A handful of special vellum copies were probably produced for sponsors. Only one was thought to have survived before this recent finding.

"Bonhams will offer the Renaissance-era rarity at auction in New York on 8 June. It is estimated to fetch $300,000 to $500,000. 

"The book last surfaced at auction on 5 March 1891, when American publisher and book collector William Evarts Benjamin purchased it for $850. 'We don’t know if he sold it or kept it,' said Geiger. 'We checked all of his catalogues over at the Grolier Club and we checked his archives at Columbia and couldn’t find a reference to it. But he’s listed as the buyer in 1891, and then it just fell off the map completely.'

"No proof of the volume’s existence appears in the Census of 15th Century Books Owned in America published in 1919. The consignors’ grandmother acquired the book before 1964. The family retains letters between her and a librarian she contacted to make inquiries. 'Those intervening years are a big question mark,' said Geiger.

“ 'Part of what’s interesting for me is that if that sale in 1891 had been just a few years later, [De animalibus] probably would have been bought by Huntington or Morgan or one of the great collectors of incunables in America, but it was just a little bit too early.'

"Geiger’s research turned up a long line of distinguished ownership before that 1891 sale, beginning with Luigi Serra, fourth Duke of Cassano (1747-1825). It then moved through the hands of bookseller James Edwards to Sir Mark Masterman-Sykes, the famed nineteenth-century book collector, who had it re-bound in red morocco gilt. His coat of arms still embellishes the binding.

"It was while De animalibus was in Sir Mark’s collection that the well-known English bibliophile TF Dibdin had the opportunity to see it. He recorded his impression in his Bibliographical Decameron (1817): 'Yet how can I omit to mention, with the distinction which it merits, the very beautiful, if not matchless, copy of Theodore Gaza’s Latin version of Aristotle upon Animals, of the date of 1476, in folio, UPON VELLUM, from the press of John of Cologne – of which my friend Sir MM Sykes is the fortunate possessor?! If my memory be not treacherous, this is the most exquisite specimen of an early Venetian vellum book that I have ever seen.'

"Geiger said: 'This is that very copy, almost exactly 200 years later.You could probably go back and find out when he was at Sykes’ home. I haven’t gone back that deep, but [Dibdin’s] book was published in 1817, so here we are in 2016 and [De animalibus] is in the same condition. That’s the other thing. For a book that fell through the cracks, it didn’t get run over. It’s just in beautiful condition.'

"Other 19th-century owners of the volume include English publisher and bookseller William Pickering, Sir John Hayford Thorold, bookseller and collector Bernard Quaritch, and American railway tycoon and banker Brayton Ives."

J. Norman (ed.), HistoryofMedicine.com Nos. 274; 275; 462. Needham, History of Embryology 37-43. Hook & Norman, The Haskell F. Norman Library of Science and Medicine (1991) No. 69. ISTC No.: ia00973000. In November 2013 a digital facsimile was available from the Bayerische Staatsbibliothek at this link.

(This entry was last revised on 05-13-2016.)

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The first illustrated edition of Ptolemy's Cosmographia, the First Book with Engraved Maps 1477

Detail of map from Ptolemy's Cosmographia showing the southeastern coast of Spain.  Click on the link to view and enlarge the entire page from the book.

In 1477 the first illustrated edition of Ptolemy's Cosmographia, translated by humanist Giacomo d'Angelo da Scarperia (Jacopo d’Angelo, Jacopus Angelus da Scarperia) and edited by  Philippus Beroaldus and others, was published in Bologna by Dominicus de Lapis, but with the erroneous colophon date of 23 June 1462. The edition contained 26 copperplate maps.

For a long time date on the colophon of this edition was thought to have been a misprint for 1482, but manuscripts found in Bologna set the publication date in 1477. "It thus becomes the first book with engraved maps, and also the first book with the maps by a known artist, the plates having been engraved by Taddeo Crevilli of Ferrara" (Lone, Some Noteworthy Firsts in Europe during the Fifteenth Century [1930]) 41).

In November 2013 a digital facsimile of Hartmann Schedel's copy of this work from the Bayersiche Staatsbibliothek, München, was available at this link.

ISTC no. ip01082000.

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Macer Floridus's "De viribus herbarum carmen", the First Printed Herbal May 9, 1477

First page of of the first, unillustrated edition of De viribus herbarum carmen. (Click on the image to view the full page.)

From the first illustrated version.

From the first illustrated version.

On May 9, 1477 printer Arnaldus de Bruxella in Naples issued the first printed edition of the hexameter poem, De viribus herbarum carmen attributed to Macer Floridus (or Aemilius Macer), a pseudonym of Odo of Meung (Odo de Meung, Odo Magdunensis), who lived in the Loire area of France towards the end of the eleventh century.

Macer's unillustrated text described the medicinal properties of 77 herbs and was written in Latin hexameter, a poetic verse form that was most likely employed as a mnemonic device for physicians, apothecaries and others.

"The text titled De Viribus Herbarum (On properties of plants) has been traditionally attributed to Odo de Meung (Odo Magdunensis), who is believed to have lived during the first half of the 11th century and was from Meung on the Loire. Recent research has shown, however, that the De Viribus Herbarum was probably written in an earlier version, perhaps during the tenth century in Germany. The text was further expanded, including new data from the translation of Arabic texts into Latin in Salerno from the end of the 11th century onward. If this is the case, this text is good evidence of the continuity of scientific activity in the Middle Ages: its most ancient parts come from a period when there was a revival of interest in botany and a recovery of the classical tradition, while the most recent additions integrate the contribution of the Arabic world" (http://huntbot.andrew.cmu.edu/HIBD/Exhibitions/OrderFromChaos/OFC-Pages/01Pre-Linnaean%20botany/birth.shtml, accessed 06-13-2009).

ISTC no. im00001000. In November 2014 a digital facsimile of the unillustrated first edition was available from the Bayerisches Staatsbibliothek at this link.

The first edition of this work illustrated with woodcuts appears to be a Geneva edition printed circa 1500: ISTC No.: im00005000.

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The First Printed Edition of Dioscorides July 1478

In July 1478 printer Johannes de Medemblick published from Colle di Val d'Elsa, Italy, the Latin text of De materia medica by the Greek military physician, Pedanius Dioscorides, who served in the army of the emperor Nero, and practiced in Rome in the first century CE.

A work of great practical medicinal value, Dioscorides's work remained in circulation throughout the Middle Ages, in Latin, Greek, and Arabic versions, and was often supplemented with commentary and additions from Arabic and Indian sources. The text of the herbal which Medemblick published in print was a medieval Latin translation, reworked into alphabetical order, with commentary by the thirteenth century professor of medicine at Padua, Pietro d' Abano.  

Dioscorides's text underwent numerous printed editions— many illustrated, and with commentaries, through the sixteenth century.

ISTC no. id00261000

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"Herbarium Apulei", the First Printed Herbal with Illustrations and Probably the First Series of Illustrations on a Scientific Subject Circa 1481 – 1482

Detail of page from Herbarium apulei with illustration of herb.  Please click to view entire image.

The first printed herbal with illustrations was an illustrated edition of the Herbarium Apulei by Apuleius Platonicus or Pseudo-Apuleius, originally compiled circa 400 CE or earlier, and issued in Rome by the printer and diplomat Johannes Philippus de Lignamine in 1481 or 1482. The earliest surviving manuscript of this text dates from the sixth century.

In his dedicatory letter Lignamine stated that he based his edition on a manuscript found in the Abbey of Monte Cassino. In the 1930s F.W.T. Hunger identified a 9th century manuscript as Lignamine's source (codex Casinensis 97 saec.IX). This he published in facsimile as The Herbal of Pseudo-Apuleius (1935). Regrettably the manuscript was destroyed in the bombardment of Monte Casino in 1944. 

The first printed edition of Herbarium Apulei contains in addition to its text, a title within a woodcut wreath and 131 woodcuts of plants, including repeats.  It gives a multitude of prescriptions, and to make the work more useful, lists synonyms for each plant in Greek, Persian, Egyptian, and other languages, illustrating each with a stylized woodcut. These are the earliest series of printed botanical illustrations, and probably the first formal series of illustrations on a scientific subject, though they were preceded by the technological woodcuts in Valturio's De re militari, 1472.  As a practical and instructive reinforcement of the value of particular plants snakes, scorpions, and other venomous animals are depicted in the woodcuts of plants that provide relevant antedotes.

Lignamine sought patronage of his editions through the rich and powerful. As a result, two variant issues of the first edition exist with no priority established:

• one with a dedicatory letter to Cardinal Francesco Gonzaga

• another with a dedication to Giuliano della Rovere, future Pope Julius II.

Blunt & Raphael, The Illustrated Herbal (1979) 113-14. Christie's, N.Y., Important Botanical Books from a Former Private Collection, 24 June 2009, lot 15. ISTC No. ih00058000.

In February 2013 a digital facsimile of the issue with the dedication to Cardinal Gonzaga was available from the Bayerische Staatsbibliothek at this link.

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Euclid's Elements, the Most Famous Textbook Ever Published May 25, 1482

Detail of page from Euclid's Elements.  Please click to view entire page.

On May 25, 1482 printer Erhard Ratdolt of Venice issued the first printed edition (editio princeps) of Euclid's ElementsPraeclarissimus liber elementorum Euclidis in artem geometriae. Ratdolt's text was based upon a translation from Arabic to Latin, presumably made by Abelard of Bath in the 12th century, edited and annotated by Giovanni Compano (Campanus of Novara)in the 13th century. The first printed edition of Euclid was the first substantial book to contain geometrical figures, of which it included over 400.

Ratdolt printed several copies with a dedicatory epistle in gold letters, including a dedication copy to the Doge of Venice. Of these, seven copies are preserved. To accomplish this technical feat:

"Ratdolt developed an innovative technique derived from the methods used by bookbinders to stamp gold on leather. This involved strewing a powdered bonding agent (either resin or dried albumen) on the page and probably heating the metal types so that the gold-leaf would stick to the paper. For his 1488 edition of the 'Chronica Hungarorum', Ratdolt employed a simpler method using golden printing ink. His technique of printing in golden letters was first copied in 1499 by the Venetian printer Zacharias Kallierges" (Wagner, Als die Lettern laufen lernten. Inkunabeln aus der Bayerischen Staatsbibliothek München [2009] no. 20).

In order to print the unusually large number of complex geometrical diagrams, usually containing type, in the margins Ratdolt used printer's "rules," i.e. thin strips of metal, type high, which he bent and cut and adjusted and set into a substance that would both hold them (and pieces of type) in place.

Renzo Baldasso, "La stampa dell'editio princeps degli Elementi di Euclide (Venezia, Erhard Ratdolt, 1482)", The Books of Venice/Il libro veneziano, ed. Lisa Pon and Craig Kallendorf (2009) 61-100.

There are two distinct states of the first edition. The second state has leaves a1-a9 set differently from the first state: the heading on a1v is in two lines rather than three and is set in the same type as the text rather than heading type; the three-sided woodcut border and woodcut initial P are added to a2r; the headline in red on a2r begins "Preclarissimus liber elementorum"; and headlines do not begin until a10r. "The two outer pages of sheet c1 also differ, having been evidently reprinted owing to errors in the text and the diagram. . . of the 12th proposition of the 4th book" (B.M.C. vol. 5, 285-286.). See Horblit, One Hundred Books Famous in Science (1964) no. 27. for a detailed illustrated comparison of the two states. Hook & Norman, The Haskell F. Norman Library of Science and Medicine (1991) no. 729.

Characterized as the most famous textbook ever published, Euclid's Elements was one of the most widely printed and studied texts for the next 500 years. It is also considered the most widely printed text after the Bible, with more than 1000 editions issued.

In November 2013 a digital facsimile of one of the copies with the dedication printed in gold was available from the Bayerische Staatsbibliothek at this link

Based on the unusually large number of surviving copies, Ratdolt printed an edition considerably larger than the 300 copies considered average for a 15th century print run. You can view the long list of institutions which hold a copy at ISTC no. ie00113000.

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"Tabulae Alphonsinae", Among the Earliest Printed Mathematical Tables July 4, 1483

On July 4, 1483 German printer Erhard Ratdolt, working in Venice, published Tabulae Alphonsinae or the Alphonsine Tables, a compilation of astronomical data tabulating the positions and movements of the planets.

The Alphonsine Tables were among the first mathematical tables printed. The tables were computed at Toledo, Spain, from 1262 to 1272 by about 50 astronomers (human computers) assembled for the purpose by King Alfonso X of Castile and León, known as el Sabio, "the learned."  They were a revision and improvement of the Tables of the Cordoban mathematician/astronomer Abū Ishāq Ibrāhīm al-Zarqālī, retaining the Ptolemaic system for explaining celestial motion. The original Spanish version was lost, and the tables became known through Latin translation.

ISTC no. ia00534000. In November 2013 a digital facsimile was available from the Bayerische Staatsbibliothek at this link.

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Leonardo's Anatomical Drawings Circa 1485 – 1516

During three or four periods in his life Leonardo da Vinci made over 750 anatomical drawings of all the principal organs of the human body. He also produced some drawings of animal anatomy to contrast it with its human counterparts. Leonardo began recording the results of his private dissections in Milan around 1485. These primarily concerned the organs of the senses, especially the eye, a subject that would have been of special concern to an artist. In 1499 Leonardo returned to Florence where he appears to have access to bodies from the Hospital of Santa Maria Nuova. In a note from about 1505 Leonardo stated that he had dissected at least ten bodies.

During a second period of anatomical work in Milan there is evidence that Leonardo might have collaborated with a young anatomist Marcantonio della Torre (Marc Antonio della Torre), who taught at the Pavia medical school. It is possible that Leonardo intended to produce an illustrated anatomical textbook with della Torre; however this project would have been cut short by Torre’s death from the plague in 1511. The drawings from Leonardo’s second anatomical period in Milan concentrated on the anatomical basis of movement—what might also be called bio-engineering—typically recording the anatomy from various different perspectives.

In his final Italian period, in Rome from 1513 to 1516, Leonardo had access to the Hospital of the Santo Spirito, where he continued to study anatomy, paying particular attention to the heart. Eventually, responding to complaints from another artist, the Pope excluded Leonardo from the hospital, and ended Leonardo’s anatomical studies.

Like the rest of his drawings and notebooks on a wide variety of science and invention, Leonardo seems to have prepared these drawings for his private use—not publication. His habit of recording his notes in mirror-writing shows that contrary to having his ideas disseminated, he wanted to prevent his notes being read by others. Though the anatomical drawings and their interrelated notes record numerous discoveries, we have no documentation that Leonardo allowed any anatomist, except possibly della Torre, to view them. We do know, however, that Albrecht Dürer viewed some of Leonardo’s anatomical drawings on one of his Italian journeys, as he copied one of Leonardo’s illustrations of the upper limb in his Dresden Sketchbook, the basis for Dürer’s treatise on human proportion (1528). In addition it is probable that Leonardo’s contemporary, the anatomist Jacopo Berengario da Carpi, may have seen some of Leonardo’s drawings since Berengario appears to have incorporated into three of the woodcuts of the Isagoge Breves Leonardo’s innovation of showing views of anatomical parts from different perspectives.

After Leonardo’s death his anatomical drawings passed through many hands. They disappeared completely for a century or more until the later part of the eighteenth century when they were discovered in England in the Royal Library at Windsor Castle by the physician, connoisseur, and collector William Hunter (1718-83). Hunter wrote to Albrecht Haller about the drawings, and published a note about them in his last, posthumous book on the history of anatomy: Two Introductory Lectures, Delivered by William Hunter, To his Last Course of Anatomical Lectures . . . . (1784) . However, for the most part the drawings remained unknown to scholars.

Until the advent of sophisticated photographic facsimile techniques at the turn of the twentieth century Leonardo’s anatomical notebooks, with their mutually dependent text and illustrations, could not be accurately reproduced. Thus appreciation of Leonardo’s contributions to anatomy and physiology is primarily a 20th-century phenomenon. The immense task of editing Leonardo’s anatomical notebooks was originally undertaken by G. Piumati, who prepared both literal and critical transcriptions of Leonardo’s text, and Mathias-Duval, professor of anatomy at the École Nationale des Beaux Arts and the Parisian Faculty of Medicine, who provided a French translation as well as a scholarly introduction. Sabachnikoff, who sponsored this project, planned to publish all of the Windsor Castle anatomical drawings in this fashion, but was not able to complete his plan, issuing only reproductions of 61 sheets in Fogli A and Fogli B in 1898 and 1901. A decade later the remaining anatomical drawings (approximately 700) were edited and published by Norwegian scholars under the auspices of the Anatomical Institute of the University of Christiania (University of Oslo) in an edition limited to 250 sets as Quaderni d'anatomia, I-VI; Fogli della Royal Library di Windsor, pubblicati da C.L. Vangensten, A.Fonahn, H.Hopstock. 6 volumes, Christiania, J.Dybwad, 1911-1916. The plates were reproduced in color, with numbered keys on transparent overlays, and Leonardo’s Italian text was transcribed along with translations in both English and German.  Later Kenneth D. Keele and Carlo Pedretti re-edited and republished the entire  collection of Leonardo's anatomical drawings as Corpus of the Anatomical Studies in the Collection of her Majesty the Queen at Windsor Castle. This was issued in a magnificent edition by Johnson Reprint Corporation of New York in 1980.

Keele,  Leonardo da Vinci’s Elements of the Science of Man (1983). Roberts & Tomlinson, The Fabric of the Body (1992) ch. 4.

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The First Book Illustration Printed in Three Colors 1485

The first book illustration printed in three colors of ink. Detail from page of Theoricae novae planetarium. Please click to view entire page.

In 1485 printer Erhard Ratdolt of Venice issued Johannes de Sacro Bosco's Sphaera Mundi with Georg von Peuerbach's Theoricae novae planetarium, and Regiomontanus's (Johannes Müller von Königsberg's) Disputationes contra Cremonensia deliramenta. The work includes illustrations printed in one, two and three colors of ink. A diagram of a lunar eclipse in red, yellow, and black included in this work is the first book illustration printed in three colors.

Though specific month and day is not mentioned in the colophon, the ISTC no. ij00406000 states that the work was issued before November 4, 1485. 

In November 2013 a digital facsimile was available at the Bayerisches Staatsbibliothek at this link.

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Pacioli Issues "Summa de arithmetica", the First Great General Work on Mathematics November 10 – November 20, 1494

Page from Summa de arithmetica geometria, proporzioni et proporzionalita at the Libarary for Humanitities and Social Sciences at the Kobe University. (Click on the image to view the full page opening.)

Title page of Summa de arithmetica geometria, proporzioni et proporzionalita. (Click on the image to view the full title page.)

Portrait of Luca Pacioli, traditionally attributed to Jacopo de' Barbari, 1495 (attribution controversial).  Please see the wikipedia article on Luca Pacioli.

Between November 10 and 20, 1494 Fra Luca Bartolomeo de Pacioli published at the press of Paganinus de Paganinis in Venice Summa de arithmetica geometria, proporzioni et proporzionalita. This was “the first great general work on mathematics printed” (Smith, Rara arithmetica, 56).

“[The Summa] contains a general treatise on theoretical and practical arithmetic; the elements of algebra; a table of moneys, weights and measures used in the various Italian states; a treatise on double-entry bookkeeping; and a summary of Euclid’s geometry. . . . Although it lacked originality, the Summa was widely circulated and studied by the mathematicians of the sixteenth century. Cardano, while devoting a chapter of his Practica arithmetice (1539) to correcting the errors in the Summa, acknowledged his debt to Pacioli. Tartaglia’s General trattato de’ numeri et misure (1556-1560) was styled on Pacioli’s Summa. In the introduction to his Algebra, Bombelli says that Pacioli was the first mathematician after Leonardo Fibonacci to have thrown light on the science of algebra. . . . Pacioli’s treatise on bookkeeping, ‘De computis et scripturis,’ contained in the Summa, was the first printed work setting out the ‘method of Venice,’ that is, double-entry bookkeeping. [Richard] Brown has said [in his History of Accounting and Accountants, 1905] that ‘The history of bookkeeping during the next century consists of little else than registering the progress of the De computis through the various countries of Europe” (Dictionary of Scientific Biography).

ISTC no. il00315000 points out the very unusual aspect of the edition that two re-issues of the first edition exist with some sheets reprinted. One of these is thought to date after 1509 and another after 13 August 1502. Nevertheless, these re-issues bear the original publication date.  

In November 2013 a digital facsimile of a copy dated 1494 was available from the Herzog Auguste Bibliothek Wolfenbüttel at this link

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The Aldine Aristotle, One of the Most Significant Publishing Ventures of the Fifteenth Century 1495 – 1498

Between November 1495 and June 1498 scholar printer Aldus Manutius (Teobaldo Mannucci) of Venice issued the first edition in the original Greek of Aristotle's Opera omnia. The set appeared in five thick quarto or small folio volumes, often bound in six. Assembling all of the texts was a major challenge for Aldus and his associates, requiring the help of scholars in different countries, and yet during the publication process Greek texts of both the Poetics and On Rhetoric, remained elusive. The editio princeps of Aristotle appeared at the close of a century that had witnessed a strong revival in Greek and humanistic studies; it was the first major Greek prose text, or collection of texts, to be reintroduced to the Western world in its original language by means of the printing press, and its success launched Aldus's efforts to produce further editiones principes of other Greek authors. In addition to the Aristotelian works, the five volumes contained works by Aristotle's successor Theophrastus, the commentator on Aristotle, Alexander of Aphrodisias, the neo-Platonic philosopher Porphyrius, and Philo of Alexandria (Philo Judaeus) along with the spurious De historia philosophia attributed to Galen.

" 'The Aldine Aristotle' remains, in terms of the labour involved and the magnificence of the result, the greatest publishing venture of the fifteenth century. The centrality of Aristotle in intellectual life of the time can hardly be overstressed. In Latin dress he lay at the heart of any university course in philosophy, as dominant at the end of the Quattrocento as in the preceding three hundred years. The humanist return ad fontes, to the original unobscured by imprecise translation and the encrustations of scholastic commentary, was the indispenable background to the edition. . . .

"Certain important Aristotelian works were as yet unfindable, notably the Rhetoric and the Poetics—Aldus was later to print the first Greek editions of both. The second volume is largely taken up with the works of Theophrastus, the successor of Aristotle in the Athenian Lyceum. . . . (Davies, Aldus Manutius, Printer and Publisher of Renaissance Venice (1999) 20-22).

ISTC No.: ia00959000. In March 2014 digital facsimiles of all five volumes were available from the Bayerische Staatsbibliothek. Volume 1 was available at this link.

Dibner, Heralds of Science, no. 73.  Carter & Muir, Printing and the Mind of Man (1967) no. 38. Renouard, Aldus Manutius, pp. 7-9. Hook & Norman, The Haskell F. Norman Library of Science and Medicine (1991) no. 70. 

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1500 – 1550

Nicolaus Copernicus Writes "De Revolutionibus" in His Own Handwriting Circa 1520 – 1541

Virtually none of the original manuscripts of the greatest classics of the scientific revolution, including Vesalius, De humani corporis fabrica (1543) and Fuchs, De historia stirpium insignes (1542) have survived, except, remarkably, the original autograph manuscript for Copernicus, De revolutionibus (1543). One explanation for the loss of these manuscripts is that authors and printers typically did not retain manuscripts of texts after they were printed. Nevertheless, the library of Jagiellonian University in Cracow, where Copernicus received his education, preserves Copernicus's autograph working manuscript, written by Copernicus from about 1520 to 1541. It remained in Copernicus's possession until his death on May 24, 1543.

Upon Copernicus's death his papers and books passed to his closest friend, Tiedemann Giese, a bishop in Chelmno. However, Copernicus's autograph manuscript of De revolutionibus passed to astronomer Georg Joachim Rheticus, who prepared Copernicus's book for publication. Rheticus used a fair copy of Copernicus's text for the printed edition, and personally retained Copernicus's autograph manuscript.

"The autograph together with its new owner stayed for some time in Leipzig and in Cracow (about 1554 to 1574). Then it went to Kosice (Kaschau). There, after Rheticus' death, the new owner became his pupil and colleague, Valentine Otho (about 1545 - about 1603), who took it with him to Heidelberg. After Otho's death the autograph was bought by a professor from Heidelberg, Jakub Christmann (1554-1613). From professor's widow the manuscript was purchased on 17 January 1614 by the famous scholar and teacher from Moravia, Jan Amos Komensky (1592-1670). Maybe the autograph together with Komensky came again to Poland. It is not known what happened to it next. On 5 October 1667 the holdings of Otto von Nostitz (1608-1664) library, located in Jawor Slaski at that time were registered; the Copernicus' autograph is entered in this inventory. Otto left his signature on the flyleaf. The Nostitz library was then moved to Prague. The autograph had stayed in the aforesaid library until the end of the Second World War being used by the scholars for the research studies and publications. In 1945 the collection of Nostitz library in Prague was nationalized by the government of the contemporary Republic of Czechoslovakia and so the Copernicus manuscript became part of the collection of the National Museum Library in Prague. On 7 July 1956 the government of Czechoslovakia passed the priceless historical monument, on exchange, to the Polish nation and on 25 September 1956 it was given to Jagiellonian University in Cracow. Finally, the autograph was taken care of by the university in which Nicholas Copernicus was educated and from which he received scientific foundation for his memorable work"(http://www.bj.uj.edu.pl/bjmanus/revol/intro_e.html, accessed 11-12-2013).


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Albrecht Dürer Expounds the Aesthetic Anatomy of Human Proportion 1528

A few months after his death, Vier Bücher von menschlicher Proportion by German artist Albrecht Dürer was published in Nuremberg in 1528. This work, written, illustrated and designed by Dürer, with woodcuts on virtually every page, was the first book to discuss the problems of comparative and differential anthropometry. In his study of the subject Dürer was influenced by the classic aesthetic treatises of Villard de Honnecourt, Vitruvius, Alberti and da Vinci; however, Dürer’s study of the different human physiques—fat, thin, tall, short, baby, child and adult —was entirely original.

Unlike his Italian contemporary, Leonardo da Vinci, who published nothing and obscured his manuscripts through mirror-writing, Dürer lived and worked in the world of printing and engraving. The son of a goldsmith, Durer’s godfather was Anton Koberger, who left goldsmithing to become the leading printer and publisher in Nuremberg. At the age of 15 Dürer was apprenticed to the leading artist in Nuremberg, Michael Wolgemut, whose workshop produced a large quantity of woodcuts. Throughout his career Dürer embraced the latest and best reproduction techniques, and may have derived more income from the sale of engravings and woodcuts than from painting.

Toward the end of his life Dürer wrote and illustrated three treatises which he also designed for the press. These included a treatise on fortification, a treatise on mensuration which introduced to Northern Europe techniques of perspective and mathematical proportion in drawing, painting, architecture and letter forms, which Dürer learned in Italy, and a work on the proportion of the human body. The last work, issued shortly after Dürer’s death, was the first work to discuss the problems of comparative and differential anthropometry. Because Dürer copied one of Leonardo’s anatomical drawings of the upper limb into his Dresden Sketchbook we know that on one of his visits to Italy Dürer must have viewed at least some of Leonardo’s anatomical drawings. However, unlike Leonardo who explored both the surface and the interior of the human body, Dürer appears to have limited his interest in the human figure to the surface.

Dürer held that the essence of true form was the primary mathematical figure (e.g., straight line, circle, curve, conic section) constructed arithmetically or geometrically, and made beautiful by the application of a canon of proportion. However, he was also convinced that beauty of form was a relative and not an absolute quality; thus the purpose of his system of anthropometry was to provide the artist with the means to delineate, on the basis of sheer measurement, all possible types of human figures. The first two books of Dürer's work deal with the proper proportions of fat, medium and thin adult figures, as well as those of infants. The third book discusses the changing of proportions according to mathematical rules, applying these rules to both figures and faces. The fourth book treats of the movement of bodies in space, and is of the greatest mathematical interest, as it presents, for the first time, many new, intricate and difficult considerations of descriptive spatial geometry. The whole work is profusely illustrated with Dürer's woodcut diagrams of figures. Choulant states that these include "the first attempts to represent shades and shadows in wood engraving by means of cross-hatching" (p. 145).

Like the Underweysung der Messung (1525), Dürer dedicated his book on human proportion to his friend, the humanist Willibald Pirckheimer. Pirckheimer provided a preface describing Dürer's debt to the Italians, alluding to Dürer’s visits to Giovanni Bellini and Andrea Mantegna, and explaining Dürer’s influence on Italian and European art.

Remarkably about 1500 pages of manuscripts by Dürer survive in Dresden, London, Nuremberg and Berlin. These include the manuscript for Book One of the Four Books on Human Proportion. Its pages number 1-89 and on the first page is written:

"1523 at Nuremberg, this is Albrecht Dürer's first book, written by himself. This book I improved and handed to the printer in 1528. Albrecht Dürer."

The so-called Dresden Sketchbook, with 170 pages of drawings, also includes a large  number of preparatory drawings for the treatise on human proportion. Dürer's Sketchbook was published as The Human Figure by Albrecht Dürer. The Complete Dresden Sketchbook. Edited, with an Introduction, Translations and Commentary by Walter L. Strauss (1972). Panofsky, Life and Art of Albrecht Dürer (1943), chapter on "Durer as a Theorist of Art."

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Otto Brunfels & Hans Weiditz Issue the First Accurate, Detailed Woodcuts of Plants Taken Directly from Nature 1530 – 1536

In 1530 and 1532 German botanist and theologian Otto Brunfels published the first two volumes of Herbarum vivae eicones ad nature imitationem, sum[m]a cum diligentia et artificio effigiatae. . . .  in Strassbourg. The third volume was edited by Michael Heer and published in 1536, two years after Brunfels's death.

Unlike earlier herbals, which were llustrated with conventional stylized figures, copied and recopied over the centuries from one manuscript to another, Brunfels's Herbarum was illustrated with detailed, accurate renderings of plants taken directly from nature, most of them showing all portions of the plant (root, stem, leaves, flowers and fruit), and some even going so far as to depict wilted leaves and insect damage. The artist responsible for the illustrations was Hans Weiditz; his contributions were credited in a poem appearing on leaf A4r, making him the first botanical illustrator to be recognized for his work. Comparison of Weiditz's woodcuts with the woodcuts in Leonhard Fuchs's De historia stirpium (1542) show that the artists who worked with Fuchs were strongly influenced by Weiditz's work.

In contrast to its revolutionary images, the text of the Herbarum was an uncritical compendium of quotations from older authorities, primarily concerned with the therapeutic virtues of each plant. Brunfels made no attempt to classify the plants he discussed, but related species often appear in close proximity to one another. He restricted himself to plants indigenous to Strassburg and described over forty new species. At the end of the second volume is a collection of twelve tracts edited by Brunfels, entitled De vera herbarum cognitione appendix. This includes the first published writings of both Hieronymus Bock and Leonhard Fuchs. 

Morton, History of Botanical Science (1981) 124.  Hook & Norman, The Haskell F. Norman Library of Science and Medicine (1991) no. 361.

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Johannes Herwagen Issues the First Printed Edition of the Greek Text of Euclid September 1533

In September 1533 Printer Johannes Herwagen (Hervagius) of Basel published Eukleidou Stoicheion biblon . . . , the first printed edition of the Greek text of Euclid's Elements. Herwagen's edition was an international project. The Greek text was edited by the German theologian and philologist Simon Grynaeus (Grynäus), using the first Latin translation made directly from the Greek by Bartolomeo Zamberti published in print in 1505, and two Greek manuscripts supplied by Lazarus Bayfius and Joannes Ruellius  (Jean Ruel). To this volume Grynaeus appended the first publication of the four books of Proclus's Commentary on the first book of Euclid's Elements, taken from a manuscript provided by John Claymond, the first President of Corpus Christi College, Oxford. In a long introduction Grynaeus dedicated his translation to Cuthbert Tunstall, Bishop of Durham, England, and author of the first arithmetic book printed in English (London, 1522).

In the history of the very numerous editions of Euclid, the most widely-used of all textbooks for 500 years, Herwagen's edition stands out in the history of graphic design as the first edition to print the geometrical diagrams within the text.

The commentary on Euclid's first book of the Elements by the fifth century Greek neoplatonist philosopher Proclus is one of the most valuable sources for the history of Greek mathematics, and is considered the earliest contribution to the philosophy of mathematics.

Hook & Norman, The Haskell F. Norman Library of Science and Medicine (1991) No. 730.

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Vannoccio Biringuccio Describes the "Fire-Using Arts, Including the First Description of Typecasting 1540

In 1540 Italian metallurgist Vannoccio Biringuccio published De re pirotechnia at Venice. De re pirotechnia was the first comprehensive treatise on the pyrotechnic or "fire-using" arts, including mining, metallurgy, applied chemistry, gunpowder, military arts and fireworks. Significantly for the history of printing, it contained the first description of type-casting.

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John Dee Collects Perhaps the Largest Library in Elizabethan England Circa 1540 – 1609

John Dee, the English mathematician, astronomer, astrologer, occult philosopher, imperialist, and adviser to Queen Elizabeth I, devoted much of his life to the study of alchemy, divination, Hermetic philosophy, and medicine, though he was not a trained physician. One of Tudor England's most extraordinary and enigmatic figures, Dee claimed to own 3000 printed books and 1000 manuscripts, which he kept at his home in Mortlake, London. These were recorded in his library catalogue, a document which surivived and was edited for publication by Julian Roberts and Andrew Watson as John Dee's Library Catalogue (London: Bibliographical Society, 1990). Dee was a persistent annotator of his books, many of which contain extensive, elegantly written legible notes very worthy of study. 

In May 2016 it was my pleasure to visit the Royal College of Physicians in London with members of The Grolier Club to see an exhibition of the more than 100 books from John Dee's library preserved in the library of the RCP. That group, which remains the largest collection of volumes from Dee's library, remarkably, appears to have been stolen, or otherwise parted, from Dee's library when Dee traveled to the Continent in the 1580s, leaving his extremely valuable library and laboratories in the care of his brother-in-law Nicolas Fromond. Instead of caring for the books and scientific instruments Fromond appears to have sold them without Dee's permission, causing most of them to be widely dispersed, to such extent that Dee was never able to recover most of them.

Either by purchase or possibly by theft, the books from Dee's library at the College of Physicians came into the possession of Dee's pupil Nicholas Saunder the Younger who attempted in many cases to conceal Dee's signature or other mark of ownership by overwriting with his own. Saunder's books passed to Henry Pierrepont, Marquis of Dorchester, who was a devoted book collector. Pierrepont's family later donated his library to the Royal College of Physicians. 

John Dee's books in the Royal College of Physicians' library: A handlist. (London: RCP, 2016).

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Masters at Colegio de Santa Cruz de Santiago Tlaltelolco Create the Florentine Codex, the First Illustrated Encyclopedia of the New World 1540 – 1585

Between 1540 and 1585 twenty tlacuilos or painters and four indigenous masters at the Colegio de Santa Cruz de Santiago Tlaltelolco in Tlalelolco, Mexico, under the direction of Franciscan friar and missionary priest Bernardino de Sahagún, compiled La Historia Universal de las Cosas de Nueva España (General History of the Things of New Spain). 

In partnership with Aztec men who were formerly his students, Bernardino conducted research, organized evidence, wrote and edited findings.  The resulting text, written in Spanish and Nahuatl, is best-known from the three-volume manuscript preserved in the Laurentian Library in Florence, called The Florentine Codex. It consists of about 2,400 pages organized into twelve books with over 2,000 illustrations drawn by native artists, providing vivid images of this era. The work documents the culture, worldview, and ritual practices, society, economics, and natural history of the Aztec people.  In the process of compiling the Historia general, Bernardino pioneered new methods for gathering ethnographic information and validating its accuracy.  He has been called the first ethnographer/ cultural anthropologist of the Americas.

The Florentine codex was translated into English by Charles E. Dibble and Arthur J. O. Anderson as Bernardino de Sahagún, Florentine Codex: General History of the Things of New Spain. Translation of and Introduction to Historia General De Las Cosas De La Nueva España. The translation was published in 12 Volumes in 13 Books by the University of Utah Press, 1950-1982.  In 2009 a complete color facsimile edition of the codex was published on 16 DVDs by the Bilingual Press of Tempe, Arizona.  A full color digital facsimile is available from the World Digital Library.

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Leonhard Fuchs, Albrecht Mayer, Heinrich Füllmaurer & Viet Rudolf Speckle Issue the First "Modern" Herbal, with Self-Portraits of the Artists 1542

In 1542 German physician and botanist Leonhard Fuchs published De historia stirpium (On the History of Plants) in Basel at the office of printer Michael Isengrin. Fuchs's herbal was illustrated with full-page woodcut illustrations drawn by Albrecht Meyer, copied onto the blocks by Heinrich Füllmaurer and cut by Veit Rudolf Speckle; the artists' self-portraits appear on the final leaf. 

Describing and illustrating circa 400 native German and 100 foreign plants-- wild and domestic—in alphabetical order, with a discussion of their medical uses, De historia stirpium was probably inspired by the pioneering effort of Otto Brunfels, whose Herbarum vivae imagines had appeared twelve years earlier. "These two works have rightly been ascribed importance in the history of botany, and for two reasons. In the first place they established the requisites of botanical illustration—verisimilitude in form and habit, and accuracy of significant detail. . . . Secondly they provided a corpus of plant species which were identifiable with a considerable degree of certainty by any reasonably careful observer, no matter by what classical or vernacular names they were called. . ." (Morton, History of Botanical Science [1981] 124).

Fuchs's herbal is also remarkable for containing the first glossary of botanical terms, for providing the first depictions of a number of American plants, including pumpkins and maize, and for its generous tribute to the artists Meyer, Füllmaurer and Speckle, whose self-portraits appear on the last leaf.  This tribute to the artists may be unique among sixteenth century scientific works, many of which were illustrated by unidentified artists, or artists identified by name only. It is especially unusual for the name of the artist who transferred the drawings onto the woodblocks to be recorded, let alone for that artist to be portrayed.

The widely known and distinctive plant species Fuchsia, named after Fuchs, was discovered on Santo Domingo in the Caribbean in 1696/97 by the French scientist Dom Charles Plumier, who published the first description of "Fuchsia triphylla, flore coccineo" in 1703. The color fuchsia is also named for Fuchs, describing the purplish-red of the shrub's flowers.

"Fuchs's herbal exists in both hand-colored and uncolored versions. While some colored copies may have been painted by their owners after purchase, as was sometimes done in books of this nature, there is sufficient evidence to show that copies were also colored for the publisher Isingrin, who presumably made use of the artist's original drawings. Such 'original colored' copies possess many features in common—for example, the illustration of the rose has the left shoot bearing white flowers and the right shoot red flowers, and the plum tree shows yellow fruits on the left, blue fruits in the center, and reddish fruits on the right—and it is these features that permit one to distinguish between original colored copies and those colored later by private owners. The coloring in the colored copies issued by the publisher accords well with Fuchs's descriptions in the text, which suggest that Fuchs had some control over the painting" (Norman, One Hundred Books Famous in Medicine [1995] no. 17, pp. 66-67).

In 1543 Michael Isengin issued a German translation of De historia stirpium entitled New Kreüterbüch. During Fuchs's lifetime the book underwent thirty-nine editions in Latin, German, French, Spanish and Dutch, in folio and smaller formats. Although the text and woodcuts were technically protected decree of Charles V, as stated on Fuchs's title page, this did not prevent wholesale plagiarism of the blocks during Fuchs's life and long after his death; the woodblocks illustrating the work were reused and copied for over 300 years.

Meyer, Trueblood & Heller, The Great Herbal of Leonhart Fuchs. Volume 1: Commentary. Volume 2: Facsimile. (1999). On pp. 136-141 of vol. 1 the authors provide a history of the re-use or adaptation of Fuchs's images, and a list of works that used them between 1543 and 1862.

Hook & Norman, The Haskell F. Norman Library of Science and Medicine (1991) no. 846.

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Nicolaus Copernicus Begins the Copernican Revolution 1543

Just before his death, in 1543 Nicolaus Copernicus's De revolutionibus orbium coelestium was published in Nuremberg. De revolutionibus set out Copernicus's revolutionary theory of the heliocentric universe—that the earth and other planets revolve around the sun. The Copernican Revolution, however, was not completed until about one hundred years after the publication of De revolutionibus.

"Copernicus initially outlined his system in a short, untitled, anonymous manuscript that he distributed to several friends, referred to as the Commentariolus. A physician's library list dating to 1514 includes a manuscript whose description matches the Commentariolus, so Copernicus must have begun work on his new system by that time. Most historians believe that he wrote the Commentariolus after his return from Italy, possibly only after 1510. At this time, Copernicus anticipated that he could reconcile the motion of the Earth with the perceived motions of the planets easily, with fewer motions than were necessary in the Alfonsine Tables, the version of the Ptolemaic system current at the time.

"Observations of Mercury by Bernhard Walther (1430–1504) of Nuremberg, a pupil of Regiomontanus, were made available to Copernicus by Johannes Schöner, 45 observations in total, 14 of them withlongitude and latitude. Copernicus used three of them in De revolutionibus, giving only longitudes, and erroneously attributing them to Schöner. Copernicus' values differed slightly from the ones published by Schöner in 1544 in Observationes XXX annorum a I. Regiomontano et B. Walthero Norimbergae habitae, [4°, Norimb. 1544].

"Remarkably, a manuscript of De revolutionibus in Copernicus' own hand has survived. After his death, it was given to his pupil, Rheticus, who for publication had only been given a copy without annotations. Via Heidelberg, it ended up in Prague, where it was rediscovered and studied in the 19th century. Close examination of the manuscript, including the different types of paper used, helped scholars construct an approximate timetable for its composition. Apparently Copernicus began by making a few astronomical observations to provide new data to perfect his models. He may have begun writing the book while still engaged in observations. By the 1530s a substantial part of the book was complete, but Copernicus hesitated to publish.

"In 1539 Georg Joachim Rheticus, a young mathematician from Wittenberg, arrived in Frauenburg (Frombork) to study with him. Rheticus read Copernicus' manuscript and immediately wrote a non-technical summary of its main theories in the form of an open letter addressed to Schöner, his astrology teacher in Nürnberg; he published this letter as the Narratio Prima in Danzig in 1540. Rheticus' friend and mentor Achilles Gasser published a second edition of the Narratio in Basel in 1541. Due to its friendly reception, Copernicus finally agreed to publication of more of his main work—in 1542, a treatise on trigonometry, which was taken from the second book of the still unpublished De revolutionibus. Rheticus published it in Copernicus' name.

"Under strong pressure from Rheticus, and having seen that the first general reception of his work had not been unfavorable, Copernicus finally agreed to give the book to his close friend, Bishop Tiedemann Giese, to be delivered to Rheticus in Wittenbergfor printing by Johannes Petreius at Nürnberg (Nuremberg). It was published just before Copernicus' death, in 1543(Wikipedia article on De revolutionibus, accessed 11-11-2013).

Because of the unusually extended delay between the publication of the Copernican theory and its acceptance by the scientific community, for many years historians believed that the book was not widely read at the time of its first publication. However, "Owen Gingerich, a widely recognized authority on both Nicolaus Copernicus and Johannes Kepler, disproved that belief after a 35-year project to examine every surviving copy of the first two editions. Gingerich showed that nearly all the leading mathematicians and astronomers of the time owned and read De revolutionibus; however, his analysis of the marginalia shows that they almost all ignored the cosmology at the beginning of the book and were only interested in Copernicus' new equant-free models of planetary motion in the later chapters" (Wikipedia article on De revolutionibus accessed 11-20-2008).

Up until the second decade of the seventeenth century the Church ignored the revolutionary implications of Copernicus's heliocentric theory of the solar system, partly because his system was useful for calendrical purposes, partly because of Andreas Osiander's anonymous and unauthorized preface "Ad lectorem" (long thought to be by Copernicus himself) presenting the heliocentric system as no more than a convenient calculating device, and partly because Copernicus himself "was annoyingly vague concerning whether or not he believed in the reality of his system" (Gingerich, p. 49).  However, Kepler's insistence in his Astronomia nova (1609) on the possible physical reality of Copernicus's system and his revelation of Osiander as the true author of "Ad lectorem," coupled with Galileo's public support of Copernicanism and his attacks on the Aristotelian-Catholic view of the heavens (beginning with his Letter on sunspots [1613]), alerted the ecclesiastical establishment to the dangers to its own authority inherent in the new system.  In 1616 the Church placed De revolutionibus on the Index librorum prohibitorum "until suitably corrected," and, for the only time in its history, spelled out the expected alterations to be made in the text.  This belated attempt at censorship was a failure, however: the census of copies published by Owen Gingerich shows that only one copy in twelve contains the prescribed changes, and that copies in France, Spain and Protestant Europe largely escaped correction.

In November 2013 a digital facsimile of the 1543 first edition of De revolutionibus was available from the Rare Book Room at this link.

Gingerich, "The Censorship of Copernicus's De revolutionibus," Annali dell'Istituto e Museo di Storia della Scienza di Firenze, Fasicolo2 (1981).

Gingerich, An Annotated Census of Copernicus' De Revolutionibus (Nuremberg, 1543 and Basel, 1566). (2002). This 400-page work will remain a landmark in the history of bibliography. Its Preface begins as follows on p. [vii]:

"You have before you something almost unique in the annals of bibliography: an attempt to described the provenance, annotations, and condition of all surviving sixteenth-century copeis of a major Renaissance text. This census lists 277 copies of the first edition of Nicolaus Copernicus' pioneering masterpiece, De revolutionibus orbium coelestium libri sex (Nuremberg, 1543), and 324 copies of the second edition (Basel, 1566). Its compilation has taken three decades, the worldwide cooperation of librarians, dealers, and collectors, and literally hundreds of thousands of miles of travel."

[Incidentally, for those interested in the most esoteric bibliographical minutiae, there are two issues of Gingerich's bibliography. The first, printed on thicker paper, contains a typographical error on the upper cover, substituting the word "en" for "and" in "(Nuremberg, 1543 and Basel, 1566)". In the second issue printed on thinner paper this rather prominent but small error was corrected.]

 Hook & Norman, The Haskell F. Norman Library of Science and Medicine (1991) no. 516.

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Leonhard Fuchs' Unpublished Masterpiece of Renaissance Botany 1543

Between 1543 and his death in 1566 physician and botanist Leonhard Fuchs composed an expansion of De historia stirpium that he planned to have published in three volumes with a greatly expanded text and 1525 images, including descriptions of 400 plants "not mentioned by the ancients or completely unknown." However, in the interval Fuchs's publisher, Michael Isengrin, died, and Isengrin's widow was unwilling to advance the very substantial sum, known from Fuchs's correspondece to be 3000 florins, to publish the work. Thus, by the end of his life Fuchs had devoted to an enormous amount of time, effort and expense to writing a work that was never published. Remarkably, the manuscript passed down through Fuchs's family, and resisted several efforts to have it published over the centuries, and survived two world wars, before it appeared for sale at a congress of the International League of Antiquarian Booksellers in Vienna in 1954, where it was purchased by the National Library of Vienna.

In the commentary volume to their edition of The Great Herbal of Leonhart Fuchs (1999) Meyer, Trueblood and Heller devote chapter 5 (pp. 147-194) to Fuchs's unpublished manuscript, which they call "The Vienna Codex." The National Library of Vienna's official name for the manuscript  is Codex Vindobonensis Palatinus. From Meyer, Trueblood and Heller's description on pp. 154-55 I quote:

"It now consists of nine small folio volumes, 4,444 pages of text and figures, with a page size of 31.5 x 20.8 cm, bound in richly ornmaented early-seventeenth century white pigskin. The Latin text is wrtten in the small italic hand of Fuchs; the plant pictures are hand-colored. The manuscript is still in good physical condition, but many of the water-colored pictures have faded because of age. Some of the illustrations suffered when the manuscript was put into its present binding, because of trimming at the top of the page, although the loss is not serious.

"The Vienna Codex includes all of the original 511 figures from the Historia of 1542 and 6 more from the German edition of 1543. In addition, there are 1,012 new figures, bringing the grand total of plates in the Codex to 1,529 by our count, although Fuchs mentions 1,525 on his title page. There are a few duplicate plates, making an accurate count more difficult. The number of plates does not reflect the number of species and other categories represented in the manuscript. Sometimes more than one species is figured on a plate, bringing the number of plants figured to ca. 1,541 in the manuscript. The count is provisional, however, until all the plants have been identified...."

When I wrote this entry in November 2013, to the best of my knowledge, Fuchs's manuscript remained the only major surviving unpublished autograph manuscript by a Renaissance scientist of the first rank.

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The Oldest Surviving Articulated Human Skeleton in Europe, Articulated by Andreas Vesalius May 1543

On May 12, 1543 Jacob Karrer von Geweiler of Basel, a bigamist and attempted murderer, was beheaded. When confronted by his wife for bigamy, Geweiler had attacked her with a knife and left her for dead. At the time of the execution Andreas Vesalius was in Basel, supervising the publication of his De humani corporis fabrica at the press of Johannes Oporinus, and the body of this executed criminal reached Vesalius, who peformed a dissection and articulated the bones using the method he described in the Fabrica. Remarkably this articulated skeleton, with some parts missing, is preserved in the Anatomical Museum of the University of Basel. It is the oldest surviving articulated human skeleton in Europe. It is also possible that this is the oldest anatomical specimen preserved in Europe, but this has not been confirmed.

Vesalius's exposition of his method of bone articulation appears in Book 1, Chapter 39 of the Fabrica. According to Vesalius, his method was new. The traditional method involved maceration in lime followed by cleansing in a fast-flowing river. This method, Vesalius wrote, was "dirty and difficult," and did not show features of bones such as processes, epiphyses, or depressions, because the process left them covered by blackened ligaments. Instead Vesalius wrote that bones and cartilages should be obtained from a cadaver by boiling. Then the bones should be articulated with wire.

Vesalius, On the Fabric of the Human Body. Book I: The Bones and Cartilages, Translated by Richardson & Carman, Chapter XXXIX "How the Bones and Cartilages of the Human Body are Prepared for Study" (Novato: Norman Publishing, 1998) 370-384. 

Kusukawa, "Vesalius, the Book and the Bones." In: The Alchemy of Medicine and Print: The Edward Worth Library, Dublin, ed. by Danielle Westerhoff (2010).

Wolf-Heidegger  "Vesals Basler Skelettpräparat aus dem Jahre 1543." Verhandlungen der Naturforschenden Gesellschaft in Basel 55 (1944) 211–234.

(This entry was last revised on 09-15-2014.)

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Andreas Vesalius Produces a Unprecedented Blend of Scientific Exposition, Art and Typography June 1543

 The title page of Andreas Versalius' 'De humani corporis fabrica libri septem,' published in 1543, was a revolutionary work of unmatched scientific and artistic precision.  (View Larger)

In June 1543, at the age of only 29, physician, surgeon, and anatomist Andreas Vesalius of Brussels published De humani corporis fabrica libri septem in Basel. This large and spectacularly produced volume revolutionized the science and teaching of human anatomy, and therefore of medicine in general. Throughout this encyclopedic 400,000 word book on the structure and workings of the human body Vesalius provided a fuller and more detailed description of human anatomy than any of his predecessors, correcting errors in the traditional, and enormously influential anatomical teachings of the Roman physician Galen, which had been obtained from primate rather than human dissection, and arguing that knowledge of human anatomy was to be obtained only from human sources. Even more revolutionary than his criticism of Galen and other medieval authorities was Vesalius's assertion that the dissection of cadavers must be performed by the physician himself—a direct contradiction of the medieval doctrine that dissection was a task to be performed by menials while the physician lectured from the traditional authorities. Only through actual dissection, Vesalius argued, could the physician learn human anatomy in sufficient detail to teach it accurately. This "hands-on" principle remained Vesalius's most lasting contribution to the teaching of anatomy; it is graphically represented in the Fabrica's woodcut title page (the earliest illustration of an anatomical theatre), which shows Vesalius with his right hand plunged into an opened cadaver, conducting an anatomical demonstration. Because it was then legal only to dissect the cadavers of executed criminals, and these cadavers were always in short supply, Vesalius urged physicians to take their own initiative in obtaining material for dissection. The Fabrica contains several amusing and unrepentant anecdotes of how students had robbed graves to obtain cadavers, especially those of women, since female criminals were rarely executed in those days.

The Fabrica also broke new ground in its unprecendented blending of scientific exposition, art and typography. Although earlier anatomical books, such as those by Berengario da Carpi had contained some notable anatomical illustrations, they had never appeared in such number or been executed in such minute precision as in the Fabrica, and they had usually been introduced rather haphazardly with little or no relationship to the text. In contrast, Vesalius sent his woodblocks to the printer with precise instructions as to placement within the text, and with exact marginal references which brought about direct relationship of text to illustrations, or even details within illustrations. The series of historiated initials, in which putti and dwarfed men humorously perform some of the more grisly actions associated with dissection, have been called pictorial footnotes to the text. The book remains the typographic masterpiece of Johannes Oporinus of Basel, one of the most widely learned and iconoclastic of the scholar printers. Another advantage to Vesalius of using Oporinus for this project was that Oporinus had been educated in medicine. Oporinus's success with the Fabrica apparently caused Vesalius to entrust to Oporinus all of his later publications. 

The Fabrica's magnificent title page and the spectacular series of hundreds of anatomical woodcuts (full-page and smaller) spread throughout the book remain the most famous series of anatomical illustrations ever published. Though Vesalius did not credit any specific artist or artists with the images, traditionally the illustrations were attributed to an associate of Titian, the Flemish artist Jan Stephan von Calcar, who drew, and possibly engraved, the three woodcuts of skeletons in Vesalius's first series of anatomical charts, Tabulae anatomicae sex (1538). For a long time an alternative theory was that the Fabrica woodcuts were produced by an unknown artist or artists in Titian's workshop in Venice. We know that Vesalius commissioned the illustrations and supervised their production, and it is also very likely that he personally drew some of the lesser illustrations for the Fabrica, as we know that he made the drawings for the first three of the Tabulae anatomicae sex. Most of the woodblocks for the Fabrica were preserved in Munich until the bombing of Munich in World War II.

In September 2014 my wife and I attended the Vesalius Continuum conference on the Greek island of Zakynthos where Vesalius died on his return from a pilgrimage to the Holy Land. The conference was scheduled to commemorate the 500th anniversary of Vesalius's birth. At the conference the distinguished historian of art Martin Kemp presented his latest views on the origin and significance of Vesalius's images, describing the book as a visual machine interlocked with a textual machine, and attributing most of the large images to von Calcar, and some of the lesser ones, including the small diagrams, to Vesalius. The famous woodcut title page with its architectural aspects Kemp attributed on a preliminary basis to the Italian painter Giuseppe Porta, who sometimes signed his name as Giuseppe Salviati. Kemp also considered Porta a good candidate for the artist responsible for the historiated initials.

A notable feature of the Fabrica not usually considered is Vesalius's "Index of Notable Subjects and Words" published at the end of the work. Arranged alphabetically by subject, and either by first name or surname somewhat inconsistently, this index to page number and line number on a given page amounts to a detailed outline of what Vesalius considered his significant original contributions. For example, under Galen he indexed to each specific anatomical detail where he disagreed with Galen's writings.

♦ In December 2013 a digital facsimile of the 1543 Fabrica was available from the National Library of Medicine at this link. Another digital facsimile of a copy hand-colored (probably in the seventeenth century) at the University of Basel was available at this link.

From 1998 to 2009 I published the first English translation of De humani corporis fabrica in five volumes, the descriptions of which are available at this link

(This entry was last revised on 09-15-2014.)

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William Turner Issues the First Ornithological Treatise to Contain Descriptions of Individual Species Based upon the Author's own Observations 1544

English physician, ornithologist and botanist William Turner published in Cologne, Germany Avium praecipuarum, quarum apud Plinium et Aristotelem mentio est, brevis & succincta historia. Turner was the first scientific student of zoology and botany in England. Because of his extreme nonconformist religious views he spent a good deal of time in exile on the Continent, where he observed European fauna and flora, studied the most recent work of contemporary naturalists and made the acquaintance of Conrad Gessner (Gesner). It was during one of these European exiles that Turner prepared the Avium praecipuarum, printed, as were parts of his Herball, in Cologne. An account of the principal bird species mentioned by Aristotle and Pliny, the book was the first ornithological treatise to contain clear descriptions of the appearance of individual species based upon the author's own experience and observations. Compiling this work was by no means easy, as virtually nothing had been written on the subject since Pliny's Historia naturalis and sorting out the names and actual species referred to in the classical texts demanded great philological as well as ornithological expertise. Yet Turner succeeded admirably in his task: Most of his identifications are accurate, with good descriptions of characteristics and habits, and the few anomalies (the phoenix, barnacle goose, etc.) are either strict quotations from classical authors or are based on evidence that Turner tried to verify. His identification of northern European species, especially British ones, provides valuable evidence about their distribution during the sixteenth century.

Hook & Norman, The Haskell F. Norman Library of Science and Medicine (1991) no. 2117. Raven, English naturalists from Neckham to Ray (1947) 48-137.

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Filed under: Natural History, Science

Conrad Gessner Issues the First Universal Bibliography Since the Invention of Printing 1545 – 1555

 In 1545, Swiss zoologist and naturalist Conrad Gessner publishes the first 'universal bibliography,' cataloging about 12,000 titles in an attempt to control the 'labyrinth' of books and information which had arrisen since the invention of printing.  (View Larger)

At the age of 29, apparently after only three years of concentrated work, Swiss physician, bibliographer, naturalist and alpinist Conrad Gessner (Gesner) issued the first volume of his Bibliotheca universalis, sive catalogus omnium scriptorum locupletissimus, in tribus linguis, Latin, Graeca, & Hebraica: extantium & non extantium veterum & recentiorum. . . (1545) at the press of Christopher Froschauer in Zurich. Three years later Gessner issued an a subject index to the work, Pandectarum sive partitionum universalium libri XXI, in 1548-49. Froschauer published Gessner's Appendix: Bibliothecae supplementing the work in 1555. Coincidentally, two years before the Bibliotheca universalis, Andreas Vesalius had issued De humani corporis fabrica (1543), another massive work of scholarship and science, also at the age of 29.

The first "universal" bibliography published since the invention of printing, Gessner's Bibliotheca universalis was an international bibliography of authors who wrote in Latin, Greek, and Hebrew, alphabetically arranged by their first names in accordance with medieval usage. Short biographical data preceded the lists of works, with indications of printing places and dates, printers and editors, where applicable. Gessner listed about 12,000 titles in the Bibliotheca universalis, expanded to about 15,000 in his Appendix. Though it was called "universal," Gessner intended his bibliography to be selective.

Escaping the Labyrinth

"The technique of book production had changed radically as a result of print, but problems of information had not been simplified. This moved publishers and scholars to develop tools equal to the new situation. But such tools did not prove completely adequate to the task of helping the reader faced with the problem of selection, a problem which had now become more complicated. The predicament suggested to Gesner an encompassing labyrinth made up of a multitude of books. He confessed the profound sense of freedom he experienced when he finished his massive work in 1545: 'In truth I rejoice and thank God because I have finally gotten out of the labyrinth in which I was trapped for almost three years' " (Balsamo, Bibliography: History of a Tradition [1990] 32).

Breslauer & Folter, Bibliography: Its History and Development  (1984) No. 14.

♦ Ironically Gessner, a physician, did not complete the intended medical section of his Bibliotheca universalis (liber xxi) and it was never published.

Besterman, The Beginnings of Systematic Bibliography 2nd ed (1940) 15-18.

Technically, in this project Gessner was preceded by Muhammad ib Ishaq (Abu al Faraj) called Ibn Abi Al-Nadim who in 988 CE published the Fihrist, an index of the books of all nations which were extant in the Arabic language and script. Chronologically, Al-Nadim's work was the earliest attempt at a universal bibliography, but it did not appear in a printed edition until 1871-72, and had no influence on the development of bibliography in Europe.

(This entry was last revised on 05-21-2014).

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Johannes Werner Issues a Pioneering Work on Environmental Science and Meteorology 1546

Canones sicut brevissimi, ita etiam doctissimi, complectentes praecepta & observationes de mutatione aurae by the German parish priest, mathematician, astronomer, and instrument maker Johann(es) Werner was published posthumously in Nuremberg by J. Montanus and U. Neuber.

Werner was the first to make regular observations of weather conditions in Germany; together with Tycho Brahe, he pioneered the practice of collecting meteorological data for scientific purposes.

“In meteorology Werner paved the way for a scientific interpretation. Meteorology and astrology were connected, but he nevertheless attempted to explain this science rationally. . . . The ‘guidelines that explain the principles and observations of the changes in the atmosphere,’ published [posthumously] in 1546 by Johann Schöner, contain meteorological notes for 1513-1520. The weather observations are based mainly on stellar constellations, and hence the course of the moon is of less importance. Although Werner did not collect the data systematically, as Tycho Brahe did, he attempted to incorporate meteorology into physics and to take into consideration the geographical situation of the observational site. Thus he can be regarded as a pioneer of modern meteorology and weather forecasting” (Dictionary of Scientific Biography)

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Andreas Vesalius Publishes the First Attempt to Formulate Methods of Identification of an Exotic Drug and Methods of Detecting its Adulteration October 1546

Andreas Vesalius published Rationem modumq[ue] propinandi radicis Chynae decocti. . . . in Basel at the press of Johannes Oporinus. In this work on the discovery and therapeutic use of the china root (Smilax chinae) in the treatment of syphilis, Vesalius described the first attempt to formulate methods of identification of an exotic drug. He also offered physicians means of detecting adulteration of the china root, which was coming into common use.

Vesalius devoted most of the China-Root Epistle to a defense of his anatomical methods and doctrines as described in the Fabrica (1543). The work also contains important autobiographical data, including Vesalius's remarks about his teaching experiences at Pisa, his destruction of some of his early manuscripts (a disgusted reaction to the Fabrica's reception), and information concerning his medical forebears.

Cushing, Bio-Bibliography of Vesalius (1943) vii.-1. 1. O'Malley, Andreas Vesalius of Brussels (1965) 187-224. Hook & Norman, The Haskell F. Norman Library of Science and Medicine (1991) no. 2141.

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Filed under: Medicine, Science

1550 – 1600

Juan Badiana Translates Aztec Medical Botany & Psychoactive Plants from the Nahuati 1552

A page of the Libellus de Medicinalibus Indorum Herbis, an Aztec herbal composed in 1552 by Martin de la Cruz and translated into Latin by Juan Badianus, illustrating the tlahcolteocacatl, tlayapaloni, axocotl, and chicomacatl plants, which were used to make a "remedy for a wounded body" and Aztec herbalism.

A portrait of Francesco Barberini by Ottavio Leoni, 1624.

A modern photograph of Lophophora williamsii, a plant in a group of peyotes used as entheogens.

In 1552 the Libellus de medicinalibus indorum herbis, an Aztec herbal manuscript with color paintings of plants describing the medicinal properties of 250 herbs used by the Aztecs, was translated into Latin by Juan Badiano from a Nahuatl original no longer extant. It is the only surviving detailed original account of the ethnobotany of the Aztecs written by Aztecs.

The Nahuatl original was composed in the Colegio de Santa Cruz de Tlatelolco, Tlatelolco, Mexico City, in 1552 by Martín de la Cruz. Both Badiano and de la Cruz were native Aztecs who were given European names at the Colegio de Santa Cruz. The Libellus is also known as the Badianus Manuscript, after the translator; the Codex de la Cruz-Badiano, after both the original author and translator; and the Codex Barberini, after Cardinal Francesco Barberini, who owned the manuscript in the early 17th century.

"In 1552 Jacobo de Grado, the friar in charge of the Convent of Tlatelolco and the College of Santa Cruz, had the herbal created and translated for Francisco de Mendoza, son of Antonio de Mendoza, the viceroy of New Spain. Mendoza sent the Latin manuscript to Spain, where it was deposited into the royal library. There it presumably remained until the early 17th century, when it somehow came into the possession of Diego de Cortavila y Sanabria, pharmacist to King Philip IV. From Cortavila it travelled to the Italian Cardinal Francesco Barberini, possibly via intermediate owners. The manuscript remained in the Barberini library until 1902, when the Barberini library became part of the Vatican Library, and the manuscript along with it. Finally, in 1990 — over four centuries after it was sent to Spain — Pope John Paul II returned the Libellus to Mexico, and it is now in the library of the National Institute of Anthropology and History in Mexico City.

"A copy was made in the 17th century by Cassiano dal Pozzo, the secretary of Cardinal Barberini. Dal Pozzo's collection, called his Museo Cartaceo ("Papers Museum"), was sold by his heirs to Pope Clement XI, who sold it to his nephew, Cardinal Alessandro Albani, who himself sold it to King George III in 1762. Dal Pozzo's copy is now part of the Royal Library, Windsor. Another copy may have been made by Francesco de' Stelluti, but is now lost. Dal Pozzo and de' Stelluti were both members of the Accademia dei Lincei" (Wikipedia article on Libellus de Medicinalibus Indorum Herbis, accessed 11-27-2010).

Two different English translations of work, by William Gates and Emily Walcott Emmart, respectively, were published in 1939 and 1940. The Gates translation was reissued with a new introduction by Bruce Byland in 2000. A translation into Spanish by Francisco Guerra was published in 1952, and a different Spanish edition was published in 1964 and 1991.

In 1995 Peter Furst published a study of the entheogens, or psychoactive drugs, included in the codex: "This Little Book of Herbs": Psychoactive Plants as Therapeutic Agents in the Badianus Manuscript of 1552," Schultes & von Reis (eds) Ethnobotany: Evolution of a Discipline (1995) 108-130.

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Brother Juan Diaz Publishes the First Treatise on Mathematics Published in the Western Hemisphere and the First Textbook on Any Subject Besides Religion Printed Outside of Europe 1556

Engraved portrait of Hernan Cortes by W. Holl and published by Charles Knight.

A page from the Sumario Compendioso.

In 1556 Brother Juan Diez, a companion of Hernando Cortès (Hernán) in the conquest of New Spain, published the Sumario Compendioso in Mexico City at the press of Juan Pablos. The Sumario Compendioso was the earliest treatise on mathematics published in the western hemisphere, and also the first textbook on any non-religious subject to be printed outside of Europe.

In his introduction to The Sumario Compendioso of Brother Juan Diez, the Earliest Mathematical Work of the New World (1921), a facsimile and translation, David Eugene Smith wrote of the existence of possibly four copies including one (incomplete) in the Biblioteca Nacional at Madrid, which he used for his edition, and a copy in the British Library.

"Not again in the sixteenth century did the Mexican printers publish any work on mathematics, except for a brief Instrucción Nautica which appeared in 1587. The press was generally true to its early purpose to issue only books relating to the conversion of the native inhabitants to the way of the cross" (Smith, introduction cited above, 6).

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Georgius Agricola Issues De Re Metallica, the Most Famous Classic on Mining and Metallurgy 1556

The increased European demand for metals that came with the revival of trade in the late Middle Ages saw a corresponding growth in the European mining industry, which developed to an advanced state in the metal-rich regions of Saxony, Austria and Bohemia. In 1556 German physician, humanist and scholar Georg Bauer, better known under the Latin version of his name, Georgius Agricola, issued De re metallica from Basel at the press of Hieronymus Froben and Nicholas Episcopus (Bischoff). Agricola became interested in the theoretical and practical aspects of mining, metallurgy and geology after being appointed town doctor of Joachimsthal (now Jáchymov), a silver-mining community on the east side of the Erzgebirge mountains (Ore Mountains) in what is now the Czech Republic. He published his first work on mining, Bermannus sive de re metallica dialogus, in 1530. This dialogue, which has been called "the first attempt to reduce to scientific order the knowledge won by practical work," contained an approving letter from Erasmus at the beginning of the book. Sixteen years later, in 1546, Agricola issued a collection of five treatises on geology and metallurgy, including the first work on physical geology (De ortu et causis subterraneorum); the first systematic mineralogy (De natura fossilium); a work on subterranean waters and gases (De natura eorum quae effluunt ex terra); a treatise on references to minerals and mining in classical history (De veteribus et novis metallis); and a reprint of Bermannus. In De natura fossilium Agricola rejected the traditional arbitrary alphabetical listing of fossils (i.e., stony substances dug from the earth), and attempted to classify them according to their physical properties.

The twelve books of Agricola's De re metallica (On Metals), illustrated with over 270 woodcuts, embraced everything connected with Renaissance mining and metallurgical industries, including administration, the duties of companies and workers, prospecting, mechanical engineering, ore processing and the manufacture of glass, sulfur and alum. Book VI provided detailed descriptions of sixteenth-century mining technologies, such as the use of water-power for crushing ore and the improvements in suction pumps and ventilation that became necessary as mine shafts were sunk deeper underground; it also includes an account of the diseases and accidents prevalent among miners, along with the means of preventing them. It is thus a pioneering work in occupational medicine. De re metallica remained the standard textbook on mining and metallurgy for over two hundred years.

In 1912 American mining engineer and industrialist, and later 31st President of the United States, Herbert Clark Hoover and his wife Lou Henry Hoover issued a semi-facsimile edition and translation, with "Biographical Introduction, Annotations and Appendices upon the Development of Mining Methods, Metallurgical provesses, Geology, Minerology & Mining Law from the earliest times to the 16th Century," in London through the offices of The Mining Magazine. The work, which remains definitive, was published in the same format as the first (1556) edition with a parchment-style binding over boards that also resembled a 16th century binding. Cyril Stanley Smith, in his catalogue of the Hoover collection, De re metallica: The Herbert Clark Hoover Collection of Mining & Metallurgy (1980), cites a summary report of March 28, 1914 stating that Hoover had received 509 copies of the translation, 31 copies had been sent for review, 814 had been sold and 122 remained in the hands of the booksellers. This gives a total of 1,476 copies printed, a figure more plausible than Hoover's later claim of 3,000 copies (Memoirs I, pp. 117-119). Mrs. Hoover, a former Latin teacher, was responsible for the translation. As far as I know, Hoover was the only U.S. President to collect rare books on a scientific or technological subject and also the only President to publish a scholarly work on the history of science and technology.

In February 2014 a searchable digital facimile of the Hoover translation was available at this link. Concerning the writing and publishing of the 1556 edition I quote from p. 19 of the Hoover edition:

"Agricola seems to have been engaged in the preparation of De Re Metallica for a period of over twenty years, for we first hear of the book in a letter from Petrus Plateanus, a schoolmaster at Joachimsthal, to the great humanist, Erasmus, 16 in September, 1529. He says: The scientific world will be still more indebted to Agricola when he brings to light the books De Re Metallica and other matters which he has on hand.' In the dedication of De Mensuris et Ponderibus (in 1533) Agricola states that he means to publish twelve books of De Re Metallica, if he lives. That the appearance of this work was eagerly anticipated is evidenced by a letter from George Fabricius to Valentine Hertel: “With great excitement the books De Re Metallíca are being awaited. If he treats the material at hand with his usual zeal, he will win for himself glory such as no one in any of the fields of literature has attained for the last thousand years.' According to the dedication of De Veteríbus et Novis Metallís, Agricola in 1546 already looked forward to its early publication. The work was apparently finished in 1550, for the dedication to the Dukes Maurice and August of Saxony is dated in December of that year. The eulogistic poem by his friend, George Fabricius, is dated in 1551.

"The publication was apparently long delayed by the preparation of the woodcuts; and, according to Mathesius, many sketches for them were prepared by Basilius Wefring. In the preface of De Re Metallíca Agricola does not mention who prepared the sketches, but does say: 'I have hired illustrators to delineate their forms, lest descriptions which are conveyed by words should either not be understood by men of our own times, or should cause difficulty to posterity.' In 1553 the completed book was sent to Froben for publication, for a letter19 from Fabricius to Meurer in March, 1553, announces its dispatch to the printer. An interesting letter 20 from the Elector Augustus to Agricola, dated January 18, 1555, reads: 'Most learned, dear and faithful subject, whereas you have sent to the Press a Latin book of which the title is said to be De Rebus Metallícis, which has been praised to us and we should like to know the contents, it is our gracious command that you should get the book translated when you have the opportunity into German, and not let it be copied more than once or be printed, but keep it by you and send us a copy. If you should need a writer for this purpose, we will provide one. Thus you will fulfil our gracious behest.” The German translation was prepared by Philip Bechius, a Basel University Professor of Medicine and Philosophy. It is a wretched work, by one who knew nothing of the science, and who more especially had no appreciation of the peculiar Latin terms coined by Agricola, most of which he rendered literally. It is a said commentary on his countremen that no correct German translation exists. The Italian translation is by Michelangelo Florio, as is by him dedicated to Elizabeth, Queen of England."

Hook & Norman, The Haskell F. Norman Library of Science & Medicine (1991) nos. 19-21. Dibner, Heralds of Science, no. 88. Carter & Muir, Printing and the Mind of Man (1967) no. 79.

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Giambattista della Porta Founds the First Scientific Society in the Renaissance 1560 – 1578

In 1560 Italian scientist, polymath, and "doctor of secrets" Giambattista della Porta founded the Academia Secretorum Naturae (Accademia dei Segreti or the Academy of the Mysteries of Nature), in Naples.

"The society met at the home of della Porta in the Due Porte section of Naples so-named in reference to two entrances to caverns that apparently served as a meeting place. (The site has recently been the object of urban archaeology.) 'Candidates for membership had to present a new fact in natural science as a condition of membership,' but otherwise membership was open. Its activities came under the subject of an ecclesiastical investigation and della Porta was ordered by Pope Paul V to close his Academy in 1578 . . . under suspicion of sorcery" (Wikipedia article on Academia Secretorum Naturae, accessed 11-27-2010).

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Valerius Cordus Makes the Earliest Effort to Systematize Botanical Description and Discovers Sulfuric Ether 1561

In 1561 physician, botanist, bibliographer, and naturalist Konrad Gessner (Gesner) published in Strassbourg at the press of I. Rebelius In hoc volumine continentur Valerii Cordi Simesusij annotationes in pedacij Dioscordis . . . Stirpium lib. IIII. posthumi . . . Sylva . . . De artificiosis extractionibus liber . . . Compositiones medicinales. His accedunt Stocchornii et Nessi in Bernatium Helvetiorum ditione montium . . . Conradi Gesneri de hortis germaniae liber recens . . . omnia summo studio atque industria doctis. atque excellentiss. viri Conr. Gesneri medici Tigurini collecta, & praefationibus illustrata.

Containing descriptions of about 500 plants, Valerius Cordus’s Historiae stirpium was the earliest effort to systematize botanical description; Cordus has been called the inventor of phytography. “To read [Cordus’s] description of plants after those of his predecessors and contemporaries is like entering a new world. Each description follows a regular pattern and almost always includes, in this order, the characteristic features of stem and leaves, the flower and time of flowering, the fruit and seeds, the number of loculi in the fruit, the lines of dehiscence, the appearance and the number of rows of seed, the root, whether annual or perennial, taste and smell, and habitat. Cordus thus established in principle the basis for scientific plant description and his transforming influence is evident in most of the leading botanists who followed him” (Morton, History of Botanical Science, p. 126). Gesner, who was sent the manuscript of Historiae stirpium several years after Cordus’s death, recognized the revolutionary nature of Cordus’s work, describing it as “truly extraordinary because of the accuracy with which the plants are described” (Greene, Landmarks of Botanical History, 373).

Cordus’s De artificiosis extractionibus liber, a treatise on the preparation of both simple and compound drugs, published for the first time in this work, contains the first written and published account of the synthesis of sulfuric ether (sweet oil of vitriol)  from sulfuric acid and alcohol on ff. 226v-229r. Cordus is credited with having discovered sulfuric ether circa 1540, four years before his premature death at the age of 29. Paracelsus also wrote about ether in the 1540s; however, his brief discussion of ether was not published until 1605. There is also some speculation that the Arabs, who were the first to distill alcohol and sulfuric acid, may have synthesized ether as early as the 10th century, though no record of this has survived. Cordus described ether's high volatility and noted correctly that “ether promotes the flow of mucous secretion from the respiratory tract and that it affords relief from whooping cough” (Faulconer & Keys, Foundations of Anesthesiology, 267). Cordus also listed several other ailments for which ether was recommended, although he did not mention its soporific effects.

Cordus was the son of German physician and botanist Euricius Cordus, who was the first to establish botany on a scientific basis in Germany. Valerius studied botany and pharmacy under his father and at Wittenburg University, where he gave lectures on the Materia medica of Dioscorides and performed original botanical and pharmacological research based on his own observations (a novelty at the time). Valerius Cordus’s promising career was cut short by his death at the age of 29, but he left a number of works in manuscript which were published after his death, partly from finished manuscripts and partly from notes taken by his students.

The first of Cordus’s works to be published were Pharmacorum omnium . . . vulgo vocant Dispensatorium pharmacopolarum (Nuremberg, 1546; Germany’s first official pharmacopeia), and his Annotationes . . . in Dioscoridis de materia medica, which was included in Pedanii Dioscoridis . . . de medicinali materia libri sex (Frankfurt, 1549; ed. Walther Hermann Ryff), and also appeared in Euricius Cordus’s Botanologicon (Paris, 1551). The Annotationes includes descriptions of the opium poppy and of mandrake (mandragora), a plant containing several narcotic alkaloids (see ff. 66-67). Mandrake’s soporific and anesthetic properties were known in the ancient world, and both mandrake and opium were key ingredients in the medieval “spongia somnifera,” a sponge soaked in a decoction of several herbs which was applied to the patient’s nostrils in order to produce surgical anesthesia. This method of anesthesia was largely ineffectual, however, and went out of use before the end of the 17th century. The publication of Cordus’s remaining works was largely due to the efforts of Gesner. The published volume contains the first editions of four works—Historiae stirpium libri IV; Sylva . . . ; De artificiosis extractionibus liber; and Compositiones medicinales—as well as the third edition of the Annotationes. To this collection Gesner added two works of his own, including De tulipa turcarum, the first scientifically accurate account of the tulip, which had been introduced to Europe only a few years earlier. Gesner also was responsible for issuing Cordus’s Stirpium descriptionis liber quintus in 1563.

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Gabriele Falloppio Discovers the Fallopian Tubes and Numerous Other Anatomical Features 1561

In 1561 Italian physician and anatomist Gabriele Falloppio (Falloppius) published Observationes anatomicae in Venice: a work of 232 leaves printed in the comparatively small octavo format, with no illustrations. Observationes anatomicae was the only work Fallopio published before his death from tuberculosis at age thirty-nine, and is thus the only one that can be said to be fully authentic. The remainder of Falloppio's works were edited for publication from his lecture notes, and may represent more or less than the author's original intention.

Observationes was not an all-inclusive textbook of anatomy but rather a detailed critical commentary on Vesalius's De humani corporis fabrica (1543), in which Falloppio attempted to correct errors in the earlier work, and to add material that Vesalius had overlooked; for this reason, there was no need for illustrations. The large amount of new material included Falloppio's investigations of primary and secondary centers of ossification, the first clear description of primary dentition, numerous contributions to the study of the muscles (especially those of the head), and the famous account of the uterine ("Falloppian") tubes, which he correctly described as resembling small trumpets (tubae). He also gave to the placenta and vagina their present scientific names, provided a superior description of the auditory apparatus (including the first clear accounts of the chorda tympani and semicircular canals), and was the first to clearly distinguish the trochlear nerve of the eye. Vesalius responded positively to Falloppio's work with his posthumously published Examen on Falloppio (1564).

Hook & Norman, The Haskell F. Norman Library of Science and Medicine (1991) No. 757.

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Filed under: Medicine, Science

Gaspar de Leão Issues the Earliest Surviving Books Printed in India from Movable Type July 2, 1561 – April 10, 1563

The earliest book printed in India, of which a copy survived, is Compendio spritual da vida Christãa by Gaspar de Leão, the first Archbishop of Goa, completed in Goa by printers João Quinquencio and João de Endem on July 2, 1561. This is known from a copy in the New York Public Library.

The second book known to have been printed in India, of which copies survive, is Colóquios dos simples e drogas he cousas mediçinais de India e assi dalgũas frutas achadas nella onde se tratam algũas cousas tocantes a medicina, pratica, e outras cousas boas pera saber (Conversations on the simples, drugs and materia medica of India and also on some fruits found there, in which some matters relevant to medicine, practice, and other matters good to know are discussed) by the Portuguese Jewish physician, naturalist and pioneer of tropical medicine, Garcia de Orta. Garcia de Orta sailed for India in 1534 as Chief Physician aboard the armada of the Viceroy Martim Afonso de Sousa. He worked and carried out his research at Goa, where he died in 1568. His book was first printed by João de Endem at his press in St. John's College, Goa, and completed on April 10, 1563.

Rhodes, The Spread of Printing. Eastern Hemisphere. India. . . . (1969) 12-13. Re documented printing in Goa which preceded Gaspar de Leão's book, but which did not survive, see Rhodes, 11-12.

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Bartholomeo Eustachi Discovers the Eustachian Tubes and Many Other Anatomical Features 1563

In 1563 Italian physician and anatomist Bartolomeo Eustachi (Eustachius) published his Opuscula anatomica in Venice with annotations by his relative and disciple, Pier Matteo Pini. Opuscula anatomica includes 8 engraved full-page copperplate text illustrations probably drawn by Eustachi and Pini, and engraved by Giulio de Musi, probably a relation of Agostino de' Musi (Agostino Veneziano).  The illustrations are on the unnumbered pages between pp. 1-20 (first series). Pini also prepared the 168 pages of annotations to Eustachi's anatomical treatises from the writings of Hippocrates, Aristotle, Galen and other authorities. These were published at the end of the book. Pini's published dedication of these Annotationes to Eustachi is dated July, 1561. 

Written during 1561 and 1562, Eustachi's Opuscula consists of a group of anatomical treatises on the kidneys (De renum structura), the organ of hearing (De auditus organis), the venous system (De vena quae azygos graecis dicitur) and the teeth (De dentibus), which he issued together under the title Opuscula anatomica. De auditus organis is dated October 1562; De motu capitis January 1561. The dedication of Libellus de dentibus is dated December 1562.

The privilege granting rights to the publisher Vincenzo Luchino is dated May 6, 1563. Most copies of this work bear the imprint Venetiis: Vincentius Luchinus excudebat, 1564. From the setting of the type on the title page of those copies it is evident that the original imprint date was 1563 and that an additional "I" was added to the roman numeral MDLXIII to turn that number into MDLXIIII  (1564) —a contrivance since the correct roman numeral for 1564 would have been MDLXIV.

In 2010 I discovered in a group of "cripples" that I bought decades ago a very incomplete copy of the Opuscula anatomica with a titlepage dated 1563, and without the name of the publisher, confirming that some copies were issued with a 1563 date. The separate title page of Libellus de dentibus dated 1563 is similar to the first issue titlepage of the Opuscula anatomica in that it does not include the name of the publisher. Thus we may theorize that Luchino decided to add his name to the title page of the Opuscula anatomica after the printing occurred. When he did so in 1564 we may theorize most of the copies may have remained in sheets and not bound. If so, it was a matter of having the first sheet run back through the press. That may explain why both the final "I" in the roman numeral MDLXIIII and "Vincenzus Luchinus excudebat" are out of register.  In October 2012 my friend and colleague William P. Watson proposed another possible scenario: through examination of several copies of the 1564 issue Watson noticed that the printing of Luchino's name and the final "I" varies in position on different copies of the title page, and theorized that Luchino's name and the final "I" was applied through some kind of a stamp, rather than by running the sheet back through a press. Whatever the method, some copies were issued without the addition of Luchino's name and without changing the date to 1564.  Because we may never know the exact chronology or methodogy of events that occurred 450 years ago, it is reasonable to assume that the copies with the title page dated 1563 were issued before the correction, and represent an earlier state.

Eustachi's treatise on the kidney, the first work devoted specifically to that organ, showed a detailed knowledge of the kidney surpassing any earlier work; it contained the first account of the adrenal (suprarenal) gland and a correct determination of the relative levels of the kidneys. The treatise on the ear provided the first post-classical account of the Eustachian tube, while the work on the azygos vein contained the first description of the thoracic duct and of the valvula venae in the right ventricle of the heart, the so-called "Eustachian valve." In his treatise on dentistry, Libellus de dentibus, Eustachi was the first to study the teeth in any great detail: basing his work on the dissection of fetuses and stillborn infants, he gave an important description of the first and second dentitions, described the hard outer tissue and soft inner structure of the teeth, and attempted an explanation of the problem of the sensitivity of the tooth's hard structure. 

The engraved plates illustrating the Opuscula anatomica were the first eight in the series of forty-seven anatomical plates engraved by Giulio de' Musi, after drawings by Eustachi and Pini. They were prepared in 1552 to illustrate a projected book entitled De dissensionibus ac controversii anatomicis, the text of which was lost after Eustachi's death. Had the full series of forty-seven anatomical copperplates been published at the time of their completion, Eustachi would have ranked with Vesalius as a founder of modern anatomy. However, it is quite probable that because of the growing fame of Vesalius' Fabrica (1543, 1555), Eustachi did not consider publication of his remaining plates, or his accompanying manuscript worthwhile. The remaining thirty-nine plates were lost for over a century after Eustachi's death but were rediscovered in the hands of a descendant of Pier Matteo Pini by papal physician, cardiologist, and epidemiologist Giovanni Maria Lancisi, who edited them for publication, and published them, along with the previously published eight plates, under the title of Tabulae anatomicae (Rome, 1714).

Eustachi's plates are stylistically different from other sixteenth century anatomical studies, as they were produced without the conventional sixteenth-century decorative accompaniments and were framed on three sides by numbered rules providing coordinates by which any part of the image could be located. The publisher of the 1714 edition provided an unnumbered plate with graduated scales to be cut out and used as a location aid. The images are generic figures, composites of many anatomical observations, and are mathematically as well as representationally exact.

Choulant, History and Bibliography of Anatomic Illustration (1920) 200-202. Hook & Norman, The Haskell F. Norman Library of Science and Medicine (1991) nos. 739-40. Norman, One Hundred Books Famous in Medicine (1995) no. 21 (stating, based on information then available to me, that the Opuscula anatomica was first published in 1563-64). When I checked OCLC in November 2010 there were four copies listed in European libraries as having the first state (1563) of the title page of the Opuscula anatomica. A somewhat larger number of listings appeared for the second state.

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Francisco Bravo Issues the First Medical Book Printed in the Western Hemisphere with the Earliest Illustrations of Plants Printed in the Western Hemisphere 1570

Printer Pedro Ocharte, born Pierre Ocharte in Rouen, France, working in Mexico City, issued Opera medicinalia by the Spanish physician, Francisco Bravo in 1570. Ocharte had married the daughter of Juan Pablos, the first printer in the New World, and had inherited his equipment. Opera medicinalia included a woodcut title border and a few botanical woodcuts, including images to distinguish the false sarsaparilla of Mexico from the true Spanish sarsaparilla of Dioscorides. It was the first medical book printed in the Western Hemisphere, and its botanical images were the first illustrations of plants printed in the Western Hemisphere.

Of the original edition only two copies are known, of which the only complete copy is at the Universidad de Puebla, Mexico. In 1862 American bookseller and bibliographer Henry Stevens purchased an incomplete copy at an auction sale of the library of collector/dealer/book thief Guglielmo Libri in London. This he resold to the American collector James Lennox. The Lennox copy is preserved in the New York Public Library.

In 1970 London antiquarian booksellers Dawsons of Pall issued a facsimile of the complete Universidad de Puebla copy with a companion volume of commentary by Francisco Guerra. The two volumes were printed on hand-made paper by J. Barcham Green, Ltd. and bound in parchment by Zaehnsdorf in London. The edition was limited to 250 hand-numbered copies.

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Lord Mayor of London Henry Billingsley Issues One of the Earliest Pop-Up Books 1570

In 1570 English merchant, and later Lord Mayor of London Henry Billingsley issued in London The Elements of Geometrie of the Most Ancient Philosopher Euclide of MegaraBillingsley's work was the first English translation of Euclid. The title confused Euclid of Alexandria with the Greek Socratic philosopher, Euclid of Megara; the two were frequently confused during the Renaissance. Billingsley's translation included a lengthy preface by the mathematician, astronomer, astrologer, occultist, navigator, imperialist, consultant to Queen Elizabeth I, John Dee, which surveyed all the branches of pure and applied mathematics of the time. Dee also provided copious notes and other supplementary material.

Billingsley's translation, renowned for its clarity and accuracy, was made from the Greek rather than from the well-known Latin translation by Adelard of Bath and Campanus of Novara.  In the nineteenth century victorian mathematician, bibliographer and historian of mathematics Augustus De Morgan suggested that the translation was solely the work of Dee, but in his correspondence Dee stated specifically that only the introduction and the supplementary material were his. Proof that Billingsley made the translation himself is available in Billingsley's copy of the 1533 Greek editio princeps of Euclid, preserved at Princeton University Library.  Billingsley's copy is bound with the 1558 Basel edition printed by Hervagius, which reprints the Adelard-Companus Latin translation from the Arabic first printed in 1482 and the Zamberti Latin translation from the Greek first printed in 1505. 

"On the title-page is the autograph signature 'Henricus Billingsley,' in a most beautiful antique hand. Throughout the volume are very numerous corrections, additions and marginal notes, all in Billingsley's peculiar and beautiful writing. I dare hazard that no Lord Mayor, since his time, has ever written so charming a hand. By reading what he has done, it immediately appears that though he had the Adelard-Campanus Latin before him, yet he gave his special work to a careful comparison of Zamberti's Translation with the original Greek, and the corrections he has actually made sufficiently prove his scholarship and render entirely unnecessary De Morgan's suppositious aid from Dr. Dee, while, on the other hand, they establish the conclusion about the translation to which De Morgan's sagacity had led him, that 'It was certainly made from the Greek, and not from any of the Arabico-Latin versions' (Halsted, "Note on the First English Euclid," American Journal of Mathematics II [1879] 46-48).

♦ A special feature of Billingsley's English translation of Euclid are pasted flaps of paper that can be folded up to produce three dimensional models of the propositions in Book XI, making it one of the oldest "pop-up" books.

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Volcher Coiter: One of the First Physicians to Draw the Illustrations for his Own Publications, and Take Credit for Them in Print 1572 – 1573

Dutch physician, anatomist and comparative anatomist Volcher Coiter published Externarum et internarum principalium humani corporis partium tabulae . . . .  in Nuremberg. It included 9 engravings (the first 4 on 2 leaves), all but 2 signed "V. C. D." for "Volcher Coiter delineavit," signifying that they were drawn by the author. The last 2 plates, of the human skeleton, were after the first and third skeleton figures in Vesalius's Fabrica.  The woodcut historiated initials in the work were  from the "Puttenalphabet" by Hans Weiditz, cut in Augsburg in 1531. 

A student under Gabriele Falloppio, Bartoloemo Eustachi , and Ulisse Aldrovandi, Coiter made several important contributions to the study of human anatomy, and was the first to elevate comparative anatomy to the rank of an independent branch of biology. His Externarum et internarum principalium humani corporis partium tabulae published in 1572 is a collection of ten short works, among which are the first monograph on the ear (De auditus instrumento); the earliest study of the growth of the skeleton as a whole in the human fetus (Ossium tum humani foetus . . .); the first descriptions of the spinal ganglia and musculus corrugator supercilii (in Observationum anatomicarum chirurgicarumque miscellanea); and Coiter's epochal (although unillustrated) investigation of the development of the chick in ovo (De ovorum gallinaceorum generationis. . .), based upon observations made over twenty successive days. This last was the first published study of chick embryo development based upon direct observation since the three-period description (after three, ten and twenty days of incubation) given by Aristotle in his Historia animalium two thousand years before.

Coiter was one of the first physicians to draw the illustrations for his own publications, and to take credit for them in print. It is believed that Vesalius may have done some of the simpler illustrations for the Fabrica; however, none of the Fabrica images are signed, and questions concerning their authorship have led to centuries of speculation and debate. Coiter's illustrations of the adult skeleton and skull, after Vesalius, are superior in anatomical detail; and his sketches of fetal skeletons are original.

Cole, History of Comparative Anatomy, illustrates a copy of this work with the title-page dated 1572, but the majority of copies probably appeared in 1573, as most of the references cite the later date. Hook & Norman, The Haskell F. Norman Library of Science and Medicine (1991) no. 496.

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François de Belleforest Describes Paintings in Rouffignac Cave 1575

In his translation of the Cosmographia of Sebastian Münster called La Cosmographie universelle de tout de monde published in 1575 French author, poet, and translator François de Belleforest described explorations of Rouffignac Cave, within the French commune of Rouffignac-Saint-Cernin-de-Reilhac in the Dordogne département, and mentioned "paintings and animal traces."  Rouffignac Cave contains over 250 engravings and animal paintings dating back to the Upper Paleolithic. Though De Belleforest wrote centuries before there was any understanding of prehistory, his comment is one of the earliest references to cave exploration.

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Discovering the Autograph Manuscript of William Bourne's Book on Military Inventions and Naval Tactics 1575 – 1578

During the 1970s I purchased from the Heritage Bookshop in Los Angeles a manuscript by the English mathematician and technician William Bourne partly written in a very distinctive Elizabethan hand, and incorporating captioned line drawings illustrating the text. The title of the manuscript was Inventions or Devices. The Weinsteins, owners of Heritage, sold the manuscript as an early copy of the book, as most of the text was written in a standard Elizabethan secretarial hand, and priced it accordingly. But the author signed the manuscript in two or three places, and the dedication was written out in the same distinctive hand as the signatures. These factors caused me to wonder if it was possibly an autograph manuscript written by and for the author himself.

There were at the time one or two reproductions of pages of Bourne's handwriting in books from examples in the British Library, and the distinctive style of writing and illustration reproduced was virtually identical to my manuscript, both in the secretarial text and Bourne's possible autograph portions. Bourne's last will and testament was also preserved in the Kent County record office, if memory serves. As wills contain a reliable example of the signer's autograph signature, I sent for a copy of that, and it corresponded exactly to the signatures in my volume. So, I was most excited to conclude that I had discovered the original manuscript— partly autograph—of a complete Elizabethan work on military inventions and naval tactics, including such inventions as fire ships used by the English against the Spanish Armada. Bourne's manuscript was written out and dedicated to William Cecil, 1st Baron Burghley, chief advisor to Elizabeth I. It was first published in print in 1578.

"Inventions or Devises, published in 1578, is one of William Bourne's more important works. This book gives many guides and instructional tools for sailors, mostly concerning interactions with other ships. The 21st device listed is the earliest known description of a ship's log and line. The 75th device on the list is a description of a night signal or early semaphore system to be used between people on distant ships who had previously decided on a code consisting of a series of lights and fashion of standing. The 110th entry is a very early description of a telescope. He describes a device consisting of two glasses that, when arranged properly, will allow you to read a letter from a quarter-mile away or see a man, town, or castle from four or five miles away. This description predates the earliest known working telescope by 30 years.

"His design, detailed in his book Inventions or Devises published in 1578, was one of the first recorded plans for an underwater navigation vehicle. He designed an enclosed craft capable of submerging by decreasing the overall volume (rather than flooding chambers as in modern submarines), and being rowed underwater. Bourne described a ship with a wooden frame covered in waterproofed leather, but the description was a general principle rather than a detailed plan. However, Bourne's concept of an underwater rowing boat was put into action by the Dutchman Cornelius Drebbel in 1620, and Nathaniel Symons demonstrated a 'sinking boat' in 1729 using the expanding and contracting volume of the boat to submerge" (Wikipedia article on William Bourne, accessed 11-18-2013).

In those days there were, of course, no digital facsimiles available online, but I was able to obtain a xerographic facsimile of the first printed edition from University Microfilms. Comparison of the text with the printed version showed various textual differences and differences between images in my manuscript with those in the printed version. In the autograph dedication Bourne referred to his previous contacts with Burghley: ‘about 3 years past I delivered your Lordship a book’, which must have been Sloane 3651 (1572/73), which was eventually divided into two works published in print in 1578 as Treasure for Travellers and the Art of Shooting in Great Ordnance

Having worked in the antiquarian book trade for forty-nine years (as of 2013), I can report that it is not unusual for the reception of material by customers to be the converse of its historical significance. In this case the obvious institutional buyers of this invaluable manuscript passed it up through private offers and its appearance in two of our printed rare book catalogues. We catalogued the manuscript first in 1980 in our eighth catalogue entitled Twelve Manuscripts, which also contained notable items such as the autograph manuscript of J. S. Mill's Considerations on Representative Government (1860). Eventually, I consigned the Bourne manuscript to Christie's in London in their sale of November 29, 1999 where it was purchased by the American collector Lawrence Schoenberg. It is preserved in the Lawrence J. Schoenberg Collection at The University of Pennsylvania (ljs345). A digital facsimile is available from the Schoenberg Center for Electronic Text and Image at this link

I am very gratified that Mr. Schoenberg appreciated my discovery. From the description of the manuscript at the University of Pennsylvania I quote:

Inventions or Devices was first produced two years before its first printing and contains 133 devices, twenty more than the printed edition. This manuscript contains 10 illustrations, six more than the printed work. However, the manuscript does not have 20 devices that appear in the printed book including Bourne's original design for a submarine and a diving suit. The changes in the printed version show an increased interest in the military focus of the material over surveying and measurement. The manuscript is a complete, signed, authorial, pioneering work on military gunnery, tactics and navigation. This work formed the beginning of English literature of navigation."

In December 2016 Stephen Johnston, Assistant Keeper of the Museum of the History of Science at Oxford, informed me that he incorporated details from this HistoryofInformation.com entry into his A revised bibliography of William Bourne. Johnston updated the bibliography written by D.W. Waters and R.A. Skelton published in E.G.R. Taylor's Hakluyt Society edition of A Regiment for the Sea and other Writings on Navigation by William Bourne of Gravesend, a Gunner (c. 1535-1582) (Cambridge, 1963). 

(This entry was last updated in December 2016.)


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François Viète's Classic of Mathematics and Typography 1579

In 1579 French lawyer, Conseil du Roi (privy councillor), and mathematician François Viète (Franciscus Vieta) published in Paris Canon mathematicus seu ad triangula. Cum adpendicibus.

Viète's numerous mathematical works were written during two brief periods of leisure from his career as a lawyer to the French courts of Henry III and Henry IV. His Canon mathematicus, the earliest of his published mathematical works, was the first of his studies on trigonometry.

"Here he gathered together the formulas for the solution of right and oblique plane triangles, including his own contribution, the law of tangents. . . . For spherical right triangles he gave the complete set of formulas needed to calculate any one part in terms of two other known parts, and the rule for remembering this collections of formulas, which we now call Napier's rule. He also contributed the law of cosines involving the angles of an oblique spherical triangle" (Kline, Mathematical Thought from Ancient to Modern Times [1972] 239-240).

In addition, Viète called for a reform in the expression of fractions, in which decimal fractions would replace the sexagesimal fractions then used in astronomy, physics and mathematics.

Viète's work consists of two parts: "Canon mathematicus," containing a table of trigonometric lines with some additional tables; and "Universalium inspectionum ad canonem mathematicum" (with separate title), giving the computational methods used in the construction of the canon and explaining the computation of plane and spherical triangles. Viète had originally planned to include two more parts devoted to astronomy, but these were never published.

Canon mathematicus was remarkably advanced typographically for its time. It is also very rare: privately printed in a small edition, its scarcity was compounded by Viète's displeasure over its many misprints, which caused him to withdraw from circulation all the copies he could recover.

Dibner, Heralds of Science, no. 105.  Hook & Norman, The Haskell F. Norman Library of Science and Medicine (1991) no. 2151.

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Pope Gregory XIII Promulgates the Gregorian Calendar February 24, 1582

On February 24, 1582 Pope Gregory XIII issued a papal bull, Inter gravissimas, the founding document of the Gregorian calendar. It was printed on March 1, 1562.

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Ferdinando de Medici & Giovan Battista Raimundi Found the Medici Press 1584

In 1584 Pope Gregory XIII founded a Maronite College in Rome to train European missionaries in various oriental languages, and to train oriental Christians in the languages of Europe. The Maronites translated books from Latin into Arabic and Syriac. To undertake the printing of Arabic and other oriental languages, Gregory appointed Cardinal Ferdinando de Medici, Grand Duke of Tuscany, director of what came to be called the Medici Press. Medici placed Giovan Battista (Giambattista) Raimundi in charge of the press, within ten years they issued elegantly produced editions of Avicenna, Euclid and other works in Arabic. Sales and distribution of these books were, however, very limited:

"In the 18th century, amazingly enough, many of the books printed by Raimondi were still in the Palazzo Vecchio [Florence] stacked in wardrobes. An inventory taken at the time shows that 1,039 copies of the Arabic-Latin Gospels, 566 of the Arabic Gospels, 810 of the Avicenna, 1,967 of the Euclid, 1,129 of the Idrisi, still remained unsold, along with several other titles. But early in the 19th century - the Age of Enlightenment - the government sold the remaining books for a derisory sum to a bookseller who destroyed the bulk of them to increase the rarity of the remainder. The remaining type and matrices wound up in the Pitti Palace [Florence] where Napoleon was able to loot them at his ease when he conquered Italy. In 1808 Napoleon ordered the punches and matrices to be taken to Paris, where they were used to print Arabic proclamations for distribution in the Near East. Eight years later, after Napoleon's exile, they were brought back to Florence" (http://www.saudiaramcoworld.com/issue/198102,/arabic.and.the.art.of.printing-a.special.section.htm, accessed 01-29-2009)

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Architect Domenico Fontana Describes Moving the Obelisk 1590

In 1590 Italian Architect Domenico Fontana published Della transportatione dell'obelisco Vaticano....in Rome at the press of Domenico Basa. The folio volume contained 2 engraved titles, both signed by Natal Bonifacio, 35 full-page and 3 double-page engravings. It described one of the greatest engineering feats of the Renaissance -- the removal of the Vatican obelisk from its old location behind the sacristy of St. Peter's, where it had been since the reign of Caligula, to its present location in the center of the Piazza of St. Peter. The problem of transporting this 327 ton and fragile stone tower had occupied Italian engineers for many years, so that when Pope Sixtus V appointed a council to consider ways and means of moving the obelisk, nearly 500 men came to submit their plans.

The honor went to Domenico Fontana, the pope's official architect, who proved to the council the feasibility of his proposal by making a scale model in lead. Fontana erected a framed tower of timbers surrounding the obelisk and then by means of ropes attached to the tower raised the obelisk from its pedestal, and afterward lowered it so that it should rest on a wooden platform. This platform he had had drawn on rollers to the new site, where the tower was re-erected and the great stone raised from its horizontal position on the platform to the vertical and set on the new base.  The project required 900 men, 75 horses and untold numbers of pulleys and lengths of rope.

The plates in Fontana's volume also illustrate many of the buildings and designs that Fontana executed for Pope Sixtus V.

Hook & Norman, The Haskell F. Norman Library of Science and Medicine (1991) no. 812.

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Galileo Produces his "Compasso" & The First "Computer Manual" 1597 – 1606

Beginning in 1597 Galileo Galilei developed his geometric and military compass into a general-purpose mechanical analog calculator, later known in English as the sector. Galileo produced several examples of his compasso. Images of an example that Galileo may have presented to Cosimo II are available from the Virtual Museum of the Museo Galileo at this link. During the seventeenth century the sector became one of the most widely used mechanical calculators for scientific purposes.

"The Galilean compass—not to be confused with drawing compasses—is a sophisticated and versatile calculating instrument for performing a wide variety of geometrical and arithmetical operations, making use of the proportionality between the corresponding sides of two similar triangles. It comprises three parts:

- the two legs, held together by a round disk (pivot), whose faces (front and back) are engraved with numerous scales;

- the quadrant, graduated with various scales, which is fixed by means of wing nuts to the holes in the compass legs;

- the clamp, a cursor inserted into one of the compass legs; keeps the instrument vertical and can serve as an extension for the leg holding it" (http://catalogue.museogalileo.it/object/GeometricMilitaryCompass_n01.html, accessed 01-23-2014).

As an instruction manual for purchasers of the compass, and to establish his priority for the invention, in 1606 Galileo published from his own house in Padua, printed by Peitro Marinelli, Le Operazioni del Compasso Geometrico et Militare in an edition of only sixty copies. To avoid having the compass pirated, Galileo had no illustrations of the device included in the pamphlet, which may be considered the first "computer manual."

In January 2014 a digital facsimile of the 1606 edition was available from the digital library of the Museo Galileo at this link.  A video describing Galileo's compasso and its functions narrated in English could be downloaded from the same website as a .zip file at this link.

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Ottavio Ruini Issues the First Book Devoted Exclusively to the Structure of an Animal Other than Man 1598

Detail of head of horse from page of the Dell'anotomia [sic], et dell'infirmita del cavallo.  Click on link below to view and resize full image.

Detail from title page of the Dell'anotomia [sic], et dell'infirmita del cavallo.  Click on link below to view and resize full image.

Carlo Ruini.

In 1598 Conte Ottavio Ruini edited and had published in Bologna, with a dedication to Cardinal Pietro Aldobrandini, Dell'anotomia [sic], et dell'infirmita del cavallo [Book ii: Dell'infirmita del cavallo] by il marchese Carlo Ruini, Bolognese aristocrat, senator, and high-ranking lawyer. 

Ruini's work, was the first book devoted exclusively to the structure of an animal other than man. Following the example of Vesalius, Ruini stressed the importance of "artful instruction" about all parts of the horse's body, the diseases that afflict them, and their cures. The first part of his work gives an exhaustive treatment of equine anatomy, with especially good accounts of the sense organs; it is illustrated with sixty-four full-page woodcuts, of which the last three, showing a stripped horse in a landscape setting, were clearly inspired by the Vesalian "musclemen" plates.

The second part of the work deals with equine diseases and their cures from a traditional Hippocratic-Galenic standpoint. Some scholars, basing their arguments on Ruini's description of the horse's heart and blood vessels, believe that Ruini was active in the discovery of the greater and lesser circulatory systems. This is unlikely, but it is probable that he was one of many at that time who had a notion of the circulation of the blood.

Ruini's work appeared shortly after his death. The unusual rarity of the first edition might be partially explained by fact that a portion of the sheets of the first edition were reissued the following year by printer Gaspare Bindoni in Venice. Copies of this second issue, which is also rare, contain a cancel title and a different dedication leaf changing the dedication to César, Duke of Vendôme, natural son of Henry IV.

Cole, History of Comparative anatomy, 83-97. Hook & Norman, The Haskell F. Norman Library of Science and Medicine (1991) no. 1858.

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1600 – 1650

Guillaume de Castelfranc Issues the First World Map Showing Isogonic Lines 1602 – 1604

During 1602 and 1604 French astronomer and geographer Guillaume de Castelfranc, called Le Nautonier, published the first world map that showed isogonic lines, or lines of geomagnetism. The map appeared in his Mecometrie de l’eymant, c’est a dire la maniere de mesurer les longitudes par le moyen de l’eymant. Par laquelle est enseigné, un tres certain moyen, au paravant inconnu, de trouver les longitudes geographiques de tous lieux,--aussi facilement comme la latitude. Davantage, y est monstree la declinaison de la guideymant, pour tous lieux. Oeuvre nécessaire aux admiraux, cosmographes, astrologues, geographes, pilotes, geometriens, ingenieux, mestres des mines, architectes, et quadraniers. De linvention de Guillaume de Nautonier sieur de Castelfranc en Languedoc ..., imprimé à Venes ches l'autheur par Raimond Colomies, imprimeur en l'Université de Tolose, & par Antoine de Courteneufve. Castelfranc's map was used in work on finding longitude by means of magnetic variation. The tables give the world distribution of the variation, by latitude, along each of the meridians.

There must have been an unusually large international demand for Castelfranc's book as in 1603 editions appeared in Latin, Castilian, English and Dutch. The first part was dedicated to Henri IV of France, the second to James I of England , and the third to Maximilien de Béthune, Duke of Sully and Grand master of artillery, and superintendent of fortifications. The work was used in 1603 by Samuel de Champlain for his cartographic work in New France

Friend, Valero-Mora, and Ibáñez Ulargui, "The First (Known Statistical Graph: Michael Florent van Langen and the 'Secret of Longitude." 2010. http://www.datavis.ca/papers/langren-TAS09154.pdf, accessed 01-08-2013.

Shirley, Mapping of the World, 240.

(This entry was last revised on 03-03-2015.)

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Federico Cesi Founds the Accademia dei Lincei, the First Scientific Society August 17, 1603

Believing that nature should be studied through direct observation, and not through the filter of Aristotelian philosophy, on August 17, 1603 scientist, naturalist and son of the first Duke of Acquasparta, Federico Cesi, together with Dutch scientist Johannes van Heeck (Eck), and Count Anastasio De Filiis, and Italian scientist and Latin translator, Francesco Stelluti founded the Accademia dei Lincei (the "Academy of the Lynx-Eyed") in Rome. 

"The four men chose the name 'Lincei' (lynx) from Giambattista della Porta's book 'Magia Naturalis', which had an illustration of the fabled cat on the cover and the words '. . . with lynx like eyes, examining those things which manifest themselves, so that having observed them, he may zealously use them'. Accademia dei Lincei's symbols were both a lynx and an eagle; animals with keen sight. The academy's motto, chosen by Cesi, was: 'Take care of small things if you want to obtain the greatest results' (minima cura si maxima vis). When Cesi visited Naples, he met the polymath della Porta. Della Porta encouraged Cesi to continue with his endeavours. Giambattista della Porta joined Cesi's academy in 1610.

"Galileo was inducted to the exclusive academy on December 25, 1611, and became its intellectual center. Galileo clearly felt honoured by his association with the academy for he adopted Galileo Galilei Linceo as his signature. The academy published his works and supported him throughout his disputes with the Roman Catholic Church. Among the academy's early publications in the fields of astronomy, physics and botany were the study of sunspots and the famous Saggiatore of Galileo, and the Tesoro Messicano (Mexican Treasury) describing the flora, fauna and drugs of the New World, which took decades of labor, down to 1651. With this publication, the first, most famous phase of the Lincei was concluded. Cesi's own intense activity was cut short by his sudden death in 1630 at forty-five.

"The Linceans produced an important collection of micrographs, or drawings made with the help of the newly invented microscope. After Cesi's death, the Accademia dei Lincei closed and the drawings were collected by Cassiano dal Pozzo, a Roman antiquarian, whose heirs sold them. The majority of the collection was procured by George III of the United Kingdom in 1763. The drawings were discovered in Windsor Castle in 1986 by art historian David Freedberg. They are being published as part of The Paper Museum of Cassiano dal Pozzo" (Wikipedia article on Accademia dei Lincei, accessed 11-27-2010).

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Galileo Presents One of the First Records of Litigation over an Invention 1607

In 1607 Galileo Galilei issued from Venice at the press of Tomaso Baglioni Difesa di Galileo Galilei ... contro alle calumnie & imposture di Baldessar Capra. This booklet published the transcript of the trial resulting from the lawsuit that Galileo successfully brought against Baldessar Capra for copying the proportional and military compass that Galileo had invented. It was among the first, if not the very first, record of litigation over an invention, and most certainly the first litigation in the history of computing.

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Hans Lippershey Invents the Telescope 1608

In 1608 German-Dutch lensmaker of Middelberg, Netherlands, Hans Lippershey created and disseminated designs for the first practical telescope.

"Crude telescopes and spyglasses may have been created much earlier, but Lippershey is believed to be the first to apply for a patent for his design (beating Jacob Metius by a few weeks), and making it available for general use in 1608. He failed to receive a patent but was handsomely rewarded by the Dutch government for copies of his design. The 'Dutch perspective glass', the telescope that Lippershey invented, could only magnify thrice.

"The first known mention of Lippershey's application for a patent for his invention appeared at the end of a diplomatic report on an embassy to Holland from the Kingdom of Siam sent by the Siamese king Ekathotsarot: Ambassades du Roy de Siam envoyé à l'Excellence du Prince Maurice, arrive a La Haye, le 10. septembr. 1608 ('Embassy of the King of Siam sent to his Excellence Prince Maurice, September 10, 1608'). The diplomatic report was soon distributed across Europe, leading to the experiments by other scientists such as the Italian Paolo Sarpi, who received the report in November, or the English Thomas Harriot in 1609, and Galileo Galilei who soon improved the device.

"One story behind the creation of the telescope states that two children were playing with lenses in his shop. The children discovered that images were clearer when seen through two lenses, one in front of the other. Lippershey was inspired by this and created a device very similar to today's telescope" (Wikipedia article on Hans Lippershey, accessed 03-27-2009).

While Sarpi and Harriot experimented with Lippershey's telescope prior or contemporaneously with Galileo, neither wrote or published on the subject.

(This entry was last revised on April 14, 2014.)

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Galileo Issues Images of Revolutionary Discoveries Concerning the Universe; and the Story of a Remarkable Forgery November 1609 – March 13, 1610

After learning in 1609 that a Dutchman, Hans Lippershey, had invented an instrument that made faraway objects appear closer, Italian scientist Galileo Galilei, a resident of Padua, applied himself to discovering the principle behind this instrument. By late in 1609 he built a telescope of about thirty power. This he probably first turned to the heavens in November or December 1609, with astronishing and revolutionary results. In contradiction to the doctrines of Aristotle and Ptolemy, which taught that the celestrial sphere and its planets and stars were perfect and unchanging, Galileo's telescope showed that the surface of the moon was rough and mountainous, and the Milky way was composed of thickly clustered stars. In November or December 1609 Galileo painted six watercolors on a notebook page showing the phases of the moon, as he observed them through the telescope. These images, on a sheet preserved in Florence, at the Biblioteca Nazionale Centrale (Ms. Gal. 48, f. 28r), were the first realistic images of the moon, and the first recorded images of bodies beyond the earth seen by man. 

On the night of January 7, 2010 Galileo set up a telescope on his balcony in Padua. He spotted three stars near Jupiter, and noted their positions in a notebook. Six days later Galileo returned to his telescope and found the same stars, but by then their position had changed. At that point he realized that the three stars were moons orbiting Jupiter— proof that the universe of stars was not fixed, as postulated by Ptolemy's geocentric theory, and evidence for Copernicanism. Three months later Galileo's Sidereus Nuncius, or Starry Messenger, was published in Venice in an edition of 550 copies. The Sidereus Nuncius described and illustrated with copperplate engravings the first astronomical observations made through a telescope. Its images provided revolutionary new information about the universe. Though it contained only the bare facts of Galileo's observations without any overt reference to the Copernican theory, Sidereus Nuncius aroused a sensation among the European learned community, for it provided the first hard evidence that the Aristotelian-Ptolemaic view of the universe contained inaccuracies. 

"He sent a copy of the book, along with the telescope he had been using, to the Grand Duke of Tuscany Cosimo II de’ Medici. Dr. [Owen] Gingerich said the pamphlet amounted to 'a job application' to the Medici family for whom, in one of history’s first examples of branding, Galileo named the four satellites of Jupiter. 'Other planets were gods or goddesses,' said Paolo Galluzzi, director of the Florence institute. 'The only humans with position in sky were Medicis.' The ploy worked, Cosimo II hired Galileo as his astronomer, elevating him from a poorly paid professor at the University of Padua to a celebrity, making the equivalent of $300,000, a year, Dr. Galluzzi said. Galileo returned the favor by giving Cosimo another telescope, clad in red leather and stamped with decorations" (Dennis Overbye, "A Telescope to the Past as Galileo Visits the U.S.", The New York Times, March 27, 2009.)

It is thought that Galileo built dozens of telescopes, of which two survive, both in the Institute for the History of Science (Museo Galileo) in Florence, Italy. One covered in decorated leather, which Galileo sent to Grand Duke Cosimo II de' Medici, retains only one of its original lenses, but the other, covered only in varnished paper, contains its original functioning optics, and has its focal length labeled in Galileo's handwriting on the outside of its tube. This telescope was loaned to the Franklin Institute in Philadelphia for an exhibition from April to September 2009. (The online article in The New York Times included a video showing the original telescope being unpacked in Philadelphia.)


In June 2005 antiquarian bookseller Richard Lan (Martayan-Lan, Inc.) purchased a copy of the Sidereus nuncius from Marino Massimo De Caro and antiquarian bookseller Filippo Rotundo that was represented as a proof copy, signed by Galileo, originally from the library of Federico Cesi, founder of the Accademia dei Lincei. Instead of copperplate engraved illustrations as in other copies of the book, this copy contained watercolors of the phases of the moon similar to those which Galileo made at the end of 1609 and which are preserved in Florence. It was known that the Venetian printer had sent Galileo thirty copies with blank spaces indicating where etchings would be placed. Presumably this was one of those copies, in which Galileo had personally painted images for presentation to Federico Cesi, instead of having engravings printed in. The copy was examined by all the leading authorities, subjected to various tests, and was generally considered a unique proof copy.

The Martayan Lan copy was included in the discussions in a symposium convened at the Library of Congress in November 2010 entitled "Galileo's Moons," intended to celebrate the 400th anniversary of the Sidereus Nuncius and the acquisition by the Library of Congress of an uncut copy of the first edition bound in the original limp paper boards. Papers presented at this symposium accepted the authenticity of the Martayan Lan copy.

In 2011 De Gruyter published a rather grand 2-volume set, fully illustrated in color, based on research begun in 2007. Volume one, edited by Irene Brückle and Oliver Hahn, was entitled Galileo's Sidereus Nuncius. A comparison of the proof copy (New York) with other paradigmatic copies. Volume two, written by Paul Needham, was entitled Galileo Makes a Book. The First Edition of Sidereus Nuncius, Venice 1610. Regarding the significance of Needham's study, I quote from the review by G. Thomas Tanselle, Common Knowledge19, #3, (Fall 2013), 575-576:

"Needham’s book is based on eighty-three other copies, and he draws as well on Galileo’s letters, drafts, and various external documents. The result is a detailed account of the early months of 1610, from January 15, when Galileo decided he must publish his discoveries, to March 13, when the printing was completed; an additional chapter discusses the book’s distribution and Galileo’s corrections in some copies. The task of bibliography, as stated by Needham, is to know “the materials and human actions that produced (in multiple copies) the structure of a printed book.” Systematically he takes up the paper, type, and format of Sidereus Nuncius and provides a quire-by-quire analysis of its production, making exemplary use of many techniques of bibliographical analysis, each patiently and clearly explained, with accompanying illustrations. The book could serve as an excellent introduction to this kind of work; but even more remarkably, it demonstrates how interconnected are the physical object and its intellectual content. The title sentence, “Galileo makes a book,” has a double meaning: not only did Galileo write the text, but he also attended to its physical production, making the presentation of the text integral to its meaning. Needham does not neglect Galileo’s writing itself: he calls Galileo “an artist with words,” whose “prose embodies not just close reasoning, but also life and emotion.”

"This assessment applies equally to Needham’s own writing, which combines rigorous but readable technical analysis with an awareness of the human side of that work and the story it reveals. This combination recalls an earlier bibliographical classic, Allan Stevenson’s The Problem of the Missale Speciale (1967), another full-length treatment of a single book. Even the sense of humor displayed by Stevenson has its counterpart here: when, for example, Needham explains two hypotheses as to when the printing of Galileo’s book began, he calls the one that postulates a later date “the dilatory view.” At the end Needham praises the many nameless actors, such as papermakers and printing-shop workers, who played roles in the story; and he closes with “the mules and oxen whose humble labor moved sheets of Sidereus Nuncius across the face of Europe, under the eyes of the boundless sky.” This passage, occurring in a work of bibliographical analysis, epitomizes the work’s unusual accomplishment: it breaks new ground in the study of a major book, sets forth its discoveries in an engaging narrative, and in the process shows how bibliography can be essential to intellectual history."

Until early 2012 Richard Lan was privately offering the copy for sale for $10,000,000. Then Nick Wilding, an historian of science at Georgia State University who had been asked to review the 2-volume set mentioned above, presented concrete proof that the Martayan-Lan copy was a forgery:

  • The book bears a library stamp by the founder of the Accademia dei Lincei Federico Cesi. But the stamp in the Martayan Lan copy doesn’t match those in other books with Cesi's stamp.
  • The title page was different from genuine copies, but bore similarities to a 1964 facsimile and an unsold Sotheby’s auction copy.
  • There was no record of the Siderus Nuncius in the original library from which this copy was thought to come.

Slowly the thread of fabrication began to unravel. Discovery of the forgery coincided with the exposure of massive thefts of rare books from the Girolomini Library in Naples, for which Marino Massimo De Caro, and others were eventually convicted. In 2013 the Library of Congress and Levenger Press issued Galileo Galilei, The Starry Messenger, Venice, 1610. From Doubt to Astonishment. This volume contained a facsimile edition of the Library of Congress copy, an English translation, and the text of the papers delivered at the November 2010 symposium. However, as the editor of the volume noted, Paul Needham revised his paper (now retitled "Authenticity and Facsimile: Gaileo's Paper Trail") in light of his later acceptance that the Martayan Lan copy was a forgery. On December 16, 2013 The New Yorker magazine published a detailed background article on the forgery and how it was accomplished, by Nicholas Schmidel: "A Very Rare Book. The mystery surrounding a copy of Gaileo's pivotal treatise." While the article filled in many blanks concerning the Sidereus Nuncius forgery, it raised other questions concerning other unknown thefts and forgeries by Marino Massimo de Caro and his associates.

In February 2014 De Gruyter issued an originally unintended volume three of their 2011 two-volume set entitled A Galileo Forgery. Unmasking the New York Sidereus Nuncius, edited by Horst Bredekamp, Irëne Bruckel, and Paul Needham. When I last revised this entry in August 2014 the full text of the volume was available as an Open Access PDF at no charge. This was the most comprehensive account and proof of the forgery. In many ways it was the most remarkable and admirable volume of the set, in which the scholars, recounted how the forgery was discovered, drew their final conclusions proving the forgery, and explained how they had been deceived in the first place.

Hook & Norman, The Haskell F. Norman Library of Science and Medicine (1991) no. 855.

(This entry was last revised on 04-04-2015.)

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François d'Aguilon & Peter Paul Rubens Describe Optics and Color Theory 1613

Belgian Jesuit mathematician, physicist and architect François d'Aguilon published Opticorum libri sex philosophis juxta ac mathematicis utiles in Antwerp at the Officina Plantiniana in 1613. Intended for use in Jesuit schools, Aguilon’s work was primarily a synthesis of classical and modern writings on optics; however, it also contained the first discussion of the stereographic process (which Aguilon named), one of the earliest presentations of the red-yellow-blue color system, an original theory of binocular vision and the first published description of Aguilon’s horopter.

“The horopter is the invention, or rather discovery, of Aguilon; he coined the term and showed how important the horopter is in explaining vision with two eyes; he even demonstrated the horopter in a simple device constructed by him and pictured by Rubens. . . . The theory of Aguilon on the horopter is a large step in the right direction, calling a halt to all previous deficient theories” (Ziggelaar, François Aguilon, 115; see also 53-133).

Aguilar’s theory of binocular vision was eventually superseded (despite claims to the contrary, he apparently knew nothing about Kepler’s ideas on the retina); nevertheless his ideas had some influence on the theorists of vision from Huygens to Newton to Helmholtz.

Production of Aguilon’s book fell to the Plantin-Moretus printing house, whose controllers were sympathetic to the Jesuits in Antwerp. The illustrations and allegorical title were prepared by painter, collector, and humanist scholar Peter Paul Rubens, a friend of Balthasar Moretus and himself deeply interested in the world of books.

“The designs for the frontispiece and six vignettes reveal Rubens’ knowledge of the actual text. . . . Rubens combined successfully Aguilonius’ references to ancient mythology and allegory into a coherent programme that also includes a connection with the science of optics, for all the various elements on the frontispiece have a direct relationship with the concept of vision” (Held, Rubens and the Book  [1977] 52).  

Hook & Norman, The Haskell F. Norman Library of Science and Medicine (1991) no. 25.

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John Napier Invents Logarithms, Napier's Bones & the Lightning Calculating Device 1614 – 1617

Preface page from Mirifici logarithmorum canonis descriptio, by John Napier, describing the (then) new mathematical device known as logarithms.



In 1614 Scottish mathematician, physicist, astronomer & astrologer, and also the 8th Laird of Merchistoun John Napier published from Edinburgh his Mirifici logarithmorum canonis descriptio (The Description of the Wonderful Canon of Logarithms), announcing his invention of logarithms,with the goal of increasing calculating speed and reducing drudgery.

Three years later, in 1617, Napier published Rabdologiae, describing two calculating devices: “Napier’s bones,” and the Multiplicationis promptuarium, or the lightning calculator.

"He [Napier] wrote that the multiplication and division of great numbers is troublesome, involving tedious expenditure of time, and subject to "slippery errors." His tables reduced these difficulties to simple addition and subtraction, and won immediate recognition. A set of Napier’s bones are usually made of boxwood or ivory and often contained in a box or case that would fit in a pocket. A set usually contains 10 rods, plus extras representing squares and cubes.  

"Use. Addition is accomplished by reading the appropriate bones along the diagonal. To obtain a product of 224 x 44, the rods 2, 2, and 4 are put alongside each other, and the result is read off by combining the numbers in the fourth row -- 0/8, 0/8, 1/6 -- for the correct answer 896. This is repeated and the two products added together to give 9856. The bones are sometimes associated with an abacus to provide a store in the multiplication process" (Gordon Bell's website, accessed 10-12-2011).

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Michael Maier Publishes Early Multimedia: Words, Images and Music 1617

In 1617 German physician, alchemist, epigrammist and amateur composer Michael Maier published Atalanta Fugiens, an alchemical emblem book, in Oppenheim at the Press of engraver and publisher Johann Theodore de Bry. The work incorporated 50 emblems (images) by the German engraver Matthäus Merian, de Bry's son-in-law, each with a motto, epigram, and a three-part musical setting of the epigram, followed by an exposition of its meaning. The book extended the concept of an emblem book by incorporating 50 fugues, a technique of music composition in which a theme or themes are stated in two or more voices and repeated frequently at different pitches. The title of Maier's book, Atalanta Fugiens, or Atalanta Fleeing, alluding to the virgin huntress Atalanta of Greek mythology, who was unwilling to marry and was loved by the hero Meleager, contains a pun on the word fugue.

Early translations of Maier's work survived in manuscript: British Library MS. Sloane 3645, and Mellon MS. 48 at Yale. In December 2013 an English translation of Atalanta Fugiens reproducing the images and incorporating transcriptions from the Sloan MS, and some translations by H. M. de Jong, was available from the hermetic.com website at this link. At the time the same translation was also available from several other websites.

H. M. de Jong, Michael Maier's Atalanta Fugiens: Sources of an Alchemical Book of Emblems. (1969). 

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Girolamo Sirtori Issues the First Book on the Telescope 1618

In 1618 Milanese scholar Girolamo Sirtori (Hieronymus Sirturus) published the first book on the telescope: Telescopium: sive ars perficiendi novum illud Galilaei virorium instrumentum ad sydera, issued from Frankfurt at the press of Paul Jacob. Sirtori had written the book in 1612, only 4 years after the telescope was invented. The book contained a complete set of instructions, and diagrams, for building a refracting telescope.

van Helden, Dupré, van Gent, & Zuidervaart (eds.) The Origins of the Telescope (2010) 3, and numerous other references.

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Gaspard Bauhin Establishes Plant Classification Based upon General Morphology 1623

In 1623 Physician Gaspard Bauhin published in Basel Pinax theatri botanici. . . sive index in Theophrasti Dioscoridis Plinii et botanicorum qui a secula scripserunt opera. Bauhin's work began the system of "natural" plant classification based upon general morphology, and established the first scientific system of nomenclature.  Bauhin discarded the alphabetical and other arbitrary systems used by earlier writers, insisting that any useful method of classification must be based on natural affinities. He grouped plants according to their genera, then, drawing from his own observations and the works of earlier authors, gave each species within a genus a descriptive name. He thus introduced an orderly system of binomial nomenclature, which—although the concept did not originate with him— marked a significant improvement over earlier schemes.

Hook & Norman, The Haskell F. Norman Library of Science and Medicine (1991) no. 139.

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William Harvey Publishes His Discovery and Experimental Proof of the Circulation of the Blood 1628

Detail from plate 1 of Exercitatio anatomica de motu cordis et sanguinis in animalibus.  Please click on link below to view and resize entire image.

Detail of title page of Exercitatio anatomica de motu cordis et sanguinis in animalibus.  Please click on link below to view and resize entire image.

Wlliam Harvey's Exercitatio anatomica de motu cordis et sanguinis in animalibus was published in Frankfurt in 1628. In this work Harvey presented the discovery and experimental proof of the circulation of the blood. Since antiquity, ideas about the physiology and pathology of most parts of the body had been based to an important degree on assumptions made about the function of the heart and blood vessels. In fundamentally changing the conception of these functions, Harvey pointed the way to reform of all of physiology and medicine.

Why Harvey chose a European publisher for his book has long provoked speculation— the most plausible conjecture is that Harvey wanted his book published on the Continent so that it would more easily gain international distribution and acceptance. His choice of the Frankfurt publisher William Fitzer seems to have arisen from his long acquaintance with Robert Fludd, whose books were then being published by Fitzer.

The physical distance between Harvey and his publisher seems to have precluded Harvey from correcting proofs, as he was compelled to issue an errata leaf with no less than 126 corrections. Since very few copies of De motu cordis include this errata leaf, it has been argued that it was probably added after a large portion of the edition had already been sold. Even so, Harvey's errata list must have been compiled with some haste, as the Latin text edited by Akenside for the College of Physicians in 1766 contains 246 emendations. Fitzer had Harvey's book printed on paper of poor quality, which has deteriorated in virtually all surviving copies. The first edition must have been relatively small since only about 68 copies have survived, nearly all in institutions.

Hook & Norman, The Haskell F. Norman Library of Science and Medicine, (1991) no. 1006.

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Francesco Stelluti Issues the First Book Containing Images of Organisms Viewed through the Microscope 1630

In 1630 Italian scientist Francesco Stelluti published Persio tradotto in verso schiolto e dichiarato . . . in Rome at the press of Giacomo Mascardi. This translation of the works of the Latin poet Persius (Aulus Persius Flaccus), Stelluti dedicated to Cardinal Francesco Barberini in an attempt to gain the Cardinal's patronage for the Accademia dei Lincei, one of the first scientific societies, of which Stelluti was a co-founder. Stelluti’s edition of Persius was intended for the most part as a means for advertising the Accademia’s activities. “Whenever he possibly could, Stelluti took a word or phrase in Persius—almost any word or phrase—and used it as an excuse to refer to one or another aspect of the natural historical researches of the Linceans. The most insignificant reference in the elegies sparked long and short excursuses on the Linceans’ work” (Freedburg, p. 187) 

Stelluti's book was also the first book to contain images of organisms as viewed through the microscope. The book’s striking full-page image of a magnified bee (p. 52), showing minute details of the antennae, legs, sting, head and tongue, “still has the capacity to arouse the wonder of modern experts” (Freedburg, p. 189). On page 127 is a smaller illustration of a magnified grain weevil, including a detail of the tip of the insect’s snout and mandibles.

An obscure reference in Persius’s first satire to what may have been the ancient town of Eretum gave Stelluti his pretext for including the bee images, since the former Eretum was then presumably Monterotondo, seat of the Barberini country estate, and the Barberini family had adopted the bee as its emblem. Stelluti’s weevil image was likewise prompted by a mention of that insect in another of Persius’s poems.

Stelluti’s bee image is similar, but not identical to, an earlier image showing magnified views of a bee, that Stelluti published as a broadsheet in 1625 under the title Apiarium; this broadsheet is extremely rare, with only two or three copies recorded. The Apiarium was intended to form part of a projected encyclopedia by Stelluti’s fellow Lincean Federico Cesi, but this project was never realized. In 1624 Cesi had been sent a microscope by Galileo, another Lincean, and it was most likely this instrument that Cesi and Stelluti used to prepare their pioneering images of insects under magnification.

Ford, Images of Science: A History of Scientific Illustration, pp. 172-173, 179-180. Freedburg, The Eye of the Lynx: Galileo, His Friends, and the Beginnings of Modern Natural History (2003).

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Théophraste Renaudot's Conferences Predate the Royal Society August 23, 1633 – June 10, 1641

Théophraste Renaudot

French physician, philanthropist and journalist Théophraste Renaudot organized a series of weekly public conferences on diverse subjects, including science, called Conférences du Bureau d'Adresse. These were published by the Bureau d'Adresse as Questions traitées ès Conferences du Bureau d'Adresse (5 volumes, 1633-1641).

In 1630 Renaudot founded the Bureau d'Adresse in Paris.

"The Bureau was basically an employment agency combined with an outpatient clinic. Whoever registered there (for 0 to 3 sous, according to his means) received free medical treatment and help in finding jobs, cheap clothing, lodging, and furniture. The Bureau also granted its clients small-scale credits on security and helped them in their dealings with government offices and the law. It kept a card index of people looking for service or offering help. It also kept a current price index. Gradually it branched out into an advertising agency, a travel agency, a messenger service, a horse rental and shop where almost everything could be bought or hired: curios, antiques, domestic animals, houses, estates, geneologies, the services of private tutors, funerals. . . . The Bureau arranged marriages, recruited soldiers, found monks for understaffed monasteries and even planned to deal in academic degrees.

"This traffic in goods and services naturally also involved the traffic in information. With clients from all walks of life and through a network of correspondents the Bureau systematically collected news from home and abroad, which proved very valuable to the government. Indeed this was the main reason for the continuing protection which it received from Père Joseph and Cardinal Richelieu. They not only skimmed off its information, they also used it to influence public opinion. . . .

"Renaudot also made the Bureau into a centre of intellectual life. From 1633 on, he organized weekly 'conferences' in its rooms on the Ile de St. Louis. As in the earlier Renaissance academies, quaestiones were put up for discussion at these meetings which triggered the exchange of opinions, but were not decided by empirical research. . . In other respects these 'conferences' were looking towards the scientific societies of the second half of the 17th century; the discussions were held in the vernacular (French, not Latin); it was forbidden to quote 'authorities'; religious and political topics had to be avoided. Occasionally even experiments wer performed in order to demonstrate some point of discussion. In 1640 Renaudot set up a chemical laboratory. Yet his main interest was not pure science, but its humanitarian and pedagogic application. According to Renaudot's philanthropic principles, the 'conferences' were open to everybody who cared and consequently were not considered to be very prestigious among the intellectual élite" (Stagl, A History of Curiosity [1995] 136-37).

Renaudot's weekly conferences bear some comparison to those of the Invisible College, which preceded the Royal Society; however, they were attended by a considerably larger audience, were much closer to popular science in their orientation, and their speakers remained anonymous in the published reports.

The Conférences predate the Journal des sçavans and the Philosophical Transactions by 30 years. They were collected in book form rather than published as a periodical, and were published in English translation in 1664-65, just as the Royal Society was being formed.

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"Je pense, donc je suis." 1637

In 1637 French philosopher, mathematician, and scientist René Descartes issued his Discours de la méthode pour bien conduire sa raison, & chercher la verité‚ dans les sciences. As Descartes spent much of his life in the Dutch Republic, he had the work published in Leiden.

Descartes's Discours presented an outline of Cartesian scientific method, summed up in the famous Four Rules presented in Book 2, together with scientific treatises intended to illustrate the method's range. The four rules may be stated as :

 1. "The first was never to accept anything for true which I did not clearly know to be such; that is to say, carefully to avoid precipitancy and prejudice, and to comprise nothing more in my judgment than what was presented to my mind so clearly and distinctly as to exclude all ground of doubt.

2. "The second, to divide each of the difficulties under examination into as many parts as possible, and as might be necessary for its adequate solution.

3. "The third, to conduct my thoughts in such order that, by commencing with objects the simplest and easiest to know, I might ascend by little and little, and, as it were, step by step, to the knowledge of the more complex; assigning in thought a certain order even to those objects which in their own nature do not stand in a relation of antecedence and sequence.

4.  "And the last, in every case to make enumerations so complete, and reviews so general, that I might be assured that nothing was omitted.

"The enumerations have in time developed into many forms. He suggested drawing boxes on a paper, and connecting them. This idea has led to a multitude of graphic thinking aids that we use today" (Wikipedia article on Discourse on the Method, accessed 03-03-2009).

The work includes three scientific treatises: Dioptrique, containing Descartes's derivation of the law of refraction; Météores; and Géométrie. The work included his invention of the Cartesian coordinate system and the foundation of analytic geometry, the bridge between algebra and geometry, crucial to the invention of calculus and analysis. Though Descartes' most  famous statement is best known by its Latin translation, it was first published in the Discours as "Je pense, donc je suis," and later translated into Latin in his Principia philosophiae as "Cogito, ergo sum."

Carter & Muir, Printing and the Mind of Man (1967) no. 129. Hook & Norman, The Haskell F. Norman Library of Science and Medicine (1991) no. 621.

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Michael Florent van Langren issues the Earliest Known Graph of Statistical Data 1644

In 1644 Dutch astronomer and cartographer Michael Florent van Langren (Langrenus, Miguel Florencio, Michale Florent) published La Verdadera Longitud por Mar y Tierra in Antwerp as a pamphlet. To show the magnitude of the problem of determining longitude, van Langren created the first known graph of statistical data, showing the wide range of estimates of the distance in longitude between Toledo and Rome.

Friendly, Valero-Mora, and Ibáñez Ulargui, "The First (Known Statistical Graph: Michael Florent van Langren and the 'Secret' of Longitude," 2010. http://www.datavis.ca/papers/langren-TAS09154.pdf, accessed 01-108-2013.

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Johannes Hevelius Issues the First Extensive Moon Atlas 1647

In 1647 Brewer, protestant councillor and mayor, instrument maker, astronomer and engraver in Danzig (Gdańsk), Johannes Hevelius (Latin), also called Johannes Hewel, Johann Hewelke, Johannes Höwelcke in German, or Jan Heweliusz (in Polish), self-published Selenographia: sive, lunae descriptio. Besides an allegorical engraved title by Jeremias Falck after Adolf Boy, a portrait of Hevelius also engraved by Falck, after Helmick van Iwenhusen,  the book, published in small folio format, contains 110 plates on 89 sheets, drawn & engraved by the author (1 with volvelle, 3 double-page), and numerous  engravings within the text. 

The result of four years of observations, Selenographia was the first comprehensive atlas of the moon. The first state of the book does not contain the plate RRR, which is not called for in the plate list. Hevelius kept adding to his book as it went through the press; probably some copies were already in circulation by the time he had drawn and engraved plate RRR.

Son of a prosperous brewery owner, Hevelius made his own instruments, made his own drawings, did his own engraving, published his own books, and built the best observatory in Europe on beer proceeds. In the Selenographia he drew excellent moon maps, based on his own observations, and gave many new names to the features observable on the moon's surface such as seas, mountains, craters, borrowing nomenclature from terrestrial geography. For example he named an island of Sicily complete with a Mount Etna, and an island of Corsica, both in the Mediterranean Sea. A few of these names—the Alps, the Apennines, and the Caucasus—remain in use, but most of Hevelius's' nomenclature was superceded in the seventeenth century by that of Giovanni Battista Riccioli

Even more significant was his drawing of the moon in different states of libration; his descriptions of a librational cycle of shadow changes in the lunar details, his method of judging the libration by means of changes in apparent (telescopic) separation of a pair of lunar details, and his introduction of rudimentary lunar coordinate systems provided a sound basis for the work of subsequent astronomers. He also described a mounted lunar globe, perhaps the first of its kind, which allowed representation of librational movements.

The first part of the Selenographia is valuable for the history of optics. Hevelius describes an optical lathe for turning telescope lenses and gives methods for judging the parameters and qualities of lenses. He describes Christoph Scheiner's helioscope, which he eventually modified, the microscope and the military periscope. He illustrates telescopes that he made, which often had unusual fittings and complimentary devices. Hevelius also made observations of Saturn, the satellites of Jupiter, sunspots, comets and the star which he named "Mira." 

Zinner, Astronomische Instrumente 275-82.  Personal communication from Jörn Koblitz, The MetBase Library of Meteoritics and Planetary Sciences.

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1650 – 1700

Samuel Pepys' Library: One of the Most Significant Private Libraries Preserved Intact from 17th Century England, in its Original Bookcases Circa 1650 – 1703

A painting of Samuel Pepys by John Hayls, 1666.

The title page of Newton's Principia.

The library of diarist Samuel Pepys is one of the most significant private libraries preserved intact from seventeenth century England. At Pepys's death in 1703 it included more than 3,000 volumes, including his diary, kept from 1600-1669, all carefully catalogued and indexed. Preserved at Magdalene College, Cambridge, the library, most of which Pepys collected during the last thirteen years of his life, is arranged by size, from No. 1 (the smallest) to No. 3,000 (the largest), and housed in the original twelve seventeenth-century oak bookcases just as Pepys arranged it.  A peculiarity of Pepys's arrangement was that he wanted each book on each shelf to be the same height, and when any book was shorter than the others he had a wooden base made for it, the visible portion of which was rounded and covered in tooled leather to resemble the spine of the book which would sit on it. Pepys's bookcases, also called presses, are among the earliest surviving examples of bookcases in the modern sense. The fine bindings on the books, mostly done for Pepys, are also significant.

Among the most famous items in the Library are the original bound manuscripts of Pepys's diary, and Pepys's copy of the first edition of Newton's Principia (1687), published under Pepys's imprimatur as President of the Royal Society. The library also includes remarkable holdings of incunabula, manuscripts, and printed ballads.

"Most of his [Pepys's] leisure he now spent on his library. He intensified his search for books and prints, setting himself a target of 3000 volumes. Pepys and his library clerk devised a great three-volume catalogue; collated Pepysian copies with those in other collections; adorned volume upon volume with exquisite title pages written calligraphically by assistants; pasted prints into their guard-books; and inserted indexes and lists of contents" (http://www.magd.cam.ac.uk/pepys/latham.html, accessed 02-28-2015).

Pepys made detailed provisions in his will for the preservation of his book collection. When his nephew and heir, John Jackson, died in 1723, it was transferred intact to the Pepys Library, kept in the Pepys Building on the grounds of Magdalene College.

Hobson, Great Libraries (1970) 212-221.

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The Ussher Chronology: The World Was Created in 4004 BCE 1650 – 2012

In his Annales Veteris Testamenti, a prima mundi origine deducti, una cum rerum Asiaticarum et Aegyptiacarum chronico, a temporis historici principio usque ad Maccabaicorum initia producto. ("Annals of the Old Testament, deduced from the first origins of the world, the chronicle of Asiatic and Egyptian matters together produced from the beginning of historical time up to the beginnings of Maccabes") James Ussher, Church of Ireland Archbishop of Armagh and Primate of All Ireland, deduced that the first day of creation began at nightfall preceding Sunday, October 23, 4004 BCE, in the proleptic Julian calendar, near the autumnal equinox. Ussher published a continuation of this work, Annalium pars postierior, in 1654. The work was first translated into English in London in 1658 as The Annals of the World

"Ussher's proposed date of 4004 BC differed little from other Biblically based estimates, such as those of Jose ben Halafta (3761 BC), Bede (3952 BC), Ussher's near-contemporary Scaliger (3949 BC), Johannes Kepler (3992 BC) or Sir Isaac Newton (c. 4000 BC). Ussher's specific choice of starting year may have been influenced by the then-widely-held belief that the Earth's potential duration was 6,000 years (4,000 before the birth of Christ and 2,000 after), corresponding to the six days of Creation, on the grounds that "one day is with the Lord as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day" (2 Peter 3:8)" (Wikipedia article on Ussher chronology, accessed 12-28-2012).

Ussher also provided exact dates for biblical and ancient history. He published dates in the margins of his work according to the year of the world, the Julian period, and the year before Christ. Because from the 1680s Ussher's chronology was published in the great many editions of the King James Bible, his chronology became enormously influential. Even though it was written in the seventeenth century, and aspects of its scholarship are obsolete, it remains influential today, particularly among Young Earth creationists in America who interpret the Bible literally.

"A 2011 Gallup survey reports, 'Three in 10 Americans interpret the Bible literally, saying it is the actual word of God. That is similar to what Gallup has measured over the last two decades, but down from the 1970s and 1980s. A 49% plurality of Americans say the Bible is the inspired word of God but that it should not be taken literally, consistently the most common view in Gallup's nearly 40-year history of this question. Another 17% consider the Bible an ancient book of stories recorded by man.'

"A 2012 Gallup survey reports, 'Forty-six percent of Americans believe in the creationist view that God created humans in their present form at one time within the last 10,000 years. The prevalence of this creationist view of the origin of humans is essentially unchanged from 30 years ago, when Gallup first asked the question. About a third of Americans believe that humans evolved, but with God's guidance; 15% say humans evolved, but that God had no part in the process.' Adherence to young Earth creationism in the U.S. has been found to be the highest in the Western world" (Wikipedia article on Young Earth creationism, accessed 12-28-2012).

In December 2012 I purchased the outstanding new edition of Ussher's The Annals of the World, revised and updated by Larry and Marion Pierce and published by Master Books in Green Forest, Arkansas in 2003.  My copy, acquired from Amazon, is the ninth printing of August 2010.  This small folio volume, printed on Bible paper and bound somewhat like a Bible in attractive leather-grained plastic covered cloth, with gilt edges and a ribbon marker, is described by the publishers as "James Ussher's Classic Survey of World History." It is enclosed in an attractive slipcase that suggests that it contains currently useful historical information. It is evident from details in the appendices that the audience for this edition—clearly a rather large one in view of the number of printings—may include creationists. The enclosed CD-ROM includes some additional information attempting to reconcile aspects of modern science with the creationist view.

Rosenberg & Grafton, Cartographies of Time (2010) 65-67.

(This entry was last revised on 04-16-2014.)

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Possibly the Earliest High-Level Printed Scientific Book Written by a Woman 1650

In 1650 Silesian astronomer Maria Cunitz (Maria Cunitia, Cunicia, Cunitzin, Kunic, Cunitiae, Kunicia, Kunicka) published Urania Propitia, sive Tabulae Astronomicae. . . in Olesnica (Oels), present day Poland. Publication of this work—the earliest high-level printed scientific book written by a woman—caused Cunitz to be aclaimed as the most learned worman in astronomy since the Neoplatonist philosopher Hypatia of Alexandria.

Urania Propitia, published with parallel texts in Latin and German, was a simplification of Kepler's Tabulae Rudolphinae (1627) providing new tables, and new ephemera.

"Maria Cunitz's 550-page book is a complete reworking of the mathematics of Johannes Kepler's Rudolphine Tables (1627) for the computation of planetary positions. Her objective was to simplify the calculations, primarily by elimination of logarithms. Her book provides 300 pages of tables of numbers and a new calculation method glossed with 250 pages of text written in both German and Latin. Considering the mathematical accomplishment represented by her book, Cunitz seems to have been the most advanced scholar in mathematical astronomy of her time" (Smeltzer, Ruben, Rose, Extraordinary Women in Science & Medicine, New York: The Grolier Club, 2013, no. 106).

"Today, her [Cunitz's] book is also credited for its contribution to the development of the German scientific language" (Wikipedia article on Maria Cunitz, accessed 10-07-2013).

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Borel Publishes an Encrypted Notice of Huygens' Discovery of Saturn's Ring 1656

In 1656 French physician, chemist, botanist, and savant Pierre Borel published the first documentary history of the invention of the telescope and microscope in De vero telscope inventore, cum brevi omnium conpiciliorum historia. . . . accessit etiam centuria microscopicarum in The Hague (Den Haag, 's-Gravenhage). Borel's work also contained Christiaan Huygens's preliminary announcement in anagram form of his discovery of the rings of Saturn and of the Saturnian moon Titan. Borel's purpose in compiling his history was to publish the evidence obtained by William Boreel, French ambassador to the Dutch States, supporting the claims of Dutch spectacle-maker Zacharias Jansen to the invention of both the telescope and compound microscope. Jansen's first claim is not generally recognized (German-Dutch lensmaker Hans Lippershey is traditionally credited with inventing the first telescope), but Jansen probably did invent the compound microscope, the original of which Boreel saw in 1619.

One of the several documents that Borel collected for his history was a letter from Christiaan Huygens entitled "De Saturni luna observation nona," dated March 5, 1656, recounting his discovery of the Saturnian moon Titan and giving in anagram form his solution to the problem of the mysterious variable "arms" of Saturn. Huygens had concluded that the "arms" were really a single ring surrounding the planet, a solution that, three years later, he announced in Systema Saturnium. By publication of the anagram he was able to establish his priority before full disclosure of the discovery.

Hook & Norman, The Haskell F. Norman Library of Science and Medicine (1991) no. 268.

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Huygens Invents the Pendulum Clock, Increasing Accuracy Sixty Fold 1656

In 1656 Dutch mathematician, astronomer, physicist and horologist Christiaan Huygens invented the pendulum clock in 1656 and patented it in 1657. This technology reduced the loss of time by clocks from about 15 minutes to about 15 seconds per day.

"Huygens contracted the construction of his clock designs to clockmaker Salomon Coster [of The Hague], who actually built the clock. Huygens was inspired by investigations of pendulums by Galileo Galilei beginning around 1602. Galileo discovered the key property that makes pendulums useful timekeepers: isochronism, which means that the period of swing of a pendulum is approximately the same for different sized swings. Galileo had the idea for a pendulum clock in 1637, which was partly constructed by his son in 1649, but neither lived to finish it. The introduction of the pendulum, the first harmonic oscillator used in timekeeping, increased the accuracy of clocks enormously, from about 15 minutes per day to 15 seconds per day leading to their rapid spread as existing 'verge and foliot' clocks were retrofitted with pendulums.

"These early clocks, due to their verge escapements, had wide pendulum swings of up to 100°. In his 1673 analysis of pendulums, Horologium Oscillatorium, Huygens showed that wide swings made the pendulum inaccurate, causing its period, and thus the rate of the clock, to vary with unavoidable variations in the driving force provided by the movement. Clockmakers' realization that only pendulums with small swings of a few degrees are isochronous motivated the invention of the anchor escapement around 1670, which reduced the pendulum's swing to 4°-6°. The anchor became the standard escapement used in pendulum clocks. In addition to increased accuracy, the anchor's narrow pendulum swing allowed the clock's case to accommodate longer, slower pendulums, which needed less power and caused less wear on the movement. The seconds pendulum (also called the Royal pendulum) in which each swing takes one second, which is about one metre (39.37 in) long, became widely used. The long narrow clocks built around these pendulums, first made by William Clement around 1680, became known as grandfather clocks. The increased accuracy resulting from these developments caused the minute hand, previously rare, to be added to clock faces beginning around 1690" (Wikipedia article on Pendulum clock, accessed 12-25-2011).

The first pendulum clock created by Salomon Coster of the Hague, and dated 1657, is preserved in the Museum Boerhaave, Leiden, The Netherlands.

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Huygens Publishes his Discovery of Saturn's Ring 1659

In 1659 Dutch mathematician, astronomer, physicist and horologist Christiaan Huygens published his discovery of Saturn's ring and and many other observations on the planets and their satellites in Systema Saturnium, sive de causis mirandorum Saturni phaenomenon, et comite ejus planeta novo in The Hague. With an improved telescope which he built with his brother Constantijn, and a theory based upon the Cartesian concept of vortices, Huygens was able to solve the problem of the "arms" of Saturn, whose existence and variable aspect had puzzled astronomers since their discovery by Galileo. Huygens hypothesized that the varying "arms" were actually the phases of a single thin flat ring, surrounding but not touching the planet, and inclined at an angle of twenty-eight degrees to the ecliptic.

"The rest of Systema Saturnium is an exhaustive exposition of how this ring, which stays parallel to itself, can account for all Saturn’s appearances, fixing its inclination to the ecliptic and its points of intersection with the ecliptic, and making predictions as to when future appearances will be seen. The lucidity of the tract is well-illustrated by the explanatory figure used by Huygens, which is still used today to explain the appearances” (Van Helden, pp. 161-162).

Huygens’ Saturn ring theory aroused some controversy among his fellow astronomers, in part because of his disparaging remarks about the superiority of his telescopes to their own, and in part because of his advocacy of the Copernican system. One of those upset by Huygens’ work was the French Jesuit mathematician and physicist Honoré Fabri, who took exception to Huygens’ frank Copernicanism. Fabri teamed up with the optical instrument maker Eustachio Divini, whose telescopes had supposedly been slighted by Huygens, and in the summer of 1660 a polemic tract entitled Brevis annotatio in systema Saturnium appeared in Rome. Though Divini’s name appeared on the title page, it was written by Fabri. Fabri rejected Huygens’ ring hypothesis, postulating instead that Saturn had two massive but dark satellites close to the planet and two small but bright satellites farther out, which would account for all the planet’s observed appearances. “It was not difficult for Huygens to find fault with this hypothesis, and he quickly issued a reply, entitled Brevis assertio systematis Saturni, in which he pointed out that the outline of the anses [arms] is elliptical, not circular, and also challenged Fabri to find the appropriate periods of these supposed satellites” (Van Helden, p. 165). 

To preserve his priority in the discovery before he was ready to publish in detail Huygens had presented this solution three years earlier in a single-sentence anagram at the end of his "De Saturni luna observatio nona," published in Borel's De vero telescope inventore (1656). 

Van Helden, “’Annulo cingitur’: The solution of the problem of Saturn,” Journal for the History of Astronomy 5 (1974) 155-173. Hook & Norman, The Haskell F. Norman Library of Science and Medicine (1991) no. 1136.

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Filed under: Science

The Longest Series of Monthly Temperature Observations 1659

The Central England Temperature (CET) record, a meteorological dataset originally published by English climatologist Gordon Manley in 1953, and subsequently extended and updated in 1974 following many decades of painstaking work, documents the monthly mean surface air temperatures, for the Midlands region of England in degrees Celsius from the year 1659 to the present. This record represents the longest series of monthly temperature observations in existence. It is monthly from 1659, and a daily version has been produced from 1772.

"The monthly means from November 1722 onwards are given to a precision of 0.1°C. The earliest years of the series, from 1659 to October 1722 inclusive, for the most part only have monthly means given to the nearest degree or half a degree, though there is a small 'window' of 0.1 degree precision from 1699 to 1706 inclusive. This reflects the number, accuracy, reliability and geographical spread of the temperature records that were available for the years in question" (Wikipedia article on Central England temperature, accessed 03-09-2013).

Manley, G., "The mean temperature of central England, 1698–1952," Quarterly Journal of the Royal Meteorological Society, vol. 79 (1953) 242-261.

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John Evelyn Attacks Air Pollution 1661

In 1661 English gardiner, diarist and environmentalist John Evelyn published Fumifugium: or the Inconveniencie of the Aer and Smoak of London Dissipated, together with some remedies humbly proposed, a pioneering attack on air polution caused by the "hellish and dismall cloud of sea-coal" which perpetually enveloped London at the time. Of course, the problem Evelyn wrote about did not dissipate, and the work continued to be reprinted, with at least four editions published in the 20th century, including one in 1961 by the National Society for Clean Air.

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Mechanistic View of the Human Body 1662

Detail of page from Decartes' De homine figuris.  Please click on link below to view and resize entire page.

Detail of title page of Decartes' De homine figuris.  Please click on link below to view and resize entire page.

Rene Decartes.

In 1662 René Descartes published De homine figuris. . . in Leiden. He had written the manuscript in French, originally intending it to accompany his Discours de la méthode (1637) but suppressed it after the condemnation of Galileo in 1633, fearing that his mechanistic view of the human body might be considered heretical. The physician Florentius Schuyl translated Descartes' text into Latin. The Latin edition included 10 engraved plates, including a "dissected" plate of the heart with the interior parts shown by means of lift-up flaps, plus engraved and woodcut text illustrations. Two years later the book first appeared in French in an edition published in Paris, with different illustrations.

De homine was the first attempt to cover the whole field of "animal physiology." It was based upon Descartes's concept of "l'homme machine," an automaton constructed by God to approximate real men as closely as possible.  By using this literary device Descartes was able to avoid the restrictions and encumbrances of traditional physiology and theology, and to explain all physical motions, except for deliberately wilful, rational or self-conscious behavior, in purely mechanical terms. The work is particularly noteworthy for containing "the first descriptive statement of involuntary action which bears a recognizable resemblance to the modern concept of reflex action." Descartes had first used the word "reflex" in a neurophysiological sense in Les passions de l'âme (1649). 

J. Norman (ed.) Morton's Medical Bibliography (1991) no. 574. Hook & Norman, The Haskell F. Norman Library of Science and Medicine (1991) no. 627.

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Argument for Forest Management 1664

In 1664 English writer, gardener, and diarist, John Evelyn published a protest against the destruction of England's forests to fuel her glass factories and iron furnaces. His book, the verbose title of which was Sylva, or a Discourse of Forest-Trees, and the Propagation of Timber in His Majesty's Dominions. .  . .To Which is Annexed Pomona, or an Appendix Concerning Fruit-Trees. . .also Kalendarium Hortense; or Gardeners' Almanac. . . . was influential in establishing a much-needed program of reforestation in order to provide timber for Britain's burgeoning navy. This program had a lasting effect on the British economy.

Sylva also bears the distinction of being the first official publication of the Royal Society, which had been permitted to publish in 1662.  The first edition contained two appendixes, "Pomona" and "Kalendarium Hortense"; the second of these, a gardening calendar, was often reprinted separately, and proved to be Evelyn's most popular work.

Hook & Norman, The Haskell F. Norman Library of Science and Medicine (1991) no. 745.

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Robert Hooke's Graphic Portrayal of the Hitherto Unknown Microcosm 1665

In 1665 Robert Hooke published Micrographia: Or Some Physiological Descriptions of Minute Bodies Made by Magnifying Glasses in London. This was the first book devoted entirely to microscopical observations, and also the first book to pair its microscopic descriptions with profuse and detailed illustrations. This graphic portrayal of the hitherto unknown microcosm had an impact rivalling that of Galileo's Sidereus nuncius (1610), which was the first book to include images of the macrocosm shown through the telescope. It was also the second book published under the auspices of the Royal Society of London.

Hooke began his observations with studies of non-living materials, such as woven cloth and frozen urine crystals, then proceeded to investigations of plant and animal life.  He published the first studies of insect anatomy, giving a lucid account of the compound eye of the fly, and illustrating the microscopic details of such structures as apian wings, flies' legs and feet, and the sting of the bee.  His famous and dramatic portraits of the flea and louse, a frightening eighteen inches long, are hardly less startling today than they must have been to Hooke's contemporaries.  His botanical observations include the first description of the plant-like form of molds, and of the honeycomb-like structure of cork, which last he described as being composed of "cellulae"— thereby coining the modern biological usage of the work "cell" to describe the basic microscopic units of tissue.

In January 2014 a digital facsimile of the first edition of Hooke's Micrographia was available from the National Library of Medicine's website at this link.

Hook & Norman, The Haskell F. Norman Library of Science and Medicine (1991) no. 1092.

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Journal des sçavans: The First Scientific Journal Begins Publication January 5, 1665

On January 5, 1665 French writer Denis de Sallo, Sieur de la Coudraye (pseudonym Sieur d'Hédonville) published from Paris the first issue of the first French literary and scientific journal, Journal des sçavans. This was also the earliest scientific journal published in Europe, predating Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London by three months.

"The journal ceased publication in 1792, during the French Revolution, and although it very briefly reappeared in 1797 under the updated title Journal des savants, it did not re-commence regular publication until 1816. From then on, the Journal des savants became more of a literary journal, and ceased to carry significant scientific material" (Wikipedia article on Journal des sçavans, accessed 07-31-2009).

In February 2014 the Journal des sçavans was available online from the Gallica digital library of the Bibliothèque nationale de France Gallica digital library at this link

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The Oldest Continuous Journal of an Academy of Science Begins Publication March 6, 1665

On March 6, 1665 Philosophical Transactions: Giving some Accompt of the Present Undertakings, Studies, and Labours of the Ingenious in Many Considerable Parts of the World began publication in London by the Royal SocietyPhilosophical Transactions is the oldest continuously published journal of an academy of science.

Leading up to its first publication, on 1 March 1664/5, two years after the granting of its charter, the Royal Society authorized its second secretary, Henry Oldenburg, to publish at his own expense a monthly collection of scientific papers communicated to him either by members of the society or by foreign scientists. Although it was not the earliest scientific periodical, since Journal des sçavans antedated it by three months, Philosophical Transactions, with its long papers, book reviews and notices of work in progress, became the primary means of communication between English and Continental scientists, and served as a model for later periodicals issued by scientific academies.

"The first volumes of what is now the world's oldest scientific journal in continuous publication were very different from today's journal, but in essence it served the same function; namely to inform the Fellows of the Society and other interested readers of the latest scientific discoveries. As such, Philosophical Transactions established the important principles of scientific priority and peer review, which have become the central foundations of scientific journals ever since. In 1886, the breadth and scope of scientific discovery had increased to such an extent that it became necessary to divide the journal into two, Philosophical Transactions A and B, covering the physical sciences and the life sciences respectively" (http://rstl.royalsocietypublishing.org/, where all issues of Philosophical Transactions are available online)

Carter & Muir, Printing and the Mind of Man (1967) no. 148.

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The First Treatise on Chemistry Written by a Woman 1666

La chymie charitable et facile, en faveur des dames, a book on practical chemistry, pharmacology and medicine written for the common reader, written by French autodidact Marie Meurdrac (?1610-1680) and first published in Paris in 1666, was the first treatise on chemistry written by a woman. Clearly a work that found a wide market, it underwent five editions in French, the last of which was published in 1711, six editions in German, and one in Italian.

Little is known about Meurdrac except that she was born into an aristocratic French family in north-central France, and that in 1625 she married Henri de Vibrac, commander of the guard unit of Charles de Valois, Duke of Angoulême. Valois was the illegitimate son of Charles IX of France and Marie Touchet.  As part of the Duke's retinue, Meurdrac lived in the château de Grosbois in Boissy-Saint-Léger, Val-de-Marne.

"In the lengthy foreword, Meurdrac candidly reveals her hesitation about publishing the treatise that had been intended solely as a permanent record of her research. Further, she questions the larger issue of a woman's right to publish and its ensuing consequences. 'I remained irresolute in this inner struggle fro two years,' she writes. 'I objected to myself that it was not the profession of a lady to teach, that she should remain silent, listen and learn, without displaying her own knowledge. . . that a reputation gained thereby is not ordinarily to her advantage since mean always scorn and blame the products of a woman's mind.' Meurdrac ultimately decided to go public as Damoiselle [sic] M. M., declaring that 'minds have no sex and that if the minds of women were cultivated like those of men and if enough time and expense were spent to instruct them, they would be equal to those of men.

"Her decision to publish was rooted in her unwavering belief that her practical book was useful remedying women's illnesses as well as a guide to the presevation of their health. Unquestionably an early feminist who broke ground in an area where few women dared to tread, Meurdract felt that not sharing knowledge that should ameliorate the lives of others would be a betrayal of the Catholic principle of charity as well as incompatible with her inquistive temperament. A true seventeenth-century femme savante, Meurdrac, along with other learned women, who were later ridculed in Molière's comedy Les Femmes Savantes (1672), would not be deterred in the quest to investigate, comprehend, and contribute to the advancement of scholarship" (Smeltzer, Ruben & Rose, Extraordinary Women in Science & Medicine, New York: The Grolier Club, 2013, No. 85, p. 94).

A few copies of this work bear the date of 1656 on their title pages, leading to the impression that the first edition was published in 1656. However, those copies bear the imprimatur dated 1666 like the rest of the edition, showing that the 1655 date was a typographical error, corrected in most copies. 

(This entry was last revised on 06-15-2014.)

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The First Medical or Scientific Publication in North America, Known from a Single Surviving Copy 1667

In 1667 Samuel Green, using a press in Cambridge, Massachusetts owned by the president of Harvard, Henry Dunster, printed the first medical or biological publication in North America—an edition of a London plague tract: Thomas Vincent's Gods Terrible Voice in the City of London wherein you have the Narration of the Two Late Dreadful Judgements of Plague and Fire, Inflicted by the Lord upon that City; the former in the year 1665. The latter in the year 1666. By T.V. To which is Added, the Generall Bill of Mortality, shewing the Number of Persons which Died in Every Parish of all Diseases, and of the Plague, in the Year Abovesaid. Vincent's tract had been published in London earlier in the same year. The Cambridge, Massachusetts printing is known from a single copy preserved at Harvard University. It is also probably the first publication in North Americaon any subject to with science.

The pamphlet was reissued in 1668 by another Cambridge, Masschusetts printer, Marmaduke Johnson. This 31 page pamphlet is known from a single copy preserved in the American Antiquarian Society.

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John Wilkins Creates A Universal Language Based on a Classification Scheme or Ontology, and a Universal System of Measurement 1668

In An Essay towards a Real Character and a Philosophical Language English clergyman and natural philosopher John Wilkins  attempted to create a universal, artificial language, based upon an innovative classification of knowledge, by which scholars and philosophers as well as diplomats, scholars, and merchants, could communicate. Wilkins intended his "universal language" as a supplement to, rather than a replacement for, existing "natural" languages. His scheme has been called ingenious but completely unworkable.

In this book Wilkins also called for the institution of a "universal measure" or "universal metre," which would be based on a natural phenomenon rather than royal decree, and would also be decimal rather than the various systems of multipliers, often duodecimal, that coexisted at the time. The meter or metre would not gain traction until after the French Revolution.

"During the final stages of work on his Essay Wilkins lost his house and most of his belongs and papers, in the great fire of London, but being eager to complete his scheme he enlisted the help of John Ray and Francis Willioughby to improve the botanical and zoological nomenclature. This was a major factor in stimulating Ray to develop his own classificatory studies. Similarly, Samuel Pepys reported that he helped to draw up a table of naval terms, such as the names of rigging. Even with this and other help, Wilkins admited his scheme's shortcomings and called upon the Royal Society to improve it. Although various fellows of the society spoke highly of the scheme for a while, only Robert Hooke showed any lasting commitment to it, and the committee established to improve on the Essay never reported. Scholars have argued about the major influences upon Wilkins's linguistic studies. There is little evidence that the universal language schemes of Amos Comenius played any significant role; Mersenne may have been an inspiration but George Dalgarno, to help whom Wilkins had begun to draw up classifactory tables of knowledge after 1657, was a more dirrect influence" (ODNB).

By "real character" Wilkins meant:

"an ingeniously constructed family of symbols corresponding to an elaborate classification scheme developed at great labor by Wilkins and his colleagues, which was intended to provide elementary building blocks from which could be constructed the universe's every possible thing and notion. The Real Character is emphatically not an orthography in that it is not a written representation of oral speech. Instead, each symbol represents a concept directly, without (at least in the early parts of the Essay's presentation) there being any way of vocalizing it at all; each reader might, if he wished, give voice to the text in his or her own tongue. Inspiration for this approach came in part from (partially mistaken) accounts of the Chinese writing system.

"Later in the Essay Wilkins introduces his "Philospophical Language," which assigns phonetic values to the Real Characters, should it be desired to read text aloud without using any of the existing national languages. (The term philosophical language is an ill-defined one, used by various authors over time to mean a variety of things; most of the description found at the article on "philosophical languages" applies to Wilkins' Real Character on its own, even excluding what Wilkins called his "Philosophical Language")

"For convenience, the following discussion blurs the distinction between Wilkins' Character and his Language. Concepts are divided into forty main Genera, each of which gives the first, two-letter syllable of the word; a Genus is divided into Differences, each of which adds another letter; and Differences are divided into Species, which add a fourth letter. For instance, Zi identifies the Genus of “beasts” (mammals); Zit gives the Difference of “rapacious beasts of the dog kind”; Zitα gives the Species of dogs. (Sometimes the first letter indicates a supercategory— e.g. Z always indicates an animal— but this does not always hold.) The resulting Character, and its vocalization, for a given concept thus captures, to some extent, the concept's semantics.

"The Essay also proposed ideas on weights and measure similar to those later found in the metric system. The botanical section of the essay was contributed by John Ray; . . .  

 "Jorge Luis Borges wrote a critique of Wilkins' philosophical language in his essay El idioma analítico de John Wilkins (The Analytical Language of John Wilkins). He compares Wilkins’ classification to the fictitious Chinese encyclopedia Celestial Emporium of Benevolent Knowledge, expressing doubts about all attempts at a universal classification. Modern information theory also suggests that it is a bad idea to have words with similar but distinct meanings also sound similar, because mishearings and the resulting confusion would be much more prominent than in real-world languages. In The Search for the Perfect Language, Umberto Eco catches Wilkins himself making this kind of mistake in his text, using Gαde (barley) instead of Gαpe (tulip)" (Wikipedia article on An Essay towards a Real Character and a Philosophical Language, accessed 06-16-2010).

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The Mathematical Analysis of Pendulum Motion 1673

Dutch mathematician, astronomer, physicist and horologist Christiaan Huygens published Horologium oscillatorium sive de motu pendulorum ad horologia aptato demonstationes geometricae in Paris in 1673. Depite the reference to time-measurement in its title, this work is a general treatise on dynamics of bodies in motion, with an emphasis on the motion of the pendulum. It contains the first mathematical analysis of pendulum motion, including the formula for the relation between the period and the time of free fall from rest, the rule for deriving the center of oscillation for both simple and compound pendulums, and proof of the tautochronism of the cycloid (the arc traced by a point on a circle when the circle is rolled along a flat plane), which made possible Huygens's invention of the first reliable pendulum clock in 1656. Also included are Huygens's theories of the evolutes of curves, descriptions of his marine clocks and their trials, the first value for the force of gravity (which he derived using a simple pendulum), and the most important of his studies of centrifugal force; these last were used by Newton in his determination of universal gravitation.

Hook & Norman, The Haskell F. Norman Library of Science and Medicine (1991) no. 1137.

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The First Book on the Classification of Birds Without Respect to Geographical Boundaries 1676

After the death of Francis Willoughby (Willughby) at the age of 37, in 1667 English clergyman and naturalist John Ray published in London, through the auspices of the Royal Society, Francisci Willughbeii . . . ornithologiae libri tres, in quibus aves omnes hactenus cognitae in methodum naturis suis convenientem redactae accurate describuntur. . . . The small folio work included 77 copperplate engravings and 2 folding charts.

Ray and Francis Willoughby studied bird life together, during 1662-63 visiting the west coast of England, the Netherlands, journeying up the Rhine Valley to Zürich, visiting Italy, with Willoughby continuing to Spain. They were the first ornithologists to discard the Aristotelian principles of classification by function, replacing them with a morphological system based on beak form, foot structure and body size that reflected the true relationships even better than Linnaeus’s “natural system” of sixty years later. They were also the first to develop a classification of birds that was independent of geographical boundaries. The credit for this system almost certainly belongs to Ray, who prepared the final version of the Ornithologia from notes left at Willoughby’s death, and who had done the major part of the observations and records during their years of partnership. In an attempt to bring order out of the chaos of tradition, Ray collated his and Willoughby’s observations against those recorded by all previous writers, eliminating duplicate species, species vaguely described or reported on hearsay, and species that were clearly fabulous. An English version, which Ray also prepared, was published in 1678. A few copies of the Latin edition were published on large paper and hand-colored.

Keynes, John Ray: A Bibliography (1951) no. 39. Raven, John Ray Naturalist (1950) ch. 12. Wing W-2879. 

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Filed under: Natural History, Science

The First Scientific Book Written by a Native Latin American to be Published in the Western Hemisphere 1681

Carlos de Sigüenza y Góngora published Libra astronomica y philosophica in Mexico City in 1681. This may be the first scientific book written by a native Latin American published in the Western Hemisphere.

In 1690 Sigüenza y Góngora published another edition of Libra astronomica y philosophica also in Mexico City. This was the last word in a controversy between Sigüenza and the jesuit priest and astronomer Eusebio Kino over Sigüenza's scientific explanation of comets.

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The First Publication on the Differential Calculus 1684

In 1684 Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz published his first paper on the differential calculus: "Nova methodus pro maximis et minimis, itemque tangentibus, quae nec fractas nec irrationales quantitates moratur, & singulare pro illi calculi genus" in the periodical, Acta eruditorum issued from Leipzig. He published the paper nine years after he had independently discovered the differential calculus.  Although Newton had probably discovered the calculus earlier than Leibniz, Leibniz was the first to publish his method, which employed a notation superior to that used by Newton.  The priority dispute between Newton and Leibniz over the calculus is one of the most famous controversies in the history of science; it led to a breach between English and Continental mathematics that was not healed until the early nineteenth century.

Carter & Muir, Printing and the Mind of Man (1967) no. 160.

Hook & Norman, The Haskell F. Norman Library of Science and Medicine (1991) no. 1326.  

♦ In April 2012 I learned that there are three issues of this publication involving two different settings of type, and two different versions of the copperplate geometrical diagram. An early issue, incorporating numerous mathematical errors in the typesetting on p. 467, was included in the Norman library.  It is illustrated in volume two of Christie's auction catalogue (1998) lot 613.  A different, and presumably later printing with the errors corrected on p. 467, is illustrated by Horblit, One Books Famous in Science (1964) no. 66a.  A third issue, either before or after that in the Norman library, but prior to that described by Horblit, was reported by Dieter Schierenberg BV in 2011. That issue incorporates the earlier state of p. 467 but with the addition of "M. Oct." at the top of the plate under the plate number.

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Newton's Principia Mathematica 1687

In 1687 Isaac Newton published Philosophia naturalis principia mathematica in London through the efforts and expense of astronomer Edmond Halley.

We probably know as much about the printing history of Newton's Principia mathematica as of any book of the seventeenth century.  The definitive scholarship on the writing and printing of the Principia appears in I. B. Cohen's Introduction to Newton's "Principia" (1971), and in Koyré‚ and Cohen's variorum edition of the Principia (1972), which also contains William B. Todd's definitive bibliography of the first three editions.  Other useful research on this work was conducted by A. N. L. Munby nearly forty years ago.  Munby's and Todd's observations may be summarized here. The original printer's manuscript in the hand of Newton's amanuensis, Humphrey Newton, still exists, as do various copies of the first edition with Isaac Newton's autograph corrections.  The expenses of publication of the first edition were borne by Edmond Halley, as neither Newton nor the Royal Society had sufficient funds, and booksellers, who in those days often acted as publishers, typically refused to risk their own money on esoteric scientific books.  Halley also edited the work and saw it through the press, reporting his progress to Newton in a series of letters which are preserved at Cambridge. 

Having paid for the edition himself, Halley sent out presentation copies at Newton's direction and also sent Newton twenty copies for his personal use.  Halley decided to market the book by placing copies on consignment with various booksellers, and he sent Newton forty copies, some bound, some in sheets, which he asked Newton to "place in the hands of one or more of your ablest booksellers to dispose of them." Munby observed that many of the bindings of the two-line imprint issue were similar, suggesting that Halley may have had many of the copies bound at one shop.

Munby researched the significance of the two states of the title page of the Principia, concluding that the more commonly found state, with the title page uncancelled and the so-called two-line imprint, reflects Halley's initial sales strategy of placing the work on consignment with many booksellers ("apud plures Bibliopolas").  The state with the three-line imprint, including the name of the bookseller, Samuel Smith, reflects Halley's decision to turn over a significant portion of the edition to Smith, probably for foreign distribution.  The antiquarian bookseller Heinrich Zeitlinger of Henry Sotheran Ltd., first made the useful observation that many of the copies with the three-line "Smith" imprint were exported to the Continent.  Smith was known to be very active in the import and export of books, and Munby stated that he knew of only two "Smith" copies in contemporary English bindings.  

From his bibliographical analysis of the first edition Todd concluded that the edition was divided between two compositors, one setting the first two books, the other setting the third.  "The first compositor, however, was allowed too few sheets and too many foliations, a circumstance which necessitated his signing a supplementary gathering *** and paging it 377-383, 400."  Todd identified typographical variants which seem to be randomly distributed throughout the edition and are thus not indicative of any priority.

Todd also described the distribution of watermarks in the Principia: "The text paper exhibits a water-mark of a fleur-de-lis within a coat of arms (Heawood 626) only in preliminaries and certain sections in the earlier portion of the books, indicating perhaps that the signatures so distinguished are of later, revised settings printed off at the same time.  All copies have this water-mark in P-2K; some have it also in A, F-G, M-O, 2M-2N."  The distribution of watermarks appears to have nothing to do with the distribution of the variants listed above.

In estimating the size of the first edition Munby acknowledged that the work went out of print quickly and was already difficult to obtain in December 1691, when Nicholas Fatio de Duillier discussed a new edition in a letter to Christiaan Huygens.  Extrapolating from the partial census figures available in 1952, Munby conjectured that at least 150 copies of the work were then extant, concluding from this and from the book's relatively common appearances in the sale rooms that "the whole edition cannot have comprised less than three hundred copies, and the figure may well have been a hundred more than this."  The plentiful sales records in the forty years since Munby's account would certainly corroborate the higher estimate. Copies with the three-line imprint are much rarer than those with the two-line, suggesting that the so-called "Smith" copies may only have comprised  between seventeen and thirty-three percent of the edition. 

Newton's personal copy of the first edition of the Principia, with Newton's autograph corrections for the second edition, is preserved at the Wrenn Library, Trinity College, Cambridge.

Hook & Norman, The Haskell F. Norman Library of Science and Medicine (1991) no. 1586. Cohen, Introduction to Newton's Principia, ch. IV.  Munby, "The two titlepages of the distribution of the first edition of Newton's Principia," Notes and Records of the Royal Society of London 10 (October 1952).  Todd, "A bibliography of the Principia.  Part I: The three substantive editions," in Koyré‚ & Cohen, Isaac Newton's Philosophiae naturalis principia mathematica II,  851-853.

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Huygens's Wave or Pulse Theory of Light 1690

Traité de la lumière. Ou sont expliquées les causes de ce qui luy arrive dans la reflexion, & dans le refraction, et particulièrement, dans l'étrange refraction du cristal d'Islande. . . Avec un discours de la cause de la pesanteur by Dutch mathematician, astronomer, physicist and horologist Christiaan Huygens, published in Leiden in 1690, announced Huygens's wave or pulse theory of light, which he developed in 1676-1677. Huygens completed the Traité in 1678, but left it unpublished for twelve years, until stimulated by the appearance of Isaac Newton's Principia (1687) and by a visit with Newton in 1689.

Huygens conceived of light as an irregular series of shock waves or pulses proceeding with very great but finite velocity through the ether, a medium consisting of uniformly minute, elastic particles pressed closely together. Using the ether as the medium of light wave propagation, he showed that all points of a wave front originate partial waves, and thereby generate further wave motion; light, therefore, consists not of a transference of matter, but rather of a "tendency to move." This theory enabled Huygens to explain both reflection and refraction of light, but not the phenomenon of polarization, which he observed in his earliest studies of Iceland spar crystals (cristal d'Islande), and described in the present work.

Huygens's wave theory of light remained neglected for over 100 years, until Thomas Young resurrected it to explain optical interference

Hook & Norman, The Haskell F. Norman Library of Science and Medicine (1991) no. 1139.

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Filed under: Science

The Breslau Tables 1693

In 1693 English astronomer, mathematician, geophysicist, meterologist and physicist Edmond Halley published "An Estimate of the Degrees of Mortality of Mankind, Drawn from Curious Tables of the Births and Funerals at the City of Breslaw, with an Attempt to Ascertain the Price of Annuities Upon Lives" in the Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London. He compiled the "Breslau Tables" to show the proportion of men able to bear arms. . . to estimate mortality rates, to ascertain the price of annuities upon lives.

J. Norman (ed), Morton's Medical Bibliography 5th ed. (1991) no. 1687.

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The First Book Catalogue Published in America 1693

The first book catalogue published in North America was the auction catalogue of the library of the non-conformist minister and natural philosopher Rev. Samuel Lee (1625?-91) issued in Boston by bookseller Duncan Cambell (d. 1702). It is known from a single surviving copy preserved in the Boston Public Library:

The library of the late Reverend and learned Mr. Samuel Lee. Containing a choice variety of books upon all subjects; particularly, commentaries on the Bible; bodies of divinity. The works as well of the ancient, as of the modern divines; treatises on the mathematicks, in all parts; history, antiquities; natural philosophy [,] physick, and chymistry; with grammar and school-books. With many more choice books not mentioned in this catalogue. Exposed at the most easy rates, to sale, by Duncan Cambell, bookseller at the dock-head over against the conduit.

"Bookseller's catalogue: 1200 short author entries, in Latin and English, arranged (not entirely consistently) by subject, within subject by language (either Latin or English), and within language by format. The subject headings are divinity (by far the largest); physical books (medicine and science); philosophy, cosmography & geography; mathematical, astrological and astronomical books; history, school authors; juris prudentia, miscellanie, and three miscellaneous lots of consecutively numbered entries"(Winans, A Descriptive Checklist of Book Catalogues Separately Printed in America 1693-1800 [1981] no. 1).

ESTC System No. 006467597; ESTC Citation No. W19259.

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The Structural Relationships between the Body of Man and the Anthropoid Ape 1699

In 1699 English Physician and comparative anatomist Edward Tyson published in London Orang-Outang, sive Homo Sylvestris; or, the Anatomy of a Pygmie Compared with that of a Monkey, an Ape and a Man, including 8 folding plates engraved by Michael Vandergucht after drawings by the artist and anatomist, William Cowper.

Tyson's anatomy of the "orang-outang" (in Tyson's case a chimpanzee rather than an orangutan) was the first work to demonstrate the structural relationships between the anatomy of man and the anthropoid ape. For Tyson the term Orang-Outang meant "man of the woods."

In 1641 the Dutch surgeon and anatomist Nicholas (or Nicolaes) Tulp had used the same words to describe a chimpanzee, which he illustrated in his Observationum medicarumThis book included the first, limited description by a scientist of an African anthropoid ape. Regarding Tulp's description Tyson said that "I confess that I do mistrust the whole representation."

The ape which Tulp described seems to have come from Angola, and Tulp had the opportunity to observe it in the private menagerie of the Prince of Orange. Tulp seems to have learned the name orang-outang from Samuel Blomartio, a friend who had lived in Borneo and was familiar with the Javanese word for "man of the woods." Tulp seems to have been under the impression that orangutans were widely distributed throughout the tropics rather than limited to Asia, and thus confused the two species. The classification of the orangutan in the the Ponginae (Pongo) subfamily of the family hominidae, outside of the subfamily homininae from which humans descend, and to which the chimpanzee belongs, had not yet occurred.

Perhaps with some humor, but also to confirm the anatomical similarities, Tyson had Cowper draw the standing dissected figures of chimpanzees in the style of the famous Vesalian musclemen. A believer in the "Great Chain of Being" or scala naturae, Tyson identified the chimpanzee as the link directly below mankind, stating in his "Epistle Dedicatory" that it "seems the Nexus of the Animal and Rational."

Tyson's anatomical study— the first conducted of a great ape— had a powerful influence on all subsequent thought on man's place in nature. Thomas Huxley referred to it extensively in his 1863 book with that title. Tyson's last section of Orang-Outang is devoted to "A Philological Essay Concerning the Pygmies of the Ancients," an early contribution to the study of primate-oriented folklore.

Cole, History of Comparative anatomy, 198-221. Montague, Edward Tyson (1943) ch. 8. Hook & Norman, The Haskell F. Norman Library of Science and Medicine (1991) no. 2120.  Spencer, Ecce Homo. An Annotated Bbiliographic History of Physical Anthropology (1986) no. 1.92.

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1700 – 1750

Bernardino Ramazzini Founds Occupational Medicine and Ergonomics 1700

Title page from De morbis artificium diatriba.

Page opening from De morbis artificium diatriba.

Bernardino Ramazzini.

In 1700 Italian physician Bernardino Ramazzini issued De morbis artificium diatriba from the press of Antonio Capponi in Modena. Ramazzini's book on the diseases of workers was the first comprehensive and systematic treatise on occupational medicine; it was also the foundation work in ergonomics.

“The Western medical tradition, with its emphasis on humoral imbalance as the cause of illness, for centuries did not really favor the idea that certain diseases might be due to one’s occupation or environment. Egyptians knew that the blacksmith was ‘grilled’ by the furnace, and in Roman times Lucretius mentioned the ‘malignant breath’ of gold miners, and noted ‘how speedily men die and how their vital forces fail when they are driven by dire necessity to endure such work.’ . . . In the sixteenth century the ever insolent Paracelsus wrote a monograph on diseases of metalworkers, and the metallurgist and physician Georgius Agricola connected the injured lungs of Silesian miners to the dust they breathed, But the founder of investigation into occupational and environmental diseases is generally conceded to be the great Italian physician Bernardino Ramazzini” (Simmons, Doctors and Discoveries: Lives That Created Today’s Medicine, p. 123).

Ramazzini decided to study occupational diseases after a chance encounter with a cesspool cleaner, from whom he learned of the eye afflictions and other dangers attached to that profession. He compiled information from the available sources on the subject and also performed firsthand research, visiting workers and noting their particular illnesses and infirmities.

“In his first edition, Ramazzini addresses some forty-two groups. Miners are discussed in the first chapter, for their suffering is most pronounced and the cause is obvious. But artisans of all kinds are represented. There are chapters on diseases of apothecaries, bakers, millers, painters, and soap makers. Ramazzini details metal poisoning in metalworkers, and silicosis in stonemasons. The seventeenth chapter is devoted to tobacco workers” (Simmons, p. 125).

Ramazzini also discussed the occupational diseases of women, recommending that midwives practice cleanliness and take precautions against syphilitic infections. Ramazzini recognized that a number of workers’ diseases were caused by the taxing postures and repetitive motions required by professions such as shoemaking, tailoring and writing; he is thus considered a founder of ergonomics. He suggested ways to prevent these ailments:

“Standing, even for a short time, proves so exhausting compared with walking and running . . . It follows that whenever occasion offers, we must advise men employed in the standing trades to interrupt when they can that too prolonged posture by sitting or walking about or exercising the body in some way. . . . Those who sit at their work and are therefore called “chair-workers,” such as cobblers and tailors become bent, hump-backed, and hold their heads down like people looking for something on the ground . . . These workers, then, suffer from general ill-health caused by their sedentary life. . . . The maladies that afflict the clerks arise from three causes: First, constant sitting, secondly the incessant movement of the hand and always in the same direction . . . Incessant driving of the pen over paper causes intense fatigue of the hand and the whole arm because of the continuous and almost tonic strain on the muscles and tendons, which in course of time results in failure of power in the right hand. All sedentary workers suffer from lumbago. They should be advised to take physical exercise, at any rate on holidays. Let them make the best use they can of [exercise] one day, and so to some extent counteract the harm done by many days of sedentary life”( http://ergonomenon.com/ergonomics-articles/bernardino-ramazzini-the-first-ergonomist-and-what-have-we-learned-from-him/, accessed 06-05-2012).

Ramazzini's book was translated into English as A Treatise on the Diseases of Tradesmen (London, 1705). Through various Latin editions and translations into Italian, German, French and Dutch it was also influential in the history of economics. Adam Smith cited it in his Wealth of Nations, and Karl Marx cited it in Das Kapital.

In 1713 Ramazzini expanded his text. This revised edition was reprinted with a parallel English translation by Wilmer Cave Wright and published as De Morbis Artificum Bernardini Ramazzini Diseases of Workers (1940).

Norman, Morton's Medical Bibliography 5th ed (1991) No. 2121. Hunter, The Diseases of Occupations (1955) 30-34. Lilly, Notable Medical Books 99. Carter & Muir, Printing and the Mind of Man No. 170. Hook & Norman, The Haskell F. Norman Library of Science & Medicine (1991) No. 1776. Rosen, History of Miners’ Diseases, 108-120.

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Friedrich Ruysch's Anatomical Preparations: Surrealism Centuries Before Surrealism Became Fashionable 1701 – 1725

In Amsterdam Dutch anatomist Frederik Ruysch published Thesaurus anatomicus in ten parts from 1701 to 1716, and the first and only part of his Thesaurus animalium in 1710. An index to the Thesaurus anatomicus appeared in 1725.

Probably the most original artist in the history of anatomical preparations, Ruysch enjoyed making up elaborate three-dimensional emblems of mortality from his specimens. These fantastic, dream-like concoctions constructed of human anatomical parts are illustrated in the Thesaurus on large folding plates mostly engraved by Cornelis Huyberts, who also engraved plates for the painter Gérard de Lairesse, illustrator of Govert Bidloo’s anatomy. In their dreamlike qualities many of the plates depicting the preparations reflect surrealism centuries before surrealism became fashionable. Ruysch’s Thesaurus anatomicus and his Thesaurus animalium describe and illustrate the spectacular collections of “Anatomical Treasures” which he produced for display in his home museum between 1701 and 1716 using secret methods of anatomical injection and preservation.

Ruysch's unique anatomical preparations attracted many notables to his museum, including Czar Peter the Great of Russia, who was so fascinated with the preparations that he attended Ruysch’s anatomy lectures, and in 1717 he bought Ruysch’s entire collection, along with that of the Amsterdam apothecary Albert Seba, for Russia's first public museum, the St. Petersburg Kunstkammer. Over the years most of the dry preparations in St. Petersburg deteriorated or disappeared, but some of those preserved in glass jars remain. A few later specimens by Ruysch, auctioned off by his widow after his death, are also preserved in Leiden. Because most of the preparations did not survive, Ruysch’s preparations, and his museum, are known primarily from these publications.

Ruysch's methods allowed him to prepare organs such as the liver and kidneys and keep entire corpses for years. He used a mixture of talc, white wax, and cinnabar for injecting vessels and an embalming fluid of alcohol made from wine or corn with black pepper added. Using his injection methods Ruysch was the first to demonstrate the occurrence of blood vessels in almost all tissues of the human body, thereby destroying the Galenic belief that certain areas of the body had no vascular supply. He was also the first to show that blood vessels display diverse organ-specific patterns. He investigated the valves in the lymphatic system, the bronchial arteries and the vascular plexuses of the heart, and was the first to point out the nourishment of the fetus through the umbilical cord. Ruysch's discoveries led him to claim erroneously that tissues consisted solely of vascular networks, and to deny the existence of glandular tissue. 

Impey & Macgregor (eds.) The Origins of Museums (1985)  55-56. Hook & Norman, The Haskell F. Norman Library of Science and Medicine (1991) no. 1875.  Rosamond Purcell & Stephen Gould, Finders, Keepers: Eight Collectors (1992) chapter 1 reproduces spectacular color images of Ruysch’s preparations from Czar Peter’s Wunderkammer, and Leiden.  Roberts & Tomlinson, The Fabric of the Human Body (1992) 290-98.

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Opticks: Isaac Newton's Theories of Light & Color . . . 1704

Isaac Newton published Opticks: Or a Treatise of the Reflexions, Refractions, Inflexions and Colours of Light. Also Two Treatises of the Species and Magnitude of Curvilinear Figures in London in 1704. Unlike most of Newton's works, Opticks was originally published in English, with the Latin version following in 1706. The book summarized Newton's discoveries and theories concerning light and color: the spectrum of the sunlight, the degrees of refraction associated with different colors, the color circle (the first in the history of color theory), the invention of the reflecting telescope; the first workable theory of the rainbow, and experiments on what would later be called "interference effects" in conjunction with Newton's rings.  His discovery of periodicity in Newton's rings, which would later prove to be so useful to Thomas Young, led Newton to postulate that periodicity was a fundamental property either of light waves or of waves associated with light.  Nevertheless, Newton preferred the corpuscular theory of light, with which he is usually associated, because of its explanatory value for certain optical phenomena and because it a llowed him to link the action of gross bodies with the action of light. The first edition of the Opticks ends with two mathematical treatises in Latin, written to establish his priority over Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz in the invention of the calculus.

Hook & Norman, The Haskell F. Norman Library of Science and Medicine (1991) no. 1588. Carter & Muir, Printing and the Mind of Man (1967) no. 172.

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John Harris Issues the First English Encyclopedia Arranged in Alphabetical Order 1704 – 1710

Lexicon technicum: Or, an universal English dictionary of arts and sciences: Explaining not only the terms of art, but the arts themselves, first issued in two volumes from London from 1704 to 1710 by English clergyman and encyclopedist John Harris, was the first English dictionary of arts and sciences, and the earliest modern encyclopedia of science. Harris was the first to make the distinction between “word-books” (dictionaries) and “subject-books (encyclopedias). His Lexicon Technicum was the also first English encyclopedia to be arranged in alphabetical order, as opposed to systematic order in the tradition of the medieval encyclopedist, Isidore of Seville.

A clergyman educated at Oxford, Harris took an early interest in science, and was elected to the Royal Society in 1696. As a result, he had access to many of the greatest scientific minds in England, and the Lexicon technicum may be the first example of an encyclopedist relying directly on the consultation and help of experts or specialists, such as John Ray and Isaac Newton. In particular, Harris relied heavily on Newton as a source, quoting lengthy excerpts from Newton's writings under such headings as “Attraction,” “Colour,” “Fluxions,” “Gravity,” “Light,” and “Motion.” The introduction to Vol. II contains the first printing (in Latin and English) of Newton’s “De natura acidorum,” his only published work on chemistry; the articles “Quadrature” and “Curves” give the first English translations of the “Two treatises” from Newton’s Opticks.  

Babson, Newton Supplement, 55. Collison, Encyclopedias, 99. Horblit, One Hundred Books Famous in Science no. 25a. Hook & Norman, The Haskell F. Norman Library of Science and Medicine, no. 992. Printing and the Mind of Man no. 171a.

(This entry was last revised on July 8, 2014.)

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First Publication of Newton's Early Writings on the Calculus 1711

In 1711 Isaac Newton published Analysis per quantitatum series, fluxiones, ac differentias cum enumeratione linearum tertii ordinis, edited by William Jones.

This was the first printing of Newton's tracts De analysi per aequationes numero terminorum infinitas" and Methodus differentialis, together with reprints of the tracts on quadratures and cubics first published in Opticks (1704).  De analysi, Newton's first independent treatise on higher mathematics, was written in 1669 to protect his priority in the invention of the calculus. It contains the earliest printed account of Newton's generalized binomial theorem.  In 1711, Newton permitted mathematician William Jones (one of the few allowed access to Newton's manuscripts) to publish these four tracts. Aside from his association with Newton, Jones is chiefly remembered for having introduced the symbol  Π into mathematical notation.

Hook & Norman, The Haskell F. Norman Library of Science and Medicine (1991) no. 1590.

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The Newton - Leibniz Dispute over Invention of the Calculus 1712

In response to Leibniz’s appeal to the Royal Society for a fair hearing concerning the dispute over the invention of the differential calculus between Newton and himself, the Royal Society issued Commercium epistolicum D. Johannis Collins, et aliorum de analysi promota: Jussu Societatis Regiae in lucem editum in 1712. The report was hardly impartial, however, because Newton, as the president of the Royal Society, hand-picked a committee of supporters to review the case and composed its favorable findings himself.  The John Collins mentioned in the title was a bookseller, amateur mathematician and member of the Royal Society. In 1669, Collins was sent a copy of Newton's manuscript on the calculus, De analysi, portions of which Leibniz transcribed in 1676.

Hook & Norman, The Haskell F. Norman Library of Science and Medicine (1991) no. 1591.

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Early Government Incentive for Scientific Research November 12, 1713 – 1770

On November 12, 1713 the Parliament of Great Britain passed An Act for Providing a Publick Reward for Such Person or Persons as Shall Discover the Longitude at Sea. This was duly published in 1714.

One of the most famous early examples of government incentive for scientific research, this Act of Parliament established a reward of £20,000 for anyone who could invent a reliable and practicable method of finding longitude at sea to within half a degree, with lesser prizes offered for ways of finding it to within one degree and within forty minutes. The Act also established a permanent body of Commissioners, known as the Board of Longitude, to evaluate the merits of all proposed methods, award the prizes and provide research grants of up to £2,000. Despite the incentive provided by the enormous first prize, the problem, which had baffled navigators for centuries, remained unsolved for nearly fifty years, until astronomer Johann Tobias Mayer calculated lunar tables which were accurate enough to calculate longitude at sea to within about half a degree, and John Harrison invented the first accurate marine chronometer about 1760. For his tables in 1763 Mayer's widow received £3000 of the £20,000 prize. Later, after a long struggle, John Harrison received between £8000 and £9000 of the same prize money. 

A preliminary version of Mayer’s tables was published in the proceedings of the Göttingen Scientific Society in 1753; meanwhile, Mayer continued to improve the tables until his death in 1762. In 1763 Mayer’s widow sent a copy of the improved tables to the Board of Longitude in application to the prize. The improved tables were first edited for publication by Nevil Maskelyne, the Astronomer Royal, as Tabulae motuum solis et lunae novae et correctae. . . quibus accedit methodus longitudinum promota, eodem auctore, and published in London by John Nourse in 1770. Maskelyne had tested Mayer’s earlier tables with positive results on a voyage to the island of St. Helena in 1761. He also used Mayer’s tables to compute the lunar and solar ephemerides in the early editions of his Nautical Almanac, and since Maskelyne was on the Board of Longitude we may assume that he was influential in having a portion of the prize awarded to Mayer’s widow. Appended to Mayer’s tables are two short tracts, one on determining longitude by lunar distances, together with a description of the reflecting circle (invented by Mayer in 1752), and the other on a formula for atmospheric refraction, which applies a remarkably accurate correction for temperature.

Four years earlier Maskelyne had co-authored with Yorkshire clockmaker John Harrison a technical manual on the design of the chronometer, The Principles of Mr. Harrison's Time-Keeper, with Plates of the Same. This had also been published in London by John Nourse. Harrison perfected a chronometer accurate enough to measure time at a steady rate over long periods, thus permitting the measurement of longitude by comparison of local solar time with an established standard time. Although it was soon supplanted by simpler mechanisms, Harrison's chronometer revolutionized the science of navigation, as it gave navigators their first means of observing true geographical position at any given moment during a voyage. There was no comparable advance in navigational aids until the development of radar in the twentieth century.

Harrison's chronometer was tested on two voyages to the West Indies in 1761 and 1764 and found to be well within the range of accuracy demanded by the 1714 act. In view of this success Harrison felt that he had a legitimate right to the prize money, but the Board of Longitude, on which Nevil Maskelyne sat, raised several objections, one of them being that Harrison had not given them a satisfactory demonstration of how the chronometer worked. Harrison finally agreed to dismantle the instrument before a committee chosen by the Board and to give a full account of its mechanism and manufacture; the results of this demonstration, which took place in 1765, were noted by Nevil Maskelyne and published along with Harrison's own explanation of his invention. The demonstration was ruled satisfactory, but even so Harrison was awarded only half the prize money; it was not until 1773, following the intercession of George iii, that Harrison received the balance.

Baillie, Clocks & Watches: An Historical Bibliography (1951) 140-141, Gould, The Marine Chronometer: Its History and Development (1960) 1-17. Horblit, One Hundred Books Famous in Science (1964) no. 42a. Hook & Norman, The Haskell F. Norman Library of Science and Medicine (1991) Nos. 2, 995, 1468. Wepster, Between Theory and Observations: Tobias Mayer's Explorations of Lunar Motion (2010) 33-40.

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Luigi Marsigli Issues the First Book Entirely Devoted to Marine Science and First Oceanographic Study of a Single Region 1725

In 1725 Italian count Habsburg general, military engineer, scientist and virtuoso, Luigi Ferdinando Marsigli published Histoire physique de la mer in Amsterdam. This work, illustrated with an engraved frontispiece and 52 engraved plates, and a glowing introduction by physician Herman Boerhaave, was the first book devoted entirely to marine science, and the first oceanographic study of a single region. Marsigli conducted an intensive investigation of the Gulf of Lyon in the south of France, taking soundings to obtain a profile of the sea floor, analyzing the relationship of the lands under and above water, studying the water's physical properties (temperature, density, color) and its motions (waves, currents, tides), and describing the marine life of the region. Marsigli was the first to give an account of formation of the continental shelf and slope, and the first to class corals as living beings rather than as inorganic mineral formations. His belief that the land and the sea bed formed a continuous structure was confirmed when he discovered rock strata dipping below sea level at the coast. Marsigli's work prefigured the systematic oceanographic exploration that would begin fifty years later with Captain James Cook's voyage in the Endeavor.

Deacon, Scientists and the Sea 1650-1900 (1971) 170-185. Stoye, Marsigli's Europe 1680-1730 (1994) 295-96. Hook & Norman, The Haskell F. Norman Library of Science and Medicine (1991) no. 1445.

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Mark Catesby Publishes the First Natural History of North American Flora and Fauna 1729 – 1747

In 1729 Mark Catesby published the Natural History of Carolina, Florida and the Bahama Islands in London "Printed at the Expence of the AUTHOR: and Sold by W. INNYS and R. MANBY, at the West End of St. Paul's, by Mr. HAUKSBEE, at the Royal Society House, and by the AUTHOR, at Mr. BACON'S in Hoxton." This splendid set of 2 folio volumes was the first natural history of North American flora and fauna, with 220 plates engraved by Catesby and colored under his supervision, systematically illustrating American birds, reptiles, amphibians, insects, and mammals for the first time. Catesby was the first to place his birds and animals in their natural habitats, a style of representation that would later be used by Alexander Wilson and John James Audubon. He was also the first to abandon the Native American names for his subjects, trying to establish scientific names based on generic relationships. Linnaeus would use Catesby’s work as the basis for his system of binomial nomenclature for American species in the tenth edition of Systema naturae (1758).

Having studied with the naturalist, John Ray, Catesby made his first trip to America to visit his sister who lived in Williamsburg, Virginia. He returned to England in 1719. On this visit Catesby became intrigued with the strangeness and variety of American plants, birds and animals, and decided to return again to the New World for another extended trip. For this second visit he acquired a number of sponsors for whom he was to collect and sketch botanical samples. Amongst his sponsors were William Sherard and Sir Hans Sloane. Catesby returned to America in 1722, settling in Charlestown, Carolina, and moving to Bermuda in 1725 as the guest of Governor Phenny. On this trip he collected  botanical samples for his sponsors, but he also sketched painted the birds, plants and animals that he saw on his wanderings throughout rural Southeastern America.

In 1726 Catesby returned to London and sought funding to produce and publish his researches by subscription.  “Catesby worked as a horticulturist first in the nursery of Thomas Fairchild, which passed to the hands Stephen Bacon in 1729, and then in Christopher Gray's nursery in Fulham. His work as a horticulturist and his reputation as an importer of exotic species helped him to generate subscribers for the Natural History as many of his clients read Catesby's work as an 'illustrated catalogue' of the exotic plants Catesby sold.

“Catesby's connections within the Royal Society proved indispensable in financing his American expedition, and they served him equally well in his publication of Natural History; Twenty-nine of his one hundred and fifty-four subscribers were members.Three individual members of the Royal Society were instrumental to producing and publishing the Natural History. Peter Collinson, a wealthy businessman with a keen interest in natural history, lent Catesby "considerable Sums of Money...without interest" and was the main financial supporter of Catesby's work. Sir Hans Sloane, by this time President of the Royal Society, continued to aid Catesby through his own financial support and by helping him enlist subscribers. For help with the Latin names of his subjects, Catesby turned to botanist William Sherard, who had been central in sending Catesby to America in the first place.

“Catesby wanted to send his watercolors to Paris or Amsterdam to be engraved for printing, but the cost was prohibitive. And so, by now in his mid-forties, the self-taught artist endeavored to learn etching. The print maker Joseph Goupy taught Catesby to etch his own plates. His lack of experience and expertise actually served as asset, freeing him to innovate. Instead of the traditional "Graver-like manner" he opted to ‘omit their method of cross-Hatching and to follow the humour of the Feathers, which is more laborious, and I hope has proved more to the purpose’. Each copy was then hand-coloured, though Catesby did have some assistance with this.

“As Catesby sorted through his paintings, deciding which to reproduce, he organized his materials into two volumes. The first hundred images of birds, frequently posed with the plants on which they feed or in which they dwell, would make up Volume I. Volume II was divided into sections treating fish, amphibians, mammals and insects, again, often with related plants. Volume II included plates treating only plants and ended with an appendix, which depicted some animals and plants Catesby was unable to see in person. As a preface to the second volume Catesby wrote a collection of essays discussing the geology, climate and peoples of "Carolina and the Bahama Islands."

“Each volume consists of five parts, each of which Catesby presented to the Royal Society upon completion. While the publication date on the title page of the first volume is 1731, he presented parts I-V between 1729 and 1732. Between 1734 and 1743 he presented parts VI-X, followed by the Appendix in 1747. Catesby sold the sections separately for two guineas a piece. A complete set, at twenty-two guineas, was one of the most expensive works of the 1700s. The order in which these sections of appear vary from copy to copy of the first edition as patrons had the works bound themselves. While Catesby's original proposal for publication stated that a smaller uncolored set would also be available for a single guinea a section, no known black and white copies exist” (http://xroads.virginia.edu/~ma02/amacker/etext/pre_3.htm, accessed 12-28-2008).

In February 2014 all the images and captions from Catesby’s work could be viewed at the website created by Kristy Amaker at this link.

In 2007 The Catesby Commemorative Trust produced a beautiful film about Catesby's life and work entitled The Curious Mister Catesby.

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Isaac Greenwood Issues the First American Textbook on Mathematics 1729

In 1729 Isaac Greenwood, first Hollisian Professor of Mathematics and Natural Philosophy at Harvard, anonymously published Arithmetick Vulgar and Decimal: with the Application Thereof, to a Variety of Cases in Trade, and Commerce.  The book was first issued by "T. Hancock at the Sign of the Bible and Three Crowns in Annstreet" in Boston. This was the first textbook on arithmetic written in English by a native American.  

The Hollisian Professorship of Mathematics and Natural Philosophy was the first professorship on a "profane" topic established at Harvard, which was then a theological college.  Unfortunately, Greenwood was an alcoholic, and was removed from his position in 1737 on the grounds of "intemperance."

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Carl Linnaeus Issues "Systema Naturae" 1735

In 1735 physician Carl Linnaeus of Stockholm, Sweden published his Systema naturae per regna tria naturae, secundum classes, ordines, genera, species, cum characteribus, differentiis, synonymis, locis or translated: "System of nature through the three kingdoms of nature, according to classes, orders, genera and species, with [generic] characters, [specific] differences, synonyms, places." 

Linnaeus issued  the first edition of this work as a series of large charts printed on both sides of seven sheets, or as a series of charts printed on one side only of twelve sheets. It was the first statement of the Linnean classification system.

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Rumphius's "Herbarium Ambonense" is Posthumously Published 1741 – 1750

Het Amboinsche kruidboek or Herbarium Amboinensea catalogue of the plants of Ambon in the Maluku Islands of Indonesia, by Georg Eberhard Rumphius, a German-born soldier and botanist employed by the Dutch East India Company, was edited by Dutch botanist and physician Johannes Burman, and posthumously published in Amsterdam in a 6-volume bilingual Dutch and Latin from 1741 to 1750. The work, which provided the basis for all future study of the flora of the Moluccas, described 2000 species. It presented descriptions of the plants and their habitats, and their economic and medicinal uses, and also recorded native plant names in Malay, Latin, Dutch, and Ambonese—and often in Macassarese and Chinese as well.

That this large work was ever published was truly remarkable, considering the hardships that its author faced during its composition, and the complications that occurred after its completion. Even after going blind in 1670 due to glaucoma, Rumphius persisted in the composition of his manuscript with the help of his wife, Suzanna. However, on February 17, 1674 his wife and a daughter were killed by a wall collapse during a major earthquake and tsunami. His son Paul August made many of the plant illustrations and also the only known portrait of Rumphius. Other assistants included Philips van Eyck, a draughtsman, Daniel Crul, Pieter de Ruyter, a soldier trained by Van Eyck, Johan Philip Sipman, Christiaen Gieraerts, and J. Hoogeboom. 

On January 11, 1687, as the project finally neared completion, a great fire in the town destroyed Rumphius's library, numerous manuscripts, original illustrations for his Herbarium Amboinense, volumes of the Hortus Malabaricus, and works by Jacobus Bontius. Persevering, Rumphius and his helpers first completed the manuscript and illustrations in 1690, but the ship carrying the manuscript to the Netherlands was attacked by the French and sank, forcing them to start over from a copy that had fortunately been retained. The Herbarium Amboinense finally arrived in the Netherlands in 1696. However by then "the East India Company decided that it contained so much sensitive information that it would be better not to publish it." Rumphius died in 1702, so he never had the satisfaction of knowing that his work was published. When the East India Company lifted theembargo was in 1704, no publisher could be found for work the work. Finally, 39 years after Rumphius's death, the work finally appeared in print through the efforts of Johannes Burman who translated it into Latin, and oversaw its publication in a bilingual Dutch and Latin edition. 

In 2011 Yale University Press issued an annotated English translation of the complete work in six volumes by E. M. Beekman, as The Ambonese Herbal, complete with all 811 original illustrations. 

In May 2015 a digital facsimile of the complete set of six volumes was available from Botanicus.org at this link.

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Pierre-Louis Moreau de Maupertuis' Pioneer Theory of Epigenesis and Biparental Heredity 1744 – 1745

Pierre Louis Maupertuis

Venus Physique by Maupertuis

Dissertation physique a l'occasion du negre blanc by Maupertuis

In 1744 French mathematician, philosopher and man of letters Pierre-Louis Moreau de Maupertuis issued anonymously Dissertation physique a l'occasion du negre blanc in Leiden through an unidentified publisher. This small book on human heredity was inspired by the appearance in Paris of a young albino negro. The case prompted Maupertuis to search for other cases of abnormal traits being passed down in a family from one generation to the next.  The following year he explored the issue of human heredity more fully in his Venus physique which incorporated a reprint of the 1744 Dissertation.

Issued anonymously in 1745, and without publishing location or the name of its printer, Venus physique refuted the preformationist theories of embryonic development held by most of his contemporaries in favor of the then-discredited epigenetic hypothesis, which Maupertuis had adopted after considering the obvious facts of biparental heredity.  Maupertuis rejected all vitalist or spiritual interpretations of the hereditary mechanism, arguing that biparental heredity required corporeal contributions from each parent. This argument was based on research that Maupertuis performed shortly after his arrival in Berlin in 1740, when he began collecting the pedigrees of the polydactylous Ruhe family. These pedigrees showed that the abnormal trait could be passed either by the male or female parent and that the trait tended to weaken and disappear over time as polydactylous individuals continued to marry normal spouses.  According to Glass, Maupertuis's theories of biparental heredity and epigenesis substantially anticipated those of Darwin, Mendel and de Vries nearly a century and a half later.

J. Norman (ed) Morton's Medical Bibliography 5th ed (1991) no. 215.1.

Glass, "Maupertuis, pioneer of genetics and evolution," Forerunners of Darwin 1745-1859, ed. Glass, Temkin & Straus (1968) 51-83.

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"Descriptions des Arts et Métiers": Mechanical and Industrial Arts of 18th Century France 1749 – 1814

In 1749 French scientists René Antoine Ferchault de Réaumur and Henri Louis Duhamel du Monceau issued the first volume of Descriptions des arts et métiers faites ou approuvées par Messieurs de l'Académie royale des Sciences from Paris. Eventually comprising 72 works in 114 parts printed in folio format, with over 2100 engraved plates and plans, the work was completed 65 years later, in 1814. 

This series was the most important and the largest work on the mechanical and industrial arts of eighteenth century France, and one of the earliest projects of its kind undertaken in any country. Although encyclopedic in scope, the work was not conceived in parallel to Diderot and D’Alembert’s Encyclopédie, but in response to the perceived function of the Académie royale des sciences. A statement was published in 1699 in Histoire, an organ of the Académie, that outlined the motives and aims behind a proposed Description des arts et métiers:

“When this work is completed, it will be easy for each craft to compare the practices in vogue in France with those pursued in other countries; and from this comparison, the French and the inhabitants of these foreign lands will profit equally” (quoted in Cole and Watts, p. 7).

Each article had sections on materials, tools and apparatus, processes and methods, and illustrations of the métier. The wide range of crafts and industries covered nearly every aspect of French industrial and artisan life: coal-mining, fishing, textile manufacture, carpentry and cabinet-making, masonry, glass-blowing, ceramics, candle- and soap-making, barbering and wig-making, papermaking and bookbinding, iron- and tinsmithing, among other fields. Although the work was very much a separate enterprise, the Arts et métiers inspired many articles in the Encyclopédie, and can be said to complement the latter work. Both were essential to any well-balanced library in France and abroad.

The two principal figures involved in the Arts et métiers were René Antoine Ferchault de Réaumur  and Henri Louis Duhamel du Monceau. The former was elected to the Académie at age 25, and had a prodigious output, submitting memoir after memoir on a variety of subjects, mostly relating to pure mathematics and pure science, but including his celebrated description of English steel production. Duhamel de Monceau, who succeeded Réaumur, was interested in applied sciences, in particular chemistry, botany and mechanics. Réaumur died before the first cahier of the Arts et métiers appeared, and Duhamel du Monceau assumed control of the project some time after Réaumur’s death in 1757. Other contributors included François Bedos de Celles, Fredrik Chapman, Charles Romme, Michel Ferdinand d’Albert d’Ailly, duc de Chaulnes, the Abbé Jean-Antoine Nollet, Jean-Jacques Perret, Charles-René Fourcroy de Ramecourt, August-Denis Fougeroux de Bondaroy, François-Alexandre Pierre de Garcault, Jérome le Français de Lalande, Jean Jacques Paulet, Jeanne-Marie Roland de la Platière, Nicolas Christien de Thy, comte de Milly (1728-84) and others. The Académie and the authors of the Arts et métiers sought help from men with practical experience whenever possible.

Though it was written by the elite rather than the artisan class, the combination of the best scientific minds and the best practical minds of the era produced an invaluable reference work and an unparalleled social record of the artisan classes, and recorded for posterity manufacturing methods that would soon disappear with the coming of the Industrial Revolution. Like Diderot’s Encyclopédie, the Arts et métiers is one of the greatest productions of the French Enlightenment, and a benchmark in social and scientific history.

Arthur H. Cole and George B. Watts, The Handicrafts of France as Recorded in the Description des Arts et Métiers (1952).

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1750 – 1800

Diderot & d'Alembert's Encyclopédie, the Central Enterprise of the French Enlightenment 1751 – 1780

Between 1751 and 1780 French philosopher, art critic, and writer Denis Diderot and French mathematician, mechanician, physicist and philosopher Jean le Rond d'Alembert edited and wrote portions of the Encyclopédie ou dictionnaire des sciences, des arts et des métiers, par une société‚ de gens de lettres in 17 folio volumes of text plus 11 folio volumes (i.e., 10 volumes in 11) of plates. The first 7 volumes were published in Paris, but volumes 8 to 17 had to be published under a false Neuchâtel imprint. The main work appeared between 1751 and 1772. A supplement of 4 volumes plus one plate volume was published in Paris and Amsterdam from 1776 to 1777. The Table analytique et raisonnée for the set was published in 2 folio volumes in Paris and Amsterdam in 1780. Altogether there were 35 volumes, with 71,818 articles, and 3,129 plates.

The central enterprise of the French Enlightenment, the Encyclopédie embodied that movement's liberal, anti-clerical and scientific spirit, its preoccupation with man as a creature of nature, and its conception of culture and society as mutable products of the evolutionary processes of history. As such, the work challenged the twin authorities of the French monarchy and the Catholic Church, both of which derived their power from the traditional belief in a divinely ordained, unchanging order. Well aware of the dangers of affronting such powerful authorities, the philosophes who contributed to the Encyclopédie relied heavily on irony and subterfuge in their attacks on the established order, but the epistemological basis of these attacks was clearly stated in the Encyclopédie's "Discourse préliminaire," written by d'Alembert, who, "although he formally acknowledged the authority of the church, . . . made it clear that knowledge came from the senses and not from Rome or Revelation" (Darnton, The Business of Enlightenment: A Publishing History of the Encyclopédie 1775-1800 [1979] 7).

"The Encyclopédie was an innovative encyclopedia in several respects. Among other things, it was the first encyclopedia to include contributions from many named contributors, and it was the first general encyclopedia to lavish attention on the mechanical arts. Still, the Encyclopédie is famous above all for representing the thought of the Enlightenment. According to Denis Diderot in the article 'Encyclopédie,' the Encyclopédie's aim was 'to change the way people think.' "(Wikipedia article on Encyclopédie, accessed 01-26-2010).

The first seven volumes of the Encyclopédie were produced in relative safety, due in part to the support of powerful protectors, notably Madame de Pompadour, but official tolerance came to an end in 1759, when the Encyclopédie was condemned by the Parlement of Paris and placed on the Index librorum prohibitorum by Pope Clement XIII. Diderot was forced to complete the remaining ten volumes in secret and to publish them under a false Neuchâtel imprint.  "In truth, secular authorities did not want to disrupt the commercial enterprise, which employed hundreds of people. To appease the church and other enemies of the project, the authorities had officially banned the enterprise, but they turned a blind eye to its continued existence" (Wikipedia).

A high percentage of the Encyclopédie's 71,818 articles were written by Diderot and d'Alembert themselves, with another large portion, about 400 articles, written by the Baron d'Holbach. Other famous contributors included Jean-Jacques Rousseau and Voltaire. The most prolific contributor was the French scholar Louis de Jaucourt who wrote 17,266 articles, or about 8 per day between 1759 and 1765.   Altogether 140 people contributed articles to the project.

The Encyclopédie was a considerable commercial success, resulting in a print run of 4250 copies (Wikipedia), much larger than the typical print run of most publications at the time.

The discussion and exposition of printing in the Encyclopédie is among the most significant of the 18th century. Of this Giles Barber wrote in French Letterpress Printing (1969)9-10:

"The Encyclopédie provides one of the best general explanations of printing of the century, being both detailed and accurate. The main article is well supported by a host of minor ones including numerous definitions of terms and processes and by an excellent and evocative series of plates showing general workshop scenes as well as details of presses and other equipment. The authorship of all these articles is not, as yet ascertained. In their Preface the editors say: 'On juge bien que sur ce qui concerne l'Imprimerie et la Librairie, les memes tous les secours qui'il nos était possible de désirer'. In addition two of the publishers are credited with particular articles, David l'ainé with 'catalogue" (based on a manuscript by the abbé Girard bequeathed to Le Breton) and Le Breton himself with 'encre noire'. The technical part of the long and important article on 'imprimerie' is ascribed to the prote in Le Breton's shop, who we learn from the article 'prote', also ascribed to him, was one Brullé. J.B.M. Paillon, the famous engraver, wrote a number of minor articles on engraving ('dentelle, dorure sur parchemen, fleuron') and provided notes for others. Pierre Simon Fournier, the type founder, is similarly thanked in the Préface for providing background notes on his trade. "Papeterie' is by L. J. Goussier, one of the regular contributors, assisted by 'M. Prevost de Langlée près de Montargis'.

"Of the chief editors we know that d'Alembert wrote 'bibliomanie' and that Diderot's editorial asterisk, indicating his responsibility for either part or all of the article, occurs before 'bibliothécaire', caractère de'imprimerie (doubtless basically written by Fournier), chassis, corps, correcteur' and a few other minor subjects. But the chief editor as far as printing was concerned was undoubtedly the Protestant chevalier Louis de Jaucourt. Among his more important contributions were parts of 'imprimerie' covering 'histoire des inventions modernes' and 'imprimerie de Contantinople', the historical part of 'papier' and the articles on 'privilege d'impression' and 'relieur' as well as a large number of short ones.  It has also bee suggested the printer Claude François Simon wrote many of the printing articles but no internal confirmation of this has been found."

♦ Charles C. Gillespie reproduced 485 of the most notable plates in the Encyclopédie with informative and entertaining commentary in A Diderot Pictorial Encylopedia of Trades and Industry (2 vols. 1959). These included all or most of the plates concerning book production (papermaking, printing, copperplate engraving, bookbinding, leather production).

♦ Lough, Essays on the Encyclopédie of Diderot and d'Alembert (1968) provided an authoritative bibliographical study and identified the authors of a significant percentage of the unsigned articles. 

♦ There are numerous versions of the Encyclopédie online. The ARTFL Encyclopédie Database from the University of Chicago contains "20.8 million words, 400,000 unique forms, 18,000 pages of text, 17 volumes of articles, and 11 volumes of plate legends."

♦ For an English translation there is the Encyclopedia of Diderot and d'Alembert Collaborative Translation Project at the University of Michigan. When I checked in 2013 significant portions of the Encyclopédie had been tranlsated.

♦ In February 2014 the full text of the first edition of the Encyclopédie was available from the French Wikipedia at this link. As I searched through the text Google Chrome provided a machine translation.

Carter & Muir, Printing and the Mind of Man (1967) no. 200.  Hook & Norman, The Haskell F. Norman Library of Science and Medicine (1991) no. 637.

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Linnaeus Develops Binomial Nomenclature for Plants 1753

In 1753 Swedish physician and naturalist Carl Linnaeus issued from Stockholm Species plantarum ("The Species of Plants"). Species plantarum introduced binary or binomial nomenclature (genus and species) for plants. Using this system, Linnaeus named, and therefore classified, all plants known to European naturalists at the time.

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The British Museum is Founded January 11, 1753

The will of English physician and naturalist Sir Hans Sloane bequeathed his collection of 70,000 objects, including a library, and an herbarium to Britain as the basis for the British Museum.

"When Sloane retired in 1741, his library and cabinet of curiosities . . . had grown to be of unique value. He had acquired the extensive natural history collections of William Courten, Cardinal Filippo Antonio Gualterio, James Petiver, Nehemiah Grew, Leonard Plukenet, the Duchess of Beaufort, the rev. Adam Buddle, Paul Hermann, Franz Kiggelaer and Herman Boerhaave. On his death on 11 January 1753 he bequeathed his books, manuscripts, prints, drawings, flora, fauna, medals, coins, seals, cameos and other curiosities to the nation, on condition that parliament should pay to his executors £20,000, which was a good deal less than the value of the collection. The bequest was accepted on those terms by an act passed the same year, and the collection, together with George II's royal library, etc., was opened to the public at Bloomsbury as the British Museum in 1759. A significant proportion of this collection was later to become the foundation for the Natural History Museum" (Wikipedia article on Sir Hans Sloane).

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Linnaeus Introduces Binomial Nomenclature for Animals 1758

Carl Linnaeus published the tenth edition of his Systema naturae, in which he introduced binomial nomenclature for animal species. Using this system, Linnaeus named, and therefore classified, virtually all animal species known at this time.

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The British Museum Opens 1759

Having been founded in 1753 by the bequest of English physician Sir Hans Sloane, the British Museum opened to the public.

Sloane's library of about 40,000 volumes, especially significant for scientific and medical material, was among the largest formed in the eighteenth century. The British Museum retained all the Sloane manuscripts, but during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries they dispersed certain printed books from the collection as "duplicates." 

♦ The Sloane Printed Books Catalogue on the British Library website is a project to publish bibliographical descriptions of each volume in Sloane's original library from institutional holdings around the world.

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John Mitchell Issues the First Scientific Explanation of Tsunamis 1760

In 1760 English natural philosopher and geologist John Michell published in the Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society LI (1760) "Conjectures concerning the Cause and Observations upon the Phaenomena of Earthquakes." The work also appeared in a separate edition, a kind of early offprint. In this paper Michell "suggested that earthquakes were experienced as seismic waves of elastic compression travelled through the Earth. He was able to estimate both the epicentre and focus of the 1755 Lisbon Earthquake. He may have been the first to suggest that a Tsunami is caused by a subterranean earthquake" (Wikipedia article on John Michell, accessed 03-30-2012).

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Filed under: Science

Frank Nichols Publishes Probably the First Color-Printed Illustrations in a Major Scientific Periodical 1761 – 1762

On November 26, 1761 English physician Frank Nicholls's  "Observations concerning the Body of his late Majesty, October 26, 1760" was read before the Royal Society. This paper,  in which Nicholls described and illustrated a rupture of the right ventricle he discovered at the autopsy of the late George II, was published in Philosophical Transactions Vol. 52, Pt 1, 265-272. It was illustrated with two folding plates of the heart engraved by J. Mynde and printed in two colors (brown and sanguine). These were probably the first color-printed plates in a major scientific periodical.

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Bayes's Theorem for Calculating Inverse Probabilities 1763

On April 7, 1761 Thomas Bayes, an English clergyman and mathematician, died at the age of 59. Two years after his death, his paper, entitled "An Essay Towards Solving a Problem in the Doctrine of ChancesThomas Bayes was published in the Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society 53 (1763) 370-418. Bayes's paper enunciated Bayes's Theorem for calculating "inverse probabilities”—the basis for methods of extracting patterns from data in decision analysisdata mining, statistical learning machinesBayesian networksBayesian inference.

"Whereas the ordinary rules of probability address such problems as 'what is the probability of drawing a yellow marble, if you draw three marbles from a sack containing 10 yellow marbles and 90 white marbles,' a Bayesian might ask the question, 'if I draw five marbles from a sack, and one is yellow and four are white, what is the probable distribution of the marbles in the sack?'  The advantage of inverse probability is that predictions can be continually refined as experience accumulates, so that if you draw five more marbles, and they are all white, that will change the probability prediction (and drawing a blue marble would drastically alter the situation), but Bayes’ theorem can easily accommodate any and all new information.  Bayes wrote his classic paper, 'An Essay towards solving a Problem in the Doctrine of Chances,' sometime in the late 1740s, but he never published it, for reasons unknown. After his death, his friend Richard Price found the paper among Bayes’ effects, and Price sent it for publication to John Canton of the Royal Society of London (apparently modifying the original paper considerably), and it appeared in the Philosophical Transactions in 1763. No one paid it the slightest attention. Ten years later, the Frenchman Pierre Simon Laplace independently discovered the rules of inverse probability, and although he later learned about Bayes’ paper and gave him priority, for the next century and a half Laplace got most of the credit (when credit was given at all--most statisticians did not consider Bayesian methods to be reputable, since they often involved making hunches and using gut feelings).  It wasn't until 1950 that the famous geneticist and mathematician R.A. Fisher first applied Bayes’ name to the methods of inverse probability, and since then, Bayes’ reputation has been gradually restored" (William B. Ashworth, Jr., email received on April 7, 2014.)

Hook & Norman, Origins of Cyberspace (2002) no. 1.

(This entry was last revised on April 7, 2014.)

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James Watt's Key Inventions Make the Steam Engine Practical 1765 – 1788

Scottish inventor and mechanical engineer Jame Watt first turned his attention to steam engines in 1763 when he was asked to repair a model Newcomen engine belonging to the University of Glasgow. After much experimentation Watt demonstrated that about three-quarters of the thermal energy of the steam was being consumed in heating the engine cylinder on every cycle. This energy was wasted because later in the cycle cold water was injected into the cylinder to condense the steam to reduce its pressure. By repeatedly heating and cooling the cylinder the engine wasted most of its thermal energy rather than converting it into mechanical energy. Watt's first key discovery, which he achieved in May 1765, was to cause the steam to condense in a separate chamber apart from the piston, and to maintain the temperature of the cylinder at the same temperature as the injected steam by surrounding it with a "steam jacket." By this method very little energy was absorbed by the cylinder on each cycle, making more available to perform useful work. 

Watt's next major contribution was sun and planet gear invented by the Scottish engineer William Murdoch, an employee of Boulton and Watt in Birmingham, but was patented by Watt in October 1781. Invented to bypass the patent on the crank held by James Pickard, the sun and planet gear played an important part in the development of devices for rotation in the Industrial Revolution..

Over the next six years Watt made a number of other improvements and modifications: a double acting engine, in which the steam acted alternately on the two sides of the piston, and a compound engine, which connected two or more engines. For these he received patents in 1781 and 1782. Another improvment was the steam indicator which produced an informative plot of the pressure in the cylinder against its volume, which he kept as a trade secret. His other important invention was parallel motion which was essential in double-acting engines as it produced the straight line motion required for the cylinder rod and pump, from the connected rocking beam, whose end moves in a circular arc. This was patented in 1784. In 1788 Watt invented the centrifugal governor to regulate the speed of his steam engine. This created interest in other feedback devices. All together Watt's improvements produced an engine which was up to five times more fuel efficient than the Newcomen engine.

(This entry was last revised on 03-20-2015.)

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Computing the Nautical Almanac, Called the "Seaman's Bible" 1766

In 1766 the British Government sanctioned Nevil Maskelyne, the Astronomer Royal, to produce each year a set of navigational tables, to be called the Nautical Almanac. This was the first permanent mathematical table-making project in the world.

Known as the "Seaman's Bible," the Nautical Almanacs, first published in 1767, greatly improved the accuracy of navigation. However, the accuracy of the tables in the Nautical Almanacs was dependent upon the accuracy of the human computers who produced them, working by hand and separated geographically in an early example of organized but distant collaboration.

By the early nineteenth century, the time of Charles Babbage, these tables became notorious for their errors, providing Babbage the incentive to develop mechanical systems, which he called calculating engines, to improve their accuracy.

(This entry was last revised on 05-02-2016.)

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Joseph Priestley Discovers that Growing Plants Restore Air Vitiated by Combustion or Respiration 1772

In 1772 British theologian, dissenting clergyman, natural philosopher, educator, and political theorist Joseph Priestley published "Observations on different kinds of air" in the Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society.

This was Priestley's first paper on the subject, reporting the results of his pneumatic researches since 1770. These included the isolation and identification of nitric oxide and anhydrous hydrochloric acid gases, the discovery that growing plants restored air vitiated by combustion or animal respiration, and the discovery of "nitrous air" (nitrous oxide).

Carter & Muir, Printing and the Mind of Man (1967) no. 217. Hook & Norman, The Haskell F. Norman Library of Science and Medicine (1991) no. 1749.

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"Kaitai Shinsho" : The First Book on Western Medicine and Science Published in Japanese 1774

In 1774 Sugita Genpaku and colleagues published Kaitai Shinsho (解体新書 Kyūjitai解體新書; Anatomical Tables) in Tokyo. This translation into Japanese of Johann Adam Kulmus's Dutch text on anatomy, Ontleedkundige Tafelen, was the first work on Western medicine or science published in Japanese.

As the first translation into Japanese of a Western medical text,

"Kaitai Shinsho represented the beginning of two epoch-making developments. First and most directly Gempaku's work set in motion the modern transformation of Japanese medicine, revealing not only many anatomical structures hitherto unknown in traditional [Japanese] medicine, but also and more fundamentally introducing the very notion of an anatomical approach to the body--the idea of visual inspection in dissection as the primary and most essential way of understanding the nature of the human body. Second and more generally, Kaitai Shinsho inspired the rise of Dutch studies (Rangaku) in Japan, thus giving birth to one of the most decisive influences shaping modern Japanese history, namely the study of Western languages and science" (S. Kuriyama, " Between Mind and Eye: Japanese Anatomy in the Eighteenth Century," IN: Leslie & Young [eds.] Paths to Asian Medical Knowledge [1992] 21).

Kaitai Shinsho was drawn largely from Gerard Dieten's 1773 Dutch translation of Johann Adam Kulmus's Anatomische Tabellen (1731) although its Western-style title-age was copied from Valverde's Vivae imagines partium porporis (1566), and the last four anatomical woodcuts were taken from the 1690 Dutch edition of Bidloo's anatomy. According to Genpaku, the instigator and primary editor of the book, the inspiration for Kaitai Shinsho came in 1771 when he and two other students of Dutch medicine bribed an executioner to let them see the dismembered body of a criminal. The three compared what they saw to the anatomical illustrations in Kulmus's book, and, struck by the accuracy of the European representations, determined to prepare a Japanese edition of Kulmus's anatomy. Completed in just two years, the book was a sensation on publication, selling out almost immediately and going through numerous editions in the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries.

After publication of Kaitai Shinsho Genpaku continued to help advance Western knowledge in Japan. In 1815 he published a chronicle of these advances entitled Rangaku Kotohajime (The Dawn of Western Science in Japan).

♦ In February 2014 the images from Kaitai Shinsho were available from the website of the National Library of Medicine at this link

Hook & Norman, The Haskell F. Norman Library of Science and Medicine (1991) No. 1196. 

J. Norman, Anatomy as Art: The Dean Edell Collection, NY: Christie's, 5 October 2007, No. 106.

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Zimmerman Issues the First Textbook on Zoogeography 1777

The first textbook of zoogeography, containing the first world map showing the distribution of mammals, was Specimen zoologiae geographicae, quadrupedem domicilia et migrationes sistens by German Geographer and Zoologist Eberhard August Wilhelm von Zimmerman  published in Leiden in 1777.

Hook & Norman, The Haskell F. Norman Library of Science and Medicine (1991) no. 2280.

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Georg Christoph Lichtenberg Describes "Lichtenberg Figures" 1777

German scientist, satirist and Anglophile Georg Christoph Lichtenberg discovered Lichtenberg figures, and described them in his memoir "Super nova methodo motum ac naturam fluidi electrici" investigandi," Göttinger Novi Commentarii, Göttingen, 1777.

"In 1777, Lichtenberg built a large electrophorus to generate high voltage static electricity through induction. After discharging a high voltage point to the surface of an insulator, he recorded the resulting radial patterns in fixed dust. By then pressing blank sheets of paper onto these patterns, Lichtenberg was able to transfer and record these images, thereby discovering the basic principle of modern Xerography. This discovery was also the forerunner of modern day plasma physics. Although Lichtenberg only studied 2-dimensional (2D) figures, modern high voltage researchers study 2D and 3D figures (electrical trees) on, and within, insulating materials. Lichtenberg figures are now known to be examples of fractals" (Wikipedia article on Lichtenberg figures, accessed 06-11-2010).

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Mesmer & the Animal Magnetism Movement: An Archive 1777 – 1787

During the decade from 1777 to 1787 more books and pamphlets were published in France on Animal Magnetism (Mesmerism in the movement's own terminology) than on any other subject. On the eve of the French Revolution the Viennese-born Dr. Franz Anton Mesmer held sway over the public, "mesmerized" them as we would say, with his philosophy aimed at creating a more perfect society through harmony with the physical universe, and with his healing through "rapport" between physician and patient. Mesmer always insisted on the physical character of his cures, which he at first attributed to magnetic forces, or electricity. He later abandoned these in favor of a "universal fluid" acting on the nervous system which was susceptible to it on account of its inherent property of "animal magnetism." At first Mesmer used actual magnets to effect cures, borrowed from the Hungarian astronomer and Jesuit priest Maximilian Hell. Later Mesmer concluded that the magnets could be dispensed with in that nearly all substances could be magnetized by touch, and it was this that led him to the idea of a magnet-like property inherent in living creatures. Initially he employed direct contact between his body of the physician and the patient. To transfer the healing magnetic force, Mesmer would sit with patients' legs squeezed between his knees, press their thumbs in his hands, stare intensely into their eyes, and stroke their limbs to manipulate their internal ether.

Mesmer promoted Animal Magnetism through his own publications and those of his many followers. His most famous book was Mémoire sur la dévouverte du magnétisme animal (Geneva & Paris, 1779). He also had a great flair for the dramatic and theatrical. In Paris he was besieged by more patients than he could hope to treat individually—as many as two hundred a day, so he invented what he called the baquet to accommodate groups at a time. Because the reactions Mesmer provoked seemed to be contagious, the dramatic effects were exacerbated in a crowded room. Some baquets could seat twenty people, and Mesmer had four of these in his Paris treatment rooms at the Hôtel Bullion on rue Coq-Héron. 

The baquet, as Mesmer named his magnetic device, was in keeping with the contemporary craze for medical electricity. Physicians and apothecaries frequently prescribed electric shock treatment, especially in attempts to cure paralysis, and often exposed the sick to a more general "electrical aura" as a healing agent. Benjamin Franklin, then American ambassador to France, was fond of demonstrating the power that could be harnessed in a Leyden jar, the prototype of the modern battery, by using one to send a bolt of electricity through a chain of people.  The sole remaining example of Mesmer's baquet, is preserved in the Musée d'Histoire de la Médecine et de la Pharmacie at Lyon. An excellent image of it was reproduced in Cabinet Magazine, Spring 2006.

Mesmer's critics observed that the actual and remarkable cures effected were due to Mesmer's working on the "imagination" of a "willing patient," who could be put into a "special state of mind." The peculiar nature of these cures continued to provoke interest among medical men, even after the Académie royale des sciences report of 1784 by Benjamin Franklin, Antoine Laurent Lavoisier and others attributed the power of Mesmerism to the "imagination." This report was translated into English in 1785. Interest of physicians also continued despite the scandalous financial practices of Mesmer and his associates in Mesmer's Society of Universal Harmony, initiation into which could cost a man his fortune. Successful surgery was practiced on patients in a mesmeric state by Topham and Ward and John Elliotson in England in the 1840's. About the same time James Braid identified the valid phenomena in Animal Magnetism, coining the terms hypnosis and hypnotism. Jean-Martin Charcot in the later 19th century connected the clinical manifestations of hysteria with artificially indcued hypnotic phenomena, and Sigmund Freud developed psychoanalysis from his acquaintance with Charcot's practices. Thus through Memser and his disciples medical attention was directed toward psychological phenomena and the first scientific steps toward an adequate approach to psychological problems were taken.

In its own time Animal Magnetism was as much a social movement as a medical practice. It spread from Paris all over Europe and to America, had an official program, administered instruction in its practices for certain fees, encouraged testimonials from members and urged the spread of Animal Magnetism "for the sake of humanity." It was perceived as a potentially radical force in France, provoked enormous public controveries and official condemnations, and stirred up its followers to a pitch of "religious" fervor.

Among the exceptional group of manuscripts that I offered for sale in my catalogue eight entitled Twelve Manuscripts issued in 1980, were the papers of the Amiens chapter of the Society of Universal Harmony formed by Mesmer and his associates Guillaume Kornmann and Nicolas Bergasse. We described the collection as follows:

ANIMAL MAGNETISM (MESMERISM). A collection of 56 manuscript items in French representing the correspondence & papers of the Amiens affiliates of the Animal Magnetism movement. Totalling nearly 300pp., including: {1} 10 letters & 5 documents signed by Franz Anton MESMER (1733-1815). {2} 12 letters signed by Guillaume KORNMANN, co-founder & treasurer of the Society of Universal Harmony, the organization through which Animal Magnetism was offically promoted. {3} 4 documents signed by Nicholas  BERGASSE (1750-1832), theoretician of Animal Magnetism. {4} A collection of approximately 100 case reports by a physician practicing Animal Magnetism. {5} 10 formal documents, including contracts for the teaching & practice of Animal Magnetism, membership lists for the Society of Universal Harmony, and declarations docuementing the schism which led to the movement's decline {6} 5 theorectical works, including an MS. copy in English of the illustrated textbook of Animal Magnetism written by Bergasse with a key to its symbols, and and MS. French version of this work {7} Miscellaneous papers of the Amiens group. All in very good to fine condition, in a half mroocco box. Mostly 1784-85, with a few later dates.

. . . . Some 40 items in the collection represent correspondence between the Paris and Amiens Societies of Universal Harmony or of the Amiens Society itself. These include 10 letters from Mesmer (signed Mesmer) and 12 letters from Guillaume Kornmann, the Society's treasurer, a Strasbourg banker who eventually broke away from Mesmer in 1785, taking with him the movement's theoretician, Nicolas Bergasse. The correspondence documents the fees, rules, and social complexion of the membership (e.g., a list of official practioners of Mesmerism names General Lafayette to teach it in the United States which he had served so well in the Revolution). It also shows the nature of the issues between the parent and local organization, and the emotional tone of the movement, particular in its great crisis in 1785 [when Mesmer left the country.]

. . . .The philosophy of Animal Magnetism was felt as an intellectual force for nearly 100 years after its inception. With roots going back to the hermetic thinkers of the 17th century, passing through Newton and the English physician Richard Mead into the Enlightenment, and extending into Romanticism and Naturphilosophie, the movement had many ramifications in culture and science. As representative of the philosophy of Animal Magnetism, the collection contains two manuscript versions of Nicolas Bergasse's Théorie du monde, the illustrated textbook of the movement, published in an engraved volume in 1784, and consdiered "très-rare" by Dureau, who prepared the standard bibliography of Animal Magnetism in 1869. Bergasse, whose inclinations toward systematization were much stronger than Mesmer's, was the theoretician of the movement. His "theory of the world and organic beings" was in part hieroglyphic, and the symbols used the text were "generally considered as magic hieroglyphics, capable of communicating primitive truths" ( Darnton 186 & reproducing illustration.). Subjects treated in the Théorie range from theology to physics, medicine and morals. The occult symbols have affinity with alchemical and other magical symbols, and a more elaborate and elegant English language version. The French manuscript appears to be in the hand of our Amiens physician; it may represent his copy or his interpretation of Bergasse's work. The English manuscript is contemporary with or a lilttle alter than the other materials in the collection, but is not an orginal part of the Amiens papers. It is a carefully prepared folio with diagrams and illustrations on nearly every one of its c. 100pp. What most intrigues us about it is that there is no published English language version of Bergasse's text. . . .

Darnton, Mesmerism & the End of the Enlightenment in France (1968) Dureau, Notes bibliographiques pour servir à l'histoire du magnétisme animal (1869). Hunter & Macalpine, 300 Years of Psychiatry (1963) 480-86. Mottelay, Bibliographical History of Electricity and Magnetism (1922) 235-37. Zilboorg & Henry, History of Medical Psychology (1941) 342-55 (chap. 9 "The discovery of neuroses").

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Lorenz von Crell Begins Publication of "Chemische Annalen", the First Chemistry Journal 1778

Detail from cover of Chemische Annalen für die Freunde der Naturlehre, Arzneygelahrtheit, Haushaltungskunst und Manufacturen.  Please click on the link below to view and resize the full image.

Lorenz Florenz Friedrich von Crell.

In 1778 Lorenz Florenz Friedrich von Crell, professor of theoretical medicine and materia medica at the University of Helmstedt, Germany, began publication of  the first periodical specifically devoted to chemistry: Chemische Annalen für die Freunde der Naturlehre, Arzneygelahrtheit, Haushaltungskunst und Manufacturen in 1778.

The journal continued publication under this name until 1781. It resumed publication in 1784 with the title of Chemische Annalen, discontinuing publication in 1803. The journal is often called referred to as Crell's Annalen

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Filed under: Medicine, Publishing, Science

Ingen-Housz Discovers Photosynthesis 1779

In 1779 Dutch Physician Jan Ingen-Housz published Experiments upon Vegetables, Discovering their Great Power of Purifying the Common Air in the Sunshine, and of Injuring it in the Shade and at Night. 

While investigating Joseph Priestley's discovery made in 1771 that plants could "restore" air made unfit for respiration through combusion or putrefaction, Ingen-Housz became the first to observe and elucidate the processes of photosynthesis and plant respiration. In his Experiments upon Vegetables, Ingen-Housz established that only the green parts of a plant give off the "restoring" gas (oxygen), and only when exposed to visible sunlight. He also found that plants, "like animals, exhibit respiration, that respiration continues day and night, and that all parts of the plant—green as well as nongreen, flowers and fruit as well as roots—take part in the process.

Hook & Norman, The Haskell F. Norman Library of Science and Medicine (1991) no. 1141.

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Jean-Étienne Guettard Issues the First National Geological Atlas 1780

In 1780 French mineralogist and naturalist Jean-Étienne Guettard and Antoine Monnet, France's first Inspector-general of mines, published Atlas et description minéralogiques de la France in Paris at the Office of Dupain-Triel, Royal Geographical Engineer.

In 1766 Henri Bertin, Minister and Secretary of State in charge of mining, commissioned a geological survey of France from mineralogist Jean Etienne Guettard, one of the first geological cartographers, and Guettard's protegée, the young Antoine-Laurent de Lavoisier (Antoine Lavoisier). Guettard and Lavoiser had begun collecting field notes for the project as early as 1763, and in 1767 they embarked on a geological tour of Alsace, Lorraine and Franche-Comt. During this tour both Guettard and Lavoisier maintained diaries of their geological observations. That kept by Lavoisier is preserved in the Duveen Lavoisier collection at Cornell University; that kept by Guettard was formerly in the Haskell F. Norman Library, dispersed at Christie's. 

When Lavoisier returned to Paris he assumed most of the responsibility for supervising the production of the geological maps, which were engraved by the Sieur de Dupain-Triel, Royal Geographical Engineer. By 1770, he and Guettard had overseen the completion of sixteen plates, and by 1777 they had partially completed an almost equal number. According to Lavoisier's own statement, all plates dated 1766 and 1767 were prepared with his assistance.

The atlas was to have contained 230 maps in all, but this total was never reached, as political and financial difficulties intervened. In 1777, to the displeasure of both Lavoisier and Guettard, Antoine Monnet, France's first Inspector-general of mines, was appointed to direct the geological survey. In 1780 thirty-one maps, together with a long text written by Monnet, were published under the joint authorship of Guettard and Monnet. The Atlas's maps included six by Guettard and Lavoisier, fifteen begun by Guettard and Lavoisier and finished by Monnet, and ten prepared entirely by Monnet. Monnet issued a second edition of the Atlas some time after 1794, under the title Collection complète de toutes les parties de l'Atlas minéralogique de la France. This second edition had forty-five maps, fourteen more than the 1780 Atlas; of the new maps, ten were by Guettard and Lavoisier, one was prepared by Guettard and Lavoisier and revised by Monnet, and three were prepared by Monnet alone.

Hook & Norman, The Haskell F. Norman Library of Science and Medicine (1991) no. 1287; Guettard diary, no. 953. Duveen & Klickstein, Bibliography of the Works of Antoine-Laurent Lavoisier (1954) 218; Supplement pp. 129-132. The authors state that all the maps produced for the atlas could be purchased individually, colored or uncolored, at the office of Dupain-Triel.

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Barthélemy Faujas de Saint-Fond Reports on the First Aerial Voyages 1783 – 1784

French geologist and traveller Barthélemy Faujas de Saint-Fond published Description des expériences de la machine aerostatique de MM. Montgolfier, et de celles auxquelles cette découverte a donné lieu and Première suite de la description des expériences aérostatiques de MM. Montgolfier, et de celles auxquelles cette découverte a donné lieu from Paris in two volumes in 1783 and 1784. Saint-Fond's work was the first full-length account of the historic experiments with balloon flight conducted by paper manufacturers Joseph-Michel and Jacques-Étienne Montgolfier in 1783. After some unsatisfactory experiments with hydrogen gas (which dissipated too quickly from their trial models), the Montgolfiers discovered that air heated to 100 degrees Celsius became sufficiently rarified to lift a balloon and did not diffuse. On June 5, 1783 the brothers released their first full-sized balloon, a paper and linen globe thirty-five feet in diameter, which rose 6,000 feet and travelled a horizontal distance of 7,668 feet from the starting point. On September 19, before Louis XVI and the French court at Versailles, they launched the first flight with living beings aboard (a sheep, a cock and a duck); and on November 20 the first manned flight took place.  

The invention of the hot-air “Montgolfière,” as well as its obvious limitations, stimulated renewed research into the possibility of using hydrogen as a lifting agent. Development of the hydrogen balloon proceeded simultaneously with that of the hot-air model, and on December 1 the first passenger-carrying hydrogen balloon, designed and manned by the physicist Jacques Charles, with Nicholas-Louis Robert as co-pilot, ascended for a two-hour voyage.  

Charles’s work was financed through the efforts of Faujas de Saint-Fond, whose account of it appears in the second volume of his work. A few copies of volume 1 were issued separately. When volume 2 was published the following year volume 1 was reissued with a 4-page supplement, describing the voyage of November 20.

Chemist Antoine-Laurent Lavoisier, a commissioner appointed by the Académie des Sciences to study the Montgolfier balloon, was among the authors of a report dated December 23, 1783 which was published on pages 200-231 of volume 2.

Hook & Norman, The Haskell F. Norman Library of Science and Medicine (1991) no. 769. Davy, Interpretive History of Flight 37-41. Carter & Muir, Printing and the Mind of Man (1967) no. 229. En français dans le texte 75. 

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John Mitchell is the First to Study the Effect of Gravity on Light 1784

English natural philosopher and geologist John Michell published in the Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society Vol. 74, Pt. 1 "On the Means of discovering the Distance, Magnitude &c. of the Fixed Stars, in consequence of the Diminution of the Velocity of their Light, in case such a Diminution should be found to take place in any of them, and such other Data should be procured from Observations, as would be farther necessary for that Purpose."

"This paper was only generally 'rediscovered' in the 1970s and is now recognised as anticipating several astronomical ideas that had been considered to be 20th century innovations. Michell is now credited with being the first to study the case of a heavenly object massive enough to prevent light from escaping (the concept of escape velocity was well known at the time). Such an object would not be directly visible, but could be identified by the motions of a companion star if it was part of a binary system. Michell also suggested using a prism to measure the gravitational weakening of starlight due to the surface gravity of the source ('gravitational shift'). Michell acknowledged that some of these ideas were not technically practical at the time, but wrote that he hoped they would be useful to future generations. By the time that Michell's paper was 'resurrected' nearly two centuries later, these ideas had been reinvented by others" (Wikipedia article on John Michell, accessed 02-28-2009).

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Filed under: Science

Richard Payne Knight Records Early Archaeological Explorations of Ancient Fertility Rites 1786

In 1786 Classical scholar, collector, connoiseur, and member of the Society of Dilettanti, Richard Payne Knight  privately issued from London, in an edition supposedly of about eighty copies, and with twelve engravings of phallic objects, An Account of the Remains of the Worship of Priapus, Lately Existing at Isernia, in the Kingdom of Naples. . . to which is Added, a Discourse on the Worship of Priapus, and its Connexion with the Mystic Theology of the Ancients.

The first and most explicit purpose of Knight's treatise was to provide a comparison of ancient (pagan) and modern (Christian) religious rituals, based on the archeological discoveries related in Sir William Hamilton's essay Account of the Remains of the Worship of Priapus Lately Existing at Isernia, in the Kingdom of Naples, with which Knight's work begins.  Knight's second and less obvious purpose was to use his dissertation to attack the Christian church as bigoted, corrupt, and categorically opposed to the enlightened paganism that Knight wished to revive— a male-centered ethic based on phallic fertility which he believed would liberate modern man from the oppressions of an increasingly industrialized environment. 

Knight's major contribution to history and anthropology was his recognition of the fundamental religious significance of the sexually explicit fertility rites practiced in the ancient world, a recognition that restored Priapus to his rightful place as the symbolic principle of fertility, and opened new pathways for anthropological research.  Unfortunately, the nature of Knight's subject matter caused him to be wrongly condemned as a libertine and pornographer both by his contemporaries (except for an open-minded few) and the strait-laced Victorians who followed; it was not until the late nineteenth century that Knight's work began to lose its pornographic stigma and gain recognition as a valuable source for the student of ancient religions.

The first edition of Knight's Priapus was restricted to approximately eighty copies printed for the Society of Dilettanti, "a group of enthusiasts especially concerned with the study of Grecian antiquity" (Messman, p. 41), of which Knight was a member.  Upon the work's publication, the Society voted "that the copies be lodg'd in the custody of the Secretary & one of them deliverd to each member of the Society, & that except these he do not on any Pretence whatever part with any other copy without an order made at a regular meeting.  [And] that each member be allowd once & no more to move the Society recommending by name a Friend to whom he wishes the Society to present a copy" (3 March 1787 minutes of the Society, quoted in Messmann, p. 43).

Knight was, perhaps ironically, best known as an arbiter of aesthetic taste. In his lifetime An Analytical Inquiry into the Principles of Taste (1805) was Knight’s most influential work. "This book sought to explain the experience of ‘taste’ within the mind and to clarify the theorisation of the concept of the picturesque, following from the writings of William Gilpin and Uvedale Price on the subject. Knight's views on the aesthetics of the picturesque are also formed in engagement with Edmund Burke's emphasis on the importance of sensation, which Knight partly rejects in favour of a modified associationism. The philosophical basis of Knight's theories have implications for his account of the relationship between the ‘beautiful’ and the ‘picturesque’ " (Wikipedia article on Richard Payne Knight, accessed 12-20-2008). 

Messmann, Richard Payne Knight: The Twilight of Virtuosity (1974) 41-43.  Rousseau, "The sorrows of Priapus," in Sexual Underworlds of the Enlightenment, ed. Rousseau & Porter, 101-153. Hook & Norman, The Haskell F. Norman Library of Science and Medicine (1991) no. 1226.

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Christopher Colles Issues the First Road Atlas of the United States 1789 – 1792

A Survey of the Roads of the United States of America by American engineer and surveyor Christopher Colles, issued in New York in 1789, was the first road atlas or guide book of the United States. The series of 83 maps with a title page was privately published by Colles, by subscription.

"It uses a format familiar to modern travelers with each plate consisting of two to three strip maps arranged side by side, covering approximately 12 miles. Colles began this work in 1789, but brought the project to an end in 1792 after obtaining relatively few subscriptions. But in that time, he compiled an atlas covering approximately 1,000 miles from Albany to Williamsburg, and is invaluable today for understanding the developing road network in the new nation."

Ristow, ed., A Survey of the Roads of the United States of America 1789 by Christopher Colles (1961) includes a lengthy biographical introduction and reproductions of a complete copy of the atlas.

(This entry was last revised on 07-09-2010).

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Antoine Laurent Lavoisier, Martyr to Chemistry 1789

In 1789, the year of the French Revolution, French chemist and biologist Antoine Laurent Lavoisier published Traité élémentaire de chimie in 2 volumes with 13 engraved plates by his wife, the chemist Marie Marie-Anne Pierrette Paulze Lavoisier. Born into a wealthy Parisian family, Lavoisier was an administrator of the "Ferme Générale" and a powerful member of a number of other aristocratic councils. These political and economic activities enabled him to fund his scientific research. At the height of the French Revolution he was accused by Jean-Paul Marat of selling watered-down tobacco, and of other crimes, and was guillotined on May 8, 1794.

In his Traité work Lavoisier overthrew the phlogiston theory of Georg Ernst Stahl, established the concept of elements as substances which cannot be further decomposed, and reformed chemical nomenclature. An important consequence of his work was the law of conservation of mass, which states that matter remains constant throughout all chemical change. The book’s thirteen plates of chemical apparatus were drawn and engraved by Lavoisier’s wife, who had studied under the French artist David. 

"In 1771, at the age of 28, Lavoisier married 13-year-old Marie-Anne Pierrette Paulze, the daughter of a co-owner of the Ferme générale. Over time, she proved to be a scientific colleague to her husband. She translated documents from English for him, including Richard Kirwan's Essay on Phlogiston and Joseph Priestley's research. She created many sketches and carved engravings of the laboratory instruments used by Lavoisier and his colleagues. She edited and published Lavoisier’s memoirs (whether any English translations of those memoirs have survived is unknown as of today) and hosted parties at which eminent scientists discussed ideas and problems related to chemistry" (Wikipedia article on Antoine Lavoisier, accessed 07-10-2011).

The work was first issed in a one-volume version known in only a handful of copies; the second issue in 2 volumes contains 95 pages of additional material, including the “Tables à l’usage des chimistes” (pp. 559-591), the “Table des matières” (pp. 592-619) and various approvals of the work (pp. 620-653).

Horblit, One Hundred Books Famous in Science, no. 64. Carter & Muir, Printing and the Mind of Man no. 238. Duveen & Klickstein, Antoine Laurent Lavoisier bibliography no.  154. Hook & Norman, The Haskell F. Norman Library of Science & Medicine no. 1295. 

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Von Kempelen Builds the First Successful Speech Synthesizer 1791

In 1791 Austro-Hungarian author and inventor, Wolfgang von Kempelen, published in Vienna Mechanismus der mensclichen Sprache nebst Beschreibung seiner sprechenden Maschine, in which he discussed the origins and development of languages, and described the first successful speech synthesizer.

Unlike von Kempelen’s fraudulent chess-playing Turk automaton , Kempelin's speech synthesizer actually worked.  Kempelen's synthesizer was the first that produced not only some speech sounds, but also whole words and short sentences. He believed that it was possible to acquire skill in using the machine within three weeks, especially if one chose to synthesize sentences in Latin, French, or Italian. German von Kempelen considered much more difficult to synthesize because of its many closed syllables and consonant clusters.

"The machine consisted of a bellows that simulated the lungs and was to be operated with the right forearm (uppermost drawing). A counterweight provided for inhalation. The middle and lower drawings show the 'wind box' that was provided with some levers to be actuated with the fingers of the right hand, the 'mouth', made of rubber, and the 'nose' of the machine. The two nostrils had to be covered with two fingers unless a nasal was to be produced. The whole speech production mechanism was enclosed in a box with holes for the hands and additional holes in its cover.

"The air flow was conducted into the mouth not only by way of an oscillating reed, but also through a narrow shunting tube. This allowed the air pressure in the mouth cavity to increase when its opening was covered tightly in order to produce unvoiced speech sounds. Driven by a spring, a small auxiliary bellows would then deliver an extra puff of air at the release.

"With the left hand, it was also possible to control the resonance properties of the mouth by varied covering of its opening. In this way, some vowels and consonants could be simulated in sufficient approximation. This was not really a simulation of natural articulation, since the shape of the mouth of the machine in itself remained constant. Some vowels and, especially, the consonants [d t g k] could not be simulated in this way, but only feigned, at best. An [l] could be produced by putting the thumb into the mouth.

"The function of the vocal cords was simulated by a slamming reed made of ivory (leftmost drawing). Although the effective length of the reed could be varied, this could not be done during speech production, so that the machine spoke on a monotone.

"Two of the levers to be actuated with the right hand served the production of the fricatives [s] and . . . as well as [z] and . . . by means of separate, hissing whistles (right drawing). A third one effectuated the production of a rattling [R] by dropping a wire on the vibrating reed (middle drawing)." (http://www.ling.su.se/staff/hartmut/kemplne.htm, accessed 12-14-2008).

Kempelin's final version of the machine, which differs slightly from the version shown in the book, is preserved in the Deutsches Museum, Munich, in the department of musical instruments.

Because Kempelin's speech synthesizer required a human for its operation it was not literally an automation but may be thought of as a forerunner of robotic or computer speech synthesizers.

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The Metric System is Promulgated 1793 – 1794

The Commission Temporaire des Poids et Mesures Républicaines (Temporary Commission on Republican Weights and Measures) in Paris published Instruction sur les mesures déduites de la grandeur de la terre, uniformes pour toute la république, et sur les calculs relatifs à leur division décimale in An II [1793/94].

In 1788 the French Academy of Sciences, at the suggestion of French diplomat Talleyrand, proposed the establishment of a new universal decimal system of measurement founded upon some “natural and invariable base” to replace Europe’s diverse regional systems. This project was approved by the National Assembly in 1790 and a basic unit or “meter” (metre) of measurement proposed, which was to be a decimal unit one ten-millionth of the distance between the terrestrial pole and the Equator. In 1791 the French national assembly voted to replace the old French unit of length (toise) with this new unit. In the summer of 1792 Jean Baptiste Delambre and Pierre François André Méchain embarked from Paris to establish the definitive length of the meter by taking geodetic measurements along the Dunkink-Barcelona meridian.

In August 1793, while Méchain and Delambre were still carrying out their task, the French National Assembly “affirmed the decimal system and the meridianal definition of the meter, ordered the continuation of the work, and decreed that the Academy provide for the manufacture, distribution, and explanation of provisional meters for general use while it prosecuted its measurements. This provisional meter was defined as a ten-millionth of ninety times the average degree in France as determined by Lacaille [in 1739-40] . . . It differed from the definitive meter by about a quarter of a millimeter” (Heilbron, pp. 227-228). The definitive meter, as determined by Méchain and Delambre, would not be announced until the publication of Delambre’s Base du système métrique decimal (1806-10).

The new metric system was first  set forth in two works issued in An II (Year Two) of the Republic (1793/94) by the Imprimerie nationale. The first was Instruction sur les mesures, which emphasized mathematics and theory; the second was an abridged version containing a shorter and simpler presentation of the system. On p. xxxii of Instruction sur les mesures the commission announced that these two versions would be followed by a third, which “will only present a précis of the system, and which will be printed partly in octavo format for distribution, and partly as a broadside to be displayed in public places for viewing by all citizens.” I have not been able to find a record of this third version.

Both Instruction sur les mesures and its abridged version were also re-issued by several other French publishers throughout the country; these provincial editions, of which I have never seen a definitive listing, are often confused with the true first edition.

The unnamed author Instruction sur les mesures was French minerologist and crystallographer René Just Haüy, a member of the Temporary Commission.

Hook & Norman, The Haskell F. Norman Library of Science & Medicine (1991) no. 1499. Dibner, Heralds of Science, no. 113 (citing a copy published in Macon in 1794). Heilbron, “The measure of enlightenment,” in Frängsmyr, Heilbron and Rider, eds., The Quantifying Spirit in the Eighteenth Century (1990), 207-242.

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Christian Konrad Sprengel Issues the Founding Work of Floral Ecology 1793

In 1793 German theologist and naturalist Christian Konrad Sprengel issued Das entdeckte Geheimniss der Natur im Bau und in der Befruchtung der Blumen from Berlin through Friedrich Viewig dem aeltern, publishers. Sprengel's work, with its 25 plates engraved after drawings by the author, made a fundamental contribution to our understanding of the role insects play in plant fertilization, and is recognized as one of the founding works of what is now known as pollination or floral ecology. 

Although J. G. Kölreuter had established the role of insects in the pollination of flowering plants in the 1760s, this phenomenon aroused little interest until nearly three decades later, when Sprengel, an amateur botanist, began observing the pollination of geraniums. After spending six years examining the relationship between flowers and their pollinating insects, Sprengel concluded that floral structure in entire orders of flowering plants can be interpreted only by analyzing the role of each part in relation to insect visits. He realized, as Kölreuter had not, that the entire structure of the flower was geared to this method of fertilization, and was the first to describe and illustrate, in nearly 500 species, the principal adaptive floral mechanisms concerned in pollination. In an important corollary, Sprengel noted the great frequency of dichogamy (the maturation at different rates of male and female organs in the same flower), and concluded that Nature did not intend any flower to be fertilized by its own pollen. Darwin recognized the importance of Sprengel’s work, which he read in 1841, and elaborated upon Sprengel’s observations in the Origin of Species (1859), Orchids (1862) and Cross and Self Fertilization (1876).

In December 2013 a digital facsimile of Darwin's extensive manuscript notes preserved in his copy of Sprengel at Down House was available from the Internet Archive at this link.

Dibner, Heralds of Science 30. Norman 1990. Nissen (botany) 1883. Morton, History of Botanical Science, pp. 326-328. 42702

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Lazaro Spallanzani Discovers Echolocation or Biosonar 1794

Anton Maria Vassalli published Lettere sopra il Sospetto di un Nuovo Senso nei Pipistrelli . . . Con le Risposte dell’Abate Antonmaria Vassalli in Torino (Turin) at the Stamperia Reale in 1794. The 64-page booklet included letters to Vassalli by Italian biologist and physiologist Lazaro Spallanzani containing Spallanzani's first description of echolocation, or biosonar.

Spallanzani published his own small edition of the letters in Pavia a few days or weeks later. Also in 1794 the original letters were reprinted in Pisa in the Giornale dei literrati with the addition of  new letters on echolocation between Spallanzani and Pietro Rossi, Professor at University of Pisa.  A few months later the original letters were reprinted in Milano together with other new letters in the Opuscoli scelti sulle scienze e sulle arti.

"The problem of obstacle avoidance by bats flying in the dark is often known to European zoologists as 'Spallanzani's bat problem'. This is because the whole subject owes its place in the thoughts of scientists to the incisive thinking and masterly experimentation of Lazaro Spallanzani. . . . In 1793, when Spallanzani was sixty-four years of age, he had occasion to notice that a captive owl became quite helpless if the candle which lighted his room were blown out as it flew too close to the flame. Impressed by the complete disorientation of the owl, which crashed into the walls and other obstacles, Spallanzani repeated the observations with bats and soon realized that they were not at all inconvenienced by the darkness. This was the beginning of a long series of ingenious experiments by which within a year or two Spallanzani learned almost as much about the orientation of bats as others were able to discover in 140 years after his death. Yet only a regrettably small proportion of his observations and conclusions became widely enough known to win any general acceptance among zoologists, and even today much of his work remains unpublished" (Griffin, Listening in the Dark: The Acoustic Orientation of Bats and Men [1958] 57-58).

Gedeon, Science and Technology in Medicine, 340.

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Filed under: Natural History, Science

Carl Friedrich Gauss & Adrien-Marie Legendre Discover the Method of Least Squares 1795 – 1809

Though Adrien-Marie Legendre was the first to publish the method of least squares in 1805, Carl Friedrich Gauss is credited with developing the fundamentals of the basis for least-squares analysis in 1795 at the age of eighteen.

"An early demonstration of the strength of Gauss's method came when it was used to predict the future location of the newly discovered asteroid Ceres. On January 1, 1801, the Italian astronomer Giuseppe Piazzi discovered Ceres and was able to track its path for 40 days before it was lost in the glare of the sun. Based on this data, it was desired to determine the location of Ceres after it emerged from behind the sun without solving the complicated Kepler's nonlinear equations of planetary motion. The only predictions that successfully allowed Hungarian astronomer Franz Xaver von Zach to relocate Ceres were those performed by the 24-year-old Gauss using least-squares analysis.

"Gauss did not publish the method until 1809, when it appeared [in Hamburg] in volume two of his work on celestial mechanics, Theoria Motus Corporum Coelestium in sectionibus conicis solem ambientium" (Wikipedia article on Least squares, accessed 08-24-2009).

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Giovanni Battista Venturi Begins Scientific and Art Historical Studies on Leonardo da Vinci 1797

In 1797 Italian physicist Giovanni Battista Venturi published Essais sur les ouvrages physico-mathématiques de Léonard de Vinci, avec des fragmens tirés de ses manuscrits. . . . This brief work, with one folding engraved plate, is considered the beginning of the modern Leonardo studies. Venturi, who lived in Paris for much of his life, had access to the Leonardo da Vinci manuscripts which had been moved by order of Napoleon, after his conquests in the Italian peninsula, from the Biblioteca Ambrosiana in Milan to the Institut National in Paris.  Venturi organized the codices and gave them the letters by which they are known today. His studies inspired him to claim that “il faut donc placer Léonard à la tête de ceux qui se sont occupés des sciences Physico-Mathématiques et de la vraie méthode d’étudier parmi les Modernes.” In his 56 page book, Venturi presented excerpts, translated into French, of some of the manuscripts’ most important sections on physics, mathematics and geology together with essays and notes of his own on the texts. Venturi intended this work to be the prelude to a more ambitious three-volume edition of Leonardo’s complete writings on mechanics, hydraulics and optics; however, this was never published.

Venturi is best known for his researches on the Venturi effect described in his treatise on hydraulics, Recherches expérimentales sur le principe de la communication latérale du mouvement dans les fluides appliqué a l'explication de differens phenomenes hydrauliques, also first published in 1797. Verga, Bibliografia Vinciana, No. 273. 

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Malthus on Population 1798

In 1798 economist and demographer Thomas Malthus published in London An Essay on the Principle of Population, as it Affects the Future Improvement of Society. In this rebuttal of the utopian views of William Godwin, Malthus reasoned that populations inscrease by geometrical proportion but food supply only increases arithmetically. He argued that if both food and "the passion between the sexes" are necessary to man's existence, but populations have a much greater tendency to increase than does the food supply, then a "strong and constantly operating check"—such as famine, disease, or sexual deprivation—must be imposed to keep the population level consistent with the level of subsistence. 

Malthus's suppositions, though reasonable, were largely intuitive. Though the Essay contained no supporting numerical data, it was extremely influential on passage of the Census Act or Population Act of 1800, which led in 1801 to the first Census of England, Scotland and Wales. Using some of the information gathered in the first census, Malthus supplied factual documentation to support his theories in the greatly expanded second edition of his Essay published in 1803.

Hook & Norman, The Haskell F. Norman Library of Science and Medicine (1991) no. 1431.

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Pajot des Charmes Introduces Bleach in Paper Production, Facilitating Recycling of Paper 1798 – 1799

In 1798 French chemist C. Pajot des Charmes, formerly Inspector of Manufactures, published l'Art du Blanchiment des toiles fils et cotons de tout genre in Paris, illustrated with 9 plates. The following year English chemist translator, journalist, publisher, scientist, and inventor William Nicholson translated the volume into English as The Art of Bleaching Piece-Goods, Cottons, and Threads, of Every Description, Rendered more easy and general by Means of he Oxygenated Muraiatic Acid; with the method of rendering painted or printed Goods perfectly white or colourless. To which are added, the most certain Methods of bleaching Silk and Wool; and the Discoveries made by the Author in the Art of bleaching Paer. Illustrated with Nine Large Plates, in quarto, representing all the utensils and different manipulations of the bleaching process. An elementary work composed for the use of manufactuers, bleachers, dyers, callico printers, and paper-makers. The translation was published in London in 1799, with an appendix by Nicholson concerning English equivalents to French measuring units, and updates on the bleaching process.

Of primary concern to this database was Pajot des Charmes' discussion of the use of bleach in the production of paper, particularly in the production of recycled paper. This was significant as prior to the introduction of bleaching any recycled paper was typically dark grey from the residual ink.

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Pierre-Simon Laplace Issues "Traité de méchanique céleste" 1799 – 1827

French mathematician and astronomer Pierre-Simon Laplace published Paris Traité de méchanique céleste in 5 volumes with several supplements from 1799 to 1827. This work was "a treatise on celestial mechanics in the tradition of Newton’s Principia. Here Laplace applied his mathematical theories of probability to celestial bodies and concluded that the apparent changes in the motion of planets and their satellites are changes of long periods, and that the solar system is in all probability very stable. He gave methods for calculating the movements of translation and rotation of heavenly bodies and for resolving problems of tides, from which he deduced the mass of the moon” (Dibner, Heralds of Science [1980] no. 14). Laplace’s system of celestial mechanics (a term he coined) marked an advance over that of Newton, who had posited the necessity of a Deity in the universe to correct planetary irregularities; Laplace on the other hand, when asked by Napoleon why his system contained no mention of the Creator, replied “I had no need of such a hypothesis.”

The bibliographical makeup of Mécanique céleste is among the most complex of science classics; see Horblit and the Norman library catalogue for collations and paginations. Two issues of Vols. I-II exist, one with the imprint of Crapelet and Duprat alone and the French Republican date “An VII”; and one dated “1799” with the additional imprint reading “Berlin: chez F. T. de la Garde, Libraire,” printed for European distribution. The third volume contains a single separately paginated supplement (“Supplément au Traité de mécanique céleste . . . présenté au Bureau des Longitudes, le 17 août 1808”); the fourth volume has two separately paginated supplements (“Supplément au dixième livre du Traité de mécanique céleste. Sur l’action capillaire” and “Supplément à la théorie de l’action capillaire”). The fifth volume’s supplement,  (“Supplément au 5e volume du Traité de mécanique céleste . . .”) appeared in 1827. It is not unusual for sets to be lacking one or more of the supplements. Vol. V, comprising a series of addenda to the first four volumes, appeared twenty years after Vol. IV; according to Laplace’s “Avertissement” to this volume, each of its five books was issued separately in the month indicated on its part-title.

Horblit, One Hundred Books Famous in Science no. 63. Hook & Norman, The Haskell F. Norman Library of Science and Medicine (1991) no. 1277. Carter & Muir, Printing and the Mind of Man (1967) no. 252.

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1800 – 1850

Phasing Out Latin as the International Language 1800

Around the year 1800 publication of scientific and medical books in Latin— the international language of scholarship, religion, and science since the Roman Empire— gradually ceased. As the 19th century unfolded most scientific and medical books were published in their vernacular language of authorship, or in French, German or English. Works of scholarship or bibliography that involved Latin texts, and assumed knowledge of Latin, continued to be published in Latin mainly through the first half of the 19th century.

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Karl Friedrich Gauss, the Prince of Mathematicians, Issues Disquisitiones arithmeticae 1801

In 1801, at the age of 24, Carl Friedrich Gauss published Disquisitiones arithmeticae in Leipzig, revolutionizing number theory.

"In this book [Gauss] standardized the notation; he systematized the existing theory and extended it; and he classified the problems to be studied and the known methods of attack and introduced new methods. . . . [The Disquisitiones] not only began the modern theory of numbers but determined the directions of work in the subject up to the present time" (Kline, Mathematical Thought from Ancient to Modern Times [1972] 813).

The typesetters of this work had difficulty understanding Gauss's new and difficult mathematics, creating numerous elaborate mistakes which Gauss was unable to correct in proof. After the book was printed Gauss insisted that, in addition to an unusually lengthy four-page errata, the worst mistakes be corrected by cancel leaves to be inserted in the copies before sale. Copies vary in the number of cancel leaves—a topic about which I have never seen a comprehensive bibliographical analysis.

The difficulty of understanding Gauss's highly technical work was hardly alleviated by the sloppy typesetting.  The few mathematicians who were able to read the Disquisitiones immediately hailed Gauss as their prince, but the full understanding required for further development did not occur until publication in 1863 of Johan Peter Gustav Lejeune Dirichlet's less austere exposition in his Vorlesungen über Zahlentheorie.

Hook & Norman, The Haskell F. Norman Library of Science and Medicine (1991) no. 878. Carter & Muir, Printing and the Mind of Man (1967) no. 257.

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Lamarck Issues the First Published Statement of Lamarckism 1801

A portrait of Jean Baptiste Pierre Antoine de Monet, Chevalier de Lamarck

Systême des animaux sans vertèbres

In 1801 French soldier, biologist, and naturalist Jean Baptiste Pierre Antoine de Monet, Chevalier de Lamarck published Systême des animaux sans vertèbres. The "Discours d'overture" occupying the first forty-eight pages of this work contained Lamarck's first published statement of his evolutionary theory of species development, including his idea of the continuous progressive perfection of species from the simplest to the most complex, and his famous theory of the inheritance of acquired characteristics, generally called "Lamarckism."  The Systême was also the first zoological work to employ the term "invertebrates" to describe what had previously been lumped under the imprecise category of "insects and worms."

J. Norman (ed) Morton's Medical Bibliography 5th ed (1991) No. 215.5.

Hook & Norman, The Haskell F. Norman Library of Science & Medicine (1991) no. 1261.

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François Antoine Rauch Writes in Harmony with the Modern Ecology Movement 1802 – 1818

In 1802 French civil engineer François Antoine Rauch published in Paris a 2-volume work entitled Harmonie hydro-végétale et météorologique: ou recherches sur les moyens de recréer avec nos forêts la force des températures et la régularité des saisons par des plantations raisonnées.

Concerned with the disastrous effects of deforestration, which not only affected the agriculture and scenery of the countryside, but also the whole ecological balance of crops, flora and fauna, and human interaction with the ecological system, Rauch discussed the interrelationships between climate, terrain and vegetation, and suggested ways to establish a state of harmony between man and the the environment. He included topics such as the ecological balance found in mountain regions, and suggested in the final chapter, that a ministerial department "of the interior" be set up in order to monitor ecological issues and supervise relevant matters at a local level.

Rauch espoused many ideas to achieve such a 'harmony', including plans for monumental avenues flanked by grand trees and country roads edged by fruit trees. He was also particularly concerned with cemeteries and graves, believing that the dead would rest easier in a 'natural' environment and recommended burial in "natural" places.  

Over the following sixteen years Rauch made many further observations which resulted in a considerably revised, augmented and updated 2-volume work published in 1818 entitled Régénération de la nature végétale, ou recherches sur les moyens de recréer, dans tous les climats, les anciennes températures et l'ordre primitif des saisons, par des planations raisonnées, appuyées de quelques vues sur le ministère que la puissance végétale semble avoir a remplir dans l'harmonie des éléments. Writing from a viewpoint in agreement with the modern ecology movement,  Rauch argued that it is necessary to reverse the process of human destruction of the environment, particularly the world-wide destruction of forests, in order to return the planet to a state better supportive of life.

Rauch began with a consideration of the relationship of forests to weather conditions, surveyed the effects of deforestation world-wide on climate, and animal and human populations, and set out in several chapters steps to be taken: what sorts of vegetation should be planted where, renewal of water sources, and the establishment of governmental agencies in France and all over the globe to observe the environment and take action. He urged the agencies, for example, to consider changes over short periods of time ("to what extant animals and birds are scarcer in the last thirty years" in a particular area), and to attempt regulation of factory fuel sources. In his closing argument he urged the obligation "to conserve the noble economy," and "to conserve that from which we benefit."  

On April 1821 Rauch began publication of a periodical entitled Annales europeenes de physique végétale et d'économie publique. This continued through 1827.

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Bowditch Issues the "New American Practical Navigator" 1802

In 1802 Edmund P. Blunt of Newburyport, Massachusetts published Nathaniel Bowditch's The New American Practical Navigator. This fundamental American work on navigation grew out of Bowditch's revisions and corrections of John Hamilton Moore's popular, and often reprinted New Practical Navigator, first published in America by Edmund Blunt in 1799.

Blunt had requested the assistance of Bowditch, a skilled navigator, mathematician and astronomer, in rectifying Moore's more than 8,000 errors, which Bowditch did anonymously for both the first American edition and the second (1800) of Moore's book. By the time copy came to be prepared for the third edition, however, Bowditch's corrections to Moore were found to be so numerous that it was decided to issue the work under a new title, and to acknowledge Bowditch as the author on the title-page. This vastly improved Navigator had an enormous impact on the history of navigation, playing a key role in the maritime and commercial expansion of the nineteenth century. Ten editions appeared during Bowditch's lifetime. In 1866 the U.S. Hydrographic Office acquired the copyright from the descendants of Edmund Blunt; the government has kept the work up to date ever since. The latest edition, prepared and published by the National Imagery and Mapping Agency, Bethesda, Maryland, is available free online as a PDF from the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA) at this link.

Campbell, History and Bibliography of The New American Practical Navigator and The American Coast Pilot (1964) identified 7 variants of the first edition of Bowditch’s book but could assign no priority to any. Dibner, Heralds of Science, No. 15. Grolier American Hundred, No. 25.

(This entry was last revised on 04-23-2014.)

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Joseph Jérôme de Lalande Compiles the First Major Chronological Bibliography of Any Science 1803

Subject bibliographies are most commonly arranged by author. Bibliographie astronomique; avec l'historie de l'astronomie depuis 1781 jusqu'à 1802 by French astronomer and writer Joseph Jérôme de Lalande, published in Paris by the Imprimerie de la République in 1803, was prefaced by a vast 660-page often annotated chronological bibliography of the literature of astronomy. Lalande acknowledged that he was dependent for the earliest literature on references in Johann Frideric Weidler's Bibliographia astronomica. . . . (1775), a pioneering work which he frequently cited. Weidler followed a chronological arrangement, and it is probable that Lalande found it convenient as well as useful to improve and build upon Weidler's work. Lalande's chronological order in his brief first section on books composed "before the discovery of printing" was somewhat shakey, with entries from the ancient world inexact and sometimes out of chronological sequence in the first three pages. But by around the time of Cassiodorus, which Lalande set a bit inaccurately at 530 CE, Lalande found himself on firmer chronological ground. Once he passed to printed books he assumed greater authority, and many of his thousands of entries indicate that he examined the actual edition himself, and commented on the contents, reflecting an extraordinary familiarity with the a high percentage of the vast historical literature of astronomy.

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Filed under: Bibliography, Science

Nicholas-Théodore de Saussure Demonstrates that the Carbon Content of Soil is Produced by Vegetation 1804

Chemist Nicholas-Théodore de Saussure published Recherches chimiques sur la végetation in Paris in 1804. In this foundation work on phytochemistry, Saussure analyzed the chief active components of plants, their synthesis and decomposition. He specified the relationships between vegetation and the environment. He showed that plants grown in closed vessels took their entire carbon content from the enclosed gas, and thus demolished the old theory that plants derive carbon from the so-called "humus" of the soil. Conversely, he demonstrated that the carbon content of soil is produced by vegetation.

J. Norman (ed.) Morton's Medical Bibliography 5th ed. (1991) no. 145.54.

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Humboldt & Bonpland Describe Geographical-Ecological Plant Associations 1805

In 1805 naturalist, explorer and polymath Friedrich Wilhelm Heinrich Alexander von Humboldt and botanist and explorer Aimé J. A. Bonpland published in Paris Essai sur la géographie des plantes; accompagné d'un tableau physique des régions équinoxales [Vol. I of Voyage aux régions êquinoxales du nouveau continent]. In this contribution to ecology Humboldt and Bonpland founded the study of the geographical distribution of plants. In 1799 Humboldt and Bonpland embarked on a six-year tour of research through South America and Mexico, a trip which would afterwards be called, justifiably, "the scientific discovery of America."  The two amassed exhaustive data in a wide array of fields from meteorology to ethnography, and gathered 60,000 plant specimens, 6,300 of which had been hitherto unknown in Europe.  Their American travel journals— issued under the general title Voyage aux régions équinoxiales du nouveau continent, fait en 1700, 1800, 1801, 1802, 1803 et 1804— were published in thirty-four volumes between 1807 and 1834; the sheets of the present work were reissued as Vol. I of the Voyage, with an extra half-title and general title and the plate colored. [We have also seen a copy with the plate uncolored.] Humboldt classified these volumes into six subject groups, of which this volume on plant geography constituted the whole of the fifth.  It contains some very interesting ideas on the relation between natural classification of plants and their geographical distribution, as well as one of the earliest attempts to describe the distribution of plants by characterizing geographical-ecological plant associations.

Hook & Norman , The Haskell F. Norman Library of Science and Medicine (1991) no. 1111.

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Méchain, Delambre, Biot & Arago Calculate the Meter (Metre) Scientifically 1806 – 1821

Between 1806 and 1810 French astronomer and surveyer Pierre Méchain and French mathematician and astronomer Jean Delambre published Base du système mètrique décimal in3 volumes. This work was concluded in 1821 by a fourth volume entitled Recueil d’observations géodésiques, astronomiques et physiques by French physicist, astronomer and mathematician Jean Baptiste Biot and French mathematician, physicist and astronomer François Arago.

In 1788 the French Academy of Sciences, at the suggestion of Talleyrand, proposed the establishment of a new universal decimal system of measurement founded upon some “natural and invariable base” to replace Europe’s diverse regional systems. This project was approved by the Assemblée nationale in 1790 and a basic unit or “meter (metre)” of measurement proposed, which was to be one ten-millionth of the distance between the terrestrial pole and the Equator. In 1792 Méchain and Delambre were appointed to make the necessary geodetic measurements of the meridian passing through Dunkirk and Barcelona, from which the meter would be derived, and in 1793/94 (An II of  the French Revolutionary calendar), the French government introduced the metric system to the country through the publication of Instruction sur les mesures déduites de la grandeur de la terre, uniformes pour toute la république, et sur les calculs relatifs à leur division décimale issued in Paris by the Imprimerie Nationale. 

Méchain and Delambre's scientific project was hampered by France’s political revolution, by the death of Méchain in 1804, and by the tedious calculations involved in converting one system to another; it was not until 1810 that Delambre was able to complete the final volume of the Base du système mètrique décimal.

Méchain and Delambre had determined the length of the meter by taking measurements over a meridian arc of 10 degrees. After Méchain’s death in 1804, the Bureau des Longitudes proposed that the meter’s length be redetermined more accurately by extending measurement of the arc of the meridian south to the Balearic Islands of Mallorca, Menorca and Ibiza. François Arago and Jean Baptiste Biot were assigned to this task. Arago was twenty years old at the start of this project. In 1806 he and Biot journeyed to Spain and began triangulating the Spanish coast. Their work was disrupted by the political unrest that developed after Napoleon’s invasion of Spain in 1807. Biot returned to Paris after they had determined the latitude of Formentera, the southernmost point to which they were to carry the survey. Arago continued the work until 1808, his purpose being to measure a meridian arc in order to determine the exact length of a meter.

After Biot's departure, the political ferment caused by the entrance of the French into Spain extended to the Balearic Islands, and the population suspected Arago's movements and his lighting of fires on the top of mola de l’Esclop as the activities of a spy for the invading army. Their reaction was such that he was obliged to give himself up for imprisonment in the fortress of Bellver in June 1808. On July 28 Arago escaped from the island in a fishing boat, and after an adventurous voyage he reached Algiers on August 3. From there he obtained a passage in a vessel bound for Marseille, but on August 16, just as the vessel was nearing Marseille, it fell into the hands of a Spanish corsair. With the rest the crew, Arago was taken to Roses in Catalonia, and imprisoned first in a windmill, and afterwards in a fortress, until the town fell into the hands of the French, and the prisoners were transferred to Palamós.

After three months' imprisonment, Arago and the others were released on the demand of the dey (ruler) of Algiers, and again set sail for Marseille on the November 28, but when within sight of their port they were driven back by a northerly wind to Bougie on the coast of Africa. Transport to Algiers by sea from this place would have required a delay of three months. Arago, therefore, set out over land, on what had to be a strenuous journey, guided by a Muslim imam, and reached Algiers on Christmas Day. After six months in Algiers, on June 21, 1809, Arago set sail for Marseille, where he had to undergo a monotonous and inhospitable quarantine in the lazaretto before his difficulties were over, roughly one year after he had first been imprisoned. The first letter he received, while in the lazaretto, was from Alexander von Humboldt—the origin of a scientific relationship which lasted over forty years.

In spite of the successive imprisonments, an escape, voyages, and other hardships he endured, Arago had succeeded in preserving the records of his survey; and his first act on his return home was to deposit them in the Bureau des Longitudes in Paris. As a reward for his heroic conduct in the cause of science, he was elected a member of the Académie des Sciences at the remarkably early age of twenty-three, and before the close of 1809 he was chosen by the council of the Ėcole Polytechnique to succeed Gaspard Monge in the chair of analytic geometry. At the same time he was named by the emperor one of the astronomers of the Obsérvatoire royale, which remained his residence till his death, and in this capacity he delivered his remarkably successful series of popular lectures on astronomy from 1812 to 1845. Most of Arago's later scientific contributions were in physics, particularly optics and magnetism: he discovered the phenomena of rotary magnetism (the greater sensitivity for light in the periphery of the eye) and rotary polarization, invented the first polariscope, and performed important experiments supporting the undulatory theory of light. In his capacity as secretary of the Académie des sciences, he championed the photographic process invented by Louis Daguerre, announcing its discovery to the Académie in 1839, and using his influence to obtain publicity and funding for its inventor.

Arago’s results, together with geodetic data obtained in France, England and Scotland, were published in the Recueil d’observations géodésiques, issued as a supplement to Méchain and Delambre’s work 11 years after he carried the data back to France, in 1821. Political opposition to the new system of measurement may have contributed to the unusually long delay in publication. 

Besides his scientific career Arago was a politician, representing a scientific point of view, and accomplishing government projects that were culturally valuable. For a little over one month, from May 9, 1848 to June 24, 1848 he was the 25th Prime Minister of France. Arago detailed his scientific adventures in his Histoire de ma jeunesse published the year after his death, in 1854.  This was translated into English by the Rev. Baden-Powell as History of My Youth (1855). The translation was reprinted in Arago's Biographies of Distinguished Scientific Men (1859).

As a tribute to Arago’s contribution, in 1994 the Arago Association and the city of Paris commissioned a Dutch conceptual artist, Jan Dibbets to create a memorial to Arago. Dibbets came up with the idea of setting 135 bronze Arago Medallions into the ground along the Paris Meridian between the northern and southern limits of Paris: a total distance of 9.2 kilometres/5.7 miles. Each medallion is 12 cm in diameter and marked with the name ARAGO plus N and S pointers; only 121 are documented in the official guide to the medallions. One of these was shown in the film, The Da Vinci Code.

Carter & Muir, Printing and the Mind of Man (1967) no. 260. Daumas, Arago: La jeunesse de la science, ch. IV. Hook & Norman, The Haskell F. Norman Library of Science and Medicine (1991) no. 1481.

Alder, The Measure of the World (2003) pp. 7 and 294 refers to Méchain's annotated copy of this set of books in the Karpeles Manuscript Library.  In 2011, when I finished this database entry, I owned Arago's copy of the set.

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John Dalton Publishes the First Periodic Table of the Elements 1808 – 1827

From 1807 to 1827 John Dalton published in Manchester, England, A New System of Chemical Philosophy in Volume 1, parts 1 and 2, and Volume II, part 1. Dalton's chemical atomic theory was the first to give significance to the relative weights of the ultimate particles of all known compounds, and to provide a quantitative explanation of the phenomena of chemical reaction.  Dalton believed that all matter was composed of indestructible and indivisible atoms of various weights, each weight corresponding to one of the chemical elements, and that these atoms remained unchanged during chemical processes.  Dalton's work with relative atomic weights prompted him to construct the first periodic table of elements (in Vol. i, pt. 1), to formulate laws concerning their combination and to provide schematic representations of various possible combinations of atoms.  His equation of the concepts "atom" and "chemical element" was of fundamental importance, as it provided the chemist with a new and enormously fruitful model of reality.

Bindings for the First Edition

The copy of Volume 1, part 1 which Dalton inscribed to James Watt on July 5, 1808 was bound in marbled boards with a paper spine and printed label. Vol. 1, part 2 (1810) was also originally issued in a similar style of binding. Hook & Norman, The Haskell F. Norman Library of Science and Medicine (1991) No. 575, describes a matching set of the three volumes bound in original cloth-backed boards. This set, which was probably bound at the time Volume II, part 1 was issued in 1827, was an early use of cloth in bookbinding. Carter & Muir, Printing and the Mind of Man (1967) No. 261.

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George Cayley Founds Aerodynamics & Invents the Airplane 1809 – 1810

English engineer Sir George Cayley published a three-part paper, "On Aerial Navigation," In the Journal of Natural Philosophy, Chemistry and the Arts, 24 (1809) 164-174; 25 (1810) 81-87, 161-173, with single engraved plates in Vol. 24 and in Vol. 25 relating to the paper. The papers were published in issue numbers 108, 112, and 113.

Cayley founded the science of aerodynamics and is generally credited with the invention of the airplane. He has also been called the world's first aeronautical engineer.  Cayley discovered and identified the four aerodynamic forces of flight—weight, lift, drag and thrust— and in 1799 took the crucial step of separating the system of thrust from the system of lift. This enabled him to break away from the centuries-old preoccupation with flapping-wing machines (ornithopters), and to conceive and design a fixed-wing machine with cruciform tail-unit, propelled by paddles— the first modern-configuration airplane. In 1804 he flew the first of his successful model fixed-wing gliders and became the first to explore the aerodynamical possibilities of a whirling arm.

Cayley's researches first appeared in print in "On Aerial Navigation," which includes his classic pronouncement that "the whole problem [of aerodynamics] is confined within these limits, viz. to make a surface support a given weight by the application of power to the resistance of air."

Gibbs-Smith, Invention of the Aeroplane 1799-1909 (1966) 5-9. Hodgson, The History of Aeronautics in Great Britain. . . (1924) 345-349. Carter & Muir, Printing and the Mind of Man (1967) no. 263. Hook & Norman, The Haskell F. Norman Library of Science and Medicine (1991) no. 423.

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Nicholas Appert Issues the First Book on Modern Food Preservation Methods 1810

In 1810 confectioner Nicholas Appert published in Paris L'art de conserver, pendant plsieurs années, toutes les substances animales et végétales.... In this small book Appert described the first workable process for canning foods, laying the foundation of the food-processing industry. Appert's method, which he began working on in 1795, involved heating food and sealing it hermetically in specially made glass jars. By providing the first reliable way to preserve many types of prepared foods for extended periods of time, Appert also developed a new way of furnishing potable, nourishing and unspoiled food to armies in the field. 

In 1800 Napoleon, who is widely quoted, accurately or not, as saying, "An army marches on its stomach," offered an award of 12,000 francs to anyone who could devise a practical method for food preservation for armies on the march. The award went to Appert, but since the method was considered to be of strategic importance for Napoleon's military campaigns, Appert was not allowed to publish it until 1810.

Hook & Norman, The Haskell F. Norman Library of Science and Medicine (1991) No. 59.

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John William Lewin Issues the First Illustrated Book Published in Australia 1813

In 1813 Australian natural history artist and naturalist John William Lewin issued Birds of New South Wales from Sydney. J W Lewin was the first free settler professional artist and engraver in Australia. He was also one of the first artists not to use English painting conventions when depicting Australia. He was the son of William Lewin, the author of The Birds of Great Britain with Their Eggs, Accurately Figured.  

Birds of New South Wales was the first illustrated book published in Australia. Of this work only 13 copies survived, four of which are preserved in the State Library of New South Wales in Sydney.  The book was printed by George Howe, the government printer, who in 1802 had issued the first book printed in Australia. 

Prior to issuing his 1813 book Lewin had published in England a treatise on entomology entitled Prodromus Entomology (1805), and in 1808 a book on Australian birds entitled Birds of New Holland, which described a selection of birds that he had shot. The texts of these books were edited by Lewin's brother John with the help of eminent scientists, and printed in England. Of the 1808 book only six copies are recorded: those of George III and five English subscribers. However, in Sydney, Lewin had sold subscriptions for fifty-five copies of this book, but none ever reached Sydney, the edition presumably having been lost at sea.

To make up for this loss Lewin put together another work which he called Birds of New South Wales, illustrating it with prints left over from the 1808 edition. Because Lewin compiled the copies of Birds of New South Wales from spare or discarded prints, none of the thirteen copies are identical.

In 1822 Lewin's widow, having returned to England, issued a revised second edition of Lewin's Birds of New Holland. In 1833 the third edition of Lewin's work appeared, using some sheets of text printed in 1822, on paper watermarked Whatman 1821, and some sheets printed in 1838 on paper watermarked Whatman 1838. Both the second and third editions incorporated restrikes of Lewin's original plates.  For the 1838 edition, the plates were colored from specimens lent by John Gould, and the nomenclature was overseen by Thomas Campbell Eyton. There are two issues of the third edition.

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William Charles Wells Publishes the First Recognizable Statement of the Theory of Natural Selection 1818

In 1818, a year after the death of Scottish American physician and scientist, William Charles Wells, his Two Essays: One upon Single Vision with Two Eyes; the Other on Dew. A Letter to the Right Hon. Lloyd, Lord Kenyon and an Account of a Female of the White Race of Mankind, Part of whose Skin Resembles that of a Negro was published in London. Wells’s “Account of a female of the white race. . . ." was read before the Royal Society in 1813, but first appeared in print posthumously. It contained the first recognizable statement of the principle of natural selection. In his study of an albino negro woman, Wells assumed a biological evolution of the human species, drawing an analogy between man’s selective breeding of domestic animal varieties and nature’s selection of varieties of men best suited to various climates.  He wrote,

"[What was done for animals artificially] seems to be done with equal efficiency, though more slowly, by nature, in the formation of varieties of mankind, fitted for the country which they inhabit. Of the accidental varieties of man, which would occur among the first scattered inhabitants, some one would be better fitted than the others to bear the diseases of the country. This race would multiply while the others would decrease, and as the darkest would be the best fitted for the [African] climate, at length [they would] become the most prevalent, if not the only race."

Neither Charles Darwin nor Alfred Russel Wallace was familiar with Wells’s paper when they formulated the theory of natural selection, but after Darwin published the Origin in 1859 Wells' paper was called to his attention, and Darwin paid tribute to Wells’s pioneering statement in the historical introduction to the third edition of the Origin. Wells’s paper was contained in the first collected edition of his essays on binocular vision and on dew formation, both of which represented advances in the knowledge of these subjects.

Hook & Norman, The Haskell F. Norman Library of Science and Medicine (1991) no. 2200.

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William Lawrence Describes the Natural History of Man 1819

William Lawrence

The Court of Chancery during the reign of George I by Benjamin Ferrers

Surgeon and scientist William Lawrence published Lectures on Physiology, Zoology and the Natural History of Man in 1819. This work set out Lawrence’s radical—and to our eyes, remarkably advanced—ideas concerning evolution and heredity. Arguing that theology and metaphysics had no place in science, Lawrence relied instead on empirical evidence in his examination of variation in animals and man, and the dissemination of variation through inheritance. On the question of cause, Lawrence disagreed with those who ascribed variation to external factors such as climate, and rejected the Lamarckian notion of the inheritance of acquired characteristics. His understanding of the mechanics of heredity was well ahead of his time: he stated that “offspring inherit only [their parents’] connate qualities and not any of the acquired qualities,” and that the “signal diversities which constitute differences of race in animals . . . can only be explained by two principles . . . namely, the occasional production of an offspring with different characters from those of the parents, as a nati