January 10, 1638

Nicolaus Steno

Nicolaus Steno

On this date, the Danish geologist and anatomist Nicolaus Steno (also known as Niels Steensen, or Stensen) was born. He first made unprecedented discoveries in anatomy, then established some of the most important principles of modern geology.

During medical studies in Amsterdam, Steno discovered “Stensen’s duct”, which provides saliva from the parotid gland to the mouth. He was Danish royal anatomist for two years.

Interested by the characteristics and origins of minerals, rocks, and fossils, he published in Prodromus (1669) the Law of Superposition (if a series of sedimentary rocks has not been overturned, upper layers are younger and lower layers are older) and the Law of Original Horizontality (although strata may be found dipping steeply, they were initially deposited nearly horizontal).

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