James Hutton

3rd June 1726 to 26th March 1797
James Hutton

Born and educated in Edinburgh, James Hutton was a geologist who meditated on the volcanic landscapes of Scotland for some 25 years before writing Theory of the Earth; or an Investigation of the Laws observable in the Composition, Dissolution, and Restoration of Land upon the Globe.

His theories on geology were ground-breaking in that he was the first scientist to theorise and find evidence for the Earth being made of layers of rock, with a molten core.

Hutton explored Scotland extensively examining various rock formations, and studied extinct volcano Arthur’s Seat, in the centre of Edinburgh, particularly the Salisbury Crags.

His assertions that the middle of the earth was molten, the earth was layered and air and sea erosion caused landscapes to evolve was met by resistance by Neptunists, who believed rock formations were thrust up from the sea. Hutton also said the earth was much older than just a few thousand years, which was received controversially. He thought the earth was alive, a super-organism which should be studied in terms of physiology.

Hutton also believed animals adapted and evolved according to the circumstances they found themselves in. Charles Darwin, who studied at Edinburgh University, may well have taken some inspiration from Hutton for his own ideas on evolution.