Alcide d'Orbigny

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Alcide Charles Victor Marie Dessalines d'Orbigny (September 6, 1802 - June 30, 1857) was a great French naturalist. He made major contributions in many areas, including zoology, malacology, palaeontology, geology, archaeology and anthropology.

D'Orbigny was born in Couéron (Loire-Atlantique), the son of a ship's physician and amateur naturalist. The family moved to La Rochelle in 1820, where his interest for natural history was raised, while studying the marine fauna and especially microscopic creatures, that he named "foraminiferans".

In Paris he became a disciple of the geologist L.-A. Cordier (1777-1861) and Georges Cuvier. All his life, he would follow the theory of Cuvier and stay opposed to Lamarckism.

D'Orbigny travelled, on a mission for the Paris Museum, in South America between 1826 and 1833. He visited Brazil, Argentina, Paraguay, Chile, Bolivia and Peru. He returned to France with an enormous collection of more than 10,000 natural history specimens. He described part of his findings in the La Relation du Voyage dans l'Amérique Méridionale. His contemporary, Charles Darwin called this book "one of the great monuments of science in the 19th century". The other specimens were described by zoologists at the museum.

Missing image
Orbigny2.jpg
On the shore of Rio Magdalena


Image from the book : "Voyages pittoresque dans les deux Amériques"


In 1840, d’Orbigny starts the methodical description of French fossils and published La Paléontologie Française (8 vols).

In 1849 he published another major work, Prodrome de Paléontologie Stratigraphique. In this book he describes almost 18,000 species.

In 1853 he became professor of palaeontology at the Paris Muséum National d'Histoire Naturelle. The chair of paleontology was created especially in his honor.

He described as first the geological timescales. He defined numerous geological strata, still used today as chronostratigraphic reference such as Toarcian, Callovian, Oxfordian, Kimmeridgian, Aptian, Albian and Cenomanian.

He died in the small town of Pierrefitte-sur-Seine.

The following genera and species were named in his honor :

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