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Throughout history humans have sought to control and understand their environment. Practical activities like agriculture and quarrying naturally lead to enhanced knowledge, and science suggests further ways of utilizing the Earth.
Growing interaction with the Earth has been important in the development of numerous sciences - not just geology but cosmogony and geophysics ; alchemy and chemistry ; mineralogy and crystallography ; meteorology, physical geography, topography, and oceanography ; natural history, biology, and ecology. Distinct investigation of the Earth itself - geology - has been a recent development. Geology (literally ` Earth - knowledge \u00b4 ) does not date back more than two hundred years.
Scientific thinking about the Earth grew out of traditions of thought which took shape in the Middle East and the Eastern Mediterranean. Early civilization needed to adapt to the seasons, to deserts and mountains, volcanoes and earthquakes. Yet inhabitants of Mesopotamia, the Nile Valley, and the Mediterranean littoral had experience of only a fraction of the Earth. Beyond lay terra incognita . Hence
legendary alternative worlds were conjured up in myths of burning tropics, lost continents, and unknown realms where the gods lived.
The first Greek philosopher about whom much is known was Thales of Miletus ( c. 640 - 546 BC ). He postulated water as the primary ingredient of material nature. Thales' follower, Anaximander, believed the universe began as a seed which grew ; and living things were generated by the interaction of moisture and the Sun. Xenophanes ( c. 570 - 475 BC ) is credited with a cyclic worldview : eventually the Earth would disintegrate, returning to a watery state.
Like many other Greek philosophers, Empedocles ( c. 500 - c. 430 BC ) was concerned with change and stability, order and disorder, unity and plurality. The terrestrial order was dominated by strife. In the beginning, the Earth had brought forth living structures more or less at random. Some had died out. The survivors became the progenitors of modern species.
The greatest Greek thinker was Aristotle. He considered the world was eternal. Aristotle drew attention to natural processes continually changing its surface features. Earthquakes and volcanoes were due to the wind coursing about in underground caves. Rivers took their origin from rain. Fossils indicated that parts of the Earth had once been covered by water.
In the 2nd century AD , Ptolemy composed a geography that summed up the Ancients' learning. Ptolemy accepted that the equatorial zone was too torrid to support life, but he postulated an unknown land mass to the south, the terra australis incognita . Antiquity advanced a ` geocentric \u00b4 and ` anthropocentric \u00b4 view. The planet had been designed as a habitat for humans. A parallel may be seen in the Judaeo - Christian cosmogony.
The centuries from Antiquity to the Renaissance accumulated knowledge on minerals, gems, fossils, metals, crystals, useful chemicals and medicaments, expounded in encyclopedic natural histories by Pliny ( AD 23 - 79) and Isidore of Seville ( AD 560 - 636). The great Renaissance naturalists were still working within this ` encyclopedic \u00b4 tradition. The most eminent was Konrad Gesner, whose On Fossil Objects
was published in 1565, with superb illustrations. Gesner saw resemblances between ` fossil objects \u00b4 and living sea creatures.
At the same time, comprehensive philosophies of the Earth were being elaborated, influenced by the Christian revelation of Creation as set out in ` Genesis \u00b4 . This saw the Earth as recently created. Bishop Ussher (1581 - 1656) in his Sacred Chronology (1660), arrived at a creation date for the
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