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Geologizing Asses

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“Humanity’s genius is to have always had a sense of its weakness. The physical energy and strength, with which nature insufficiently endowed humans, is found in animals that help them to discover new territories.
Home” (2009)

A post dedicated to the forgotten heroes of early geology -  asses !

The mountains of the Italian provinces of Piedmont and Liguria are rich in minerals, but not an easy terrain to travel and prospect. Italian geologist Prof. Angelo Sismonda (1807-1878) overcame this problem by designing a transportable mineralogical laboratory, to be carried on the back of a donkey or mule during fieldwork. Made of wood its interior is covered by an elegant red cloth, there is plenty of space for small bottles of glass, used to transport chemicals and collect samples. In a set of drawers the equipment for the preparation of the samples and immediate chemical analyses is safely stored. There was room even for the (relative) heavy tools of geologists, like a hammer and a pair of pliers.

Thanks to this kit and also to the donkeys carrying it onto the rugged terrain of the mountains, Sismonda was able to publish the first geological map of the two provinces in 1862, this work was for decades to come the most important publication about the (still poorly known) geology of the western Alps.


GALLO, M.L. & COSTA, E. Mineralogen im Piemont zwischen 1800 und 1900. Mineralientage München Messetage 2010: 172-174

David Bressan About the Author: Freelance geologist dealing with quaternary outcrops interested in the history and the development of geological concepts through time. Follow on Twitter @David_Bressan.

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.

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  1. 1. tuned 11:52 am 09/6/2013

    Then there are rabid asses like most fox news comments and moderators.

    Link to this
  2. 2. bswoger 12:45 pm 09/6/2013

    A large scale image of the map in question (I believe) is available via the Italian Istituto Superiore per la Protezione e la Ricerca Ambientale website here:

    Link to this

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