200 Years. 200 Stories. Story 42: “Treasure Map ”

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geologic map created by William Smith
This image is a composite of the six individual panels that comprise Smith’s original map. The assembled map measures six feet wide and more than eight feet tall. It’s drawn to a scale of five miles per inch.

Treasure Map

One of the most prized possessions in the Academy’s Ewell Sale Stewart Library & Archives and one of the most important of our earliest acquisitions is a map. But it’s not just any map.  Identified as “A delineation of the Strata of England and Wales, and part of Scotland, exhibiting the collieries and mines &c.” in an 1817 list of Academy donations, this map was created and published in 1815 by William “Strata” Smith. Smith was a pioneer in matching fossil animals with strata (layers of rocks of the same age) to produce geologic maps. This revolutionary map represents the first successful attempt by anyone to provide a detailed and comprehensive geologic mapping of an entire region.

Academy benefactor William Maclure recognized the scientific significance of Smith’s map. He donated it to the Academy after he was elected to membership in 1816. Maclure had established his own scientific credentials a few years earlier by creating a geologic map of the United States east of the Mississippi. It lacked the detail and refined stratigraphic dating of Smith’s masterpiece, but it was nonetheless an impressive and internationally recognized accomplishment.

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