Dynamic Earth launches James Hutton exhibit

Professor Stuart Munro opens Dynamic Earth's new James Hutton exhibition. Picture: Malcolm McCurrach
Professor Stuart Munro opens Dynamic Earth's new James Hutton exhibition. Picture: Malcolm McCurrach
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A£1 million upgrade of Dynamic Earth celebrating the work of Scotland’s original “rock star” is to open to the public.

The popular attraction’s biggest redevelopment yet, unveiled tomorrow, will feature three interlinked galleries with talking portraits, magic blackboards, a giant illuminated globe showing the effect of plate tectonics, and a brand new “deep time” machine to explain his fascinating theories of geology.

The exhibition is dedicated to Edinburgh’s James Hutton, referred to as “the father of modern geology” and whose work also influenced Charles Darwin’s ground-breaking 1859 work, On the Origin of Species.

The world’s first “rock star” was born in the Capital in 1726 and became a student at Edinburgh University when he was 14 before going on to challenge commonly-held theories about the Earth’s evolution by studying the rocks and land formations around the city and East Lothian.

The major redevelopment was made possible by a £622,800 boost from the Heritage Lottery Fund and was designed by local award-winning Edinburgh company, Studio MB.

Professor Stuart Monro, scientific director of Dynamic Earth, said: “We decided to focus on James Hutton as he is the reason Dynamic Earth stands here today. He lived on St John’s Hill and was sitting at the foot of Salisbury Crags when he worked out that rocks had been molten and injected into sediments.”

The part of the Crags Hutton studied is now known as Hutton’s Section. It was studying this area that helped him develop his theory of rock formation and that the history of the Earth could be determined by understanding how processes such as erosion and sedimentation work in the present day.

“Hutton was also responsible for kicking off the process which eventually led scientists to accurately age the Earth,” said Prof Monro. “We know now that the Earth is around 4.54 billion years old, but in Hutton’s time it was generally believed that the first day of creation began at nightfall preceding Sunday, October 23, 4004 BC.

“This date was arrived at by the Archbishop of Armagh, James Ussher, who (in the 1650s) calculated it using all the begettings listed in the Old Testament.”

Hutton’s theories also raised the idea of Earth as a living organism nearly 200 years before James Lovelock proposed the Gaia hypothesis in the 1960s, and referred to an idea very like natural selection a century before Darwin, who is thought may have studied the work of Hutton and others influenced by him during his time studying in Edinburgh.

Hutton also contributed greatly to the science of plate tectonics – and part of the new exhibition likely to spark interest ahead of the independence referendum will show that Scotland and England used to be entirely separate pieces of land.

Prof Monro added: “Part of the exhibition will show how the Earth and its continents have changed over the past 500 million years and what is likely to happen to them over the next 250 million.

“One notable part shows how Scotland and England actually used to belong to two completely separate continents. Scotland was part of a “supercontinent” called Laurentia, while England and Wales was attached to a “microcontinent” called Avalonia, with the two only coming together 440 million years ago.”