According to William Buckland, the most recent of Cuvier’s ‘catastrophes’ must have been the Biblical Flood, evidenced by ‘flood deposits’. But a generation after Cuvier came Agassiz (1807–73), whose Alpine experiences convinced him that these ‘flood deposits’ in fact resulted from the gradual action of glaciers.

That legendary son of the Swiss,
Jean Louis Rodlphe Agassiz,
Researched a great deal
For his Poissons Fossiles
And soon became famous for this.

But he’s much better known to us now
For his theory that started a row
With Cuvier, whose ‘floods’
Agassiz said were duds –
It was cold that killed species. Here’s how.

If you visit the Swiss Engadine,
You’ll see glaciers still on the scene.
But they are not static –
If you find an erratic,
You’ll know where past glaciers have been.

So, with U-section valleys all round,
Agassiz was quite sure he’d found
Evidence for an Ice Age
(A cold, and not nice Age)
That had left lots of species ice-bound.

“God’s plough’s been at work,” he would say
In his anti-Darwinian way.
Then Jean Louis’ ambitions
For well-funded positions
Led to Harvard in US of A.

As a Prof., and although getting older,
His labours for science got bolder.
But then, one sad day
Jean Louis passed away.
On his grave is a Swiss granite boulder . . .

[Photo: National Center for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis/Mary P. Winsor]
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