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The obsolete theory that all rocks of the earth's crust were deposited from or crystallized out of water. Also known as neptunianism; neptunian theory.
McGraw-Hill Dictionary of Scientific & Technical Terms, 6E, Copyright © 2003 by The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc.
The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.



the theory widespread at the turn of the 19th century that rocks (including igneous rocks) originated from precipitation from water. The theory appeared during the development of geology into a science, when it was still influenced by religion and the idea of the Flood. The best-known advocates of neptunism were A. G. Werner in Germany, J. A. Deluc in France, and R. Kirwan in Great Britain.

The neptunists developed the idea that rocks had originated from the waters of a primitive (primeval) world ocean which covered the entire earth and from the waters of the Flood. On the basis of this, they extended the local order of rock stratification to all the continents. Rocks were divided into two groups: the primitive rocks, that is, those that formed by chemical crystallization from the waters of a primitive universal ocean (granite, gneisses, schists, and other igneous and metamorphic rocks), and the floetz, or stratified, rocks, which were deposited over the primitive rocks (coal, gypsum, rock salt, limestone with fossils, and other rocks). Most neptunists viewed the floetz rocks as “mechanical” deposits of the biblical Flood. After new findings increasingly contradicted this traditional scheme, Werner added the transition group of rocks and to this class assigned gray-wacke, shales, and other rocks.

According to neptunism, the entire relief of the earth’s surface formed with the floetz rocks and has been preserved unchanged to the present. Neptunism did not recognize tectonic movements, which in reality change the relief. Neptunism viewed contemporary geological agents, such as atmospheric precipitation and flowing water, as “weak” forces leading to the formation of alluvial, or residual, deposits (sand, pebbles, gravel). In the neptunist scheme, volcanic rocks were found in only a small part of the earth’s crust and formed as a result of underground coal fires. Disputes about the origin of basalt, which Werner wrongly classified in the floetz group, gave rise to the controversy between neptunists and plutonists concerning the origin of all rocks. In the 1820’s, when the volcanic origin of basalt was proved and scientific theories about igneous and sedimentary rocks were developed, neptunism began to lose its significance.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
References in periodicals archive ?
Water was favored as the formative element in Neptunist systems (such as Maillet's proposed system, which postulated that the level of the sea had fallen and that the face of the Earth had been shaped by part of the circulating waters), while the action of fire was favored by the later Plutonists (who started from the theory of the internal fire advanced by Descartes, and whose ideas solidified in Hutton's theory of the Earth), and this was debated until the nineteenth century.
As an archetypal volcanic material, basalt was, as we have seen, singled out as a target in Neptunist polemic.
Franz's opposition to the dominant Neptunist view in Germany was the scientific and, by virtue of its representation in the Worlitz landscape, the metaphorical equivalent of his rejection of the dirigiste approach to political change which defined `enlightened' policies in the larger states of the German Empire.
This opposition has led many scholars to identify Volcanism with an enlightened challenge to orthodox religion.(38) On the other hand, not all the Neptunists who dominated the German scene were traditional Christians.
Although it is unclear what Knox's views were, it is probable that he sided with the Neptunists, given his involvement with the Kirwanian Society.
The source of ore elements has been debated since the first confrontations between Plutonists and Neptunists about 220 years ago, and the debate continues to this day.
During that year, with typical energy, intelligence, and providential canniness, he made abundant professional and social contacts with eminent scientists; he attended lectures propounding the contending views of geological "Neptunists" of the school of Werner (all rocks are ultimately sedimentary) and "Vulcanists" of the school of Hutton (all rocks are ultimately igneous); and he gathered rock and mineral specimens in the field, visiting active mines in Cornwall and Derbyshire, once nearly being killed in a rockslide while investigating the lava sills of Salisbury Crag, above Edinburgh.