In the summer of 1838, Arnold Guyot was asked by Louis Agassiz to gather information on Alpine glaciers, with the aim of reporting their findings in September, at the annual gathering of the French Geological Society. Guyot’s observations of the internal structure of the ice and interpretations on glacier movements, reported orally at the conference, were new to science. Unfortunately, because of purported illness, Guyot did not send his manuscript to be published and missed his first opportunity to be recognized as a pioneer in glacier studies.
During the years 1841 to 1847, Guyot published a series of notes, detailing results of his field work in tracing erratic blocks in the central Alpine region, in the Alpine foreland and in the Jura Mountains. The level of detail in his work was unprecedented and has not been replicated since. Recognizing that erratic blocks of similar lithology could be followed along organized paths of deposition, Guyot could invalidate those theories that sought to explain their deposition by chaotic means, such as floods, debacles or drifting icebergs loaded with rock debris. Only moraines, composed of material transported by glaciers, could explain the mapped arrangements of erratic blocks.
Geological proofs for extensive glaciations in central Europe had just been found, and Guyot could demonstrate them on his hand-drawn map. But, in 1848, a revolution broke out in Neuchâtel. The local academy where Guyot was engaged as a professor shut down and all staff were left without pay. Answering a call from Agassiz who had emigrated to the USA in 1846, Guyot departed Switzerland and joined his friend there in the fall of 1848. In his luggage were all the papers on his unfinished project, including his map, and a full collection of erratic rock specimens. After arrival in the USA, Guyot had to begin a new professional life and could not devote significant attention to the subject of erratic blocks. In 1849, he showed his map of the erratic basins of Switzerland and discussed his results with various members of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS); he also shared his novel ideas about the climatic conditions required for the formation of large glaciers; however, he did not formally publish the results of his work in the Alps, and he thus lost his second opportunity for wider peer recognition and for driving the acceptance of the glacial theory.
Only in 1874, 26 years after his arrival in the USA and a year after Agassiz’s death, did Guyot open his boxes of alpine rock specimens and display his unpublished map in the Museum of the College of New Jersey (later Princeton University), where he was engaged as a professor. In 1883, at age 77, his memory of the unpublished 1838 report on glaciers was still in his conscience which finally pushed him to submit it for printing at Neuchâtel. It passed largely unnoticed, however, and Guyot died one year later without recognition attached to his name for his original, innovative work.
This paper reviews Guyot’s work and analyses his relationship with Agassiz while both were working in Neuchâtel. It seeks to evaluate his pioneering work on glaciers and on erratic blocks. It includes a copy of Guyot’s map of the erratic basins of Switzerland, kept to this day in the archives of Princeton University.