Patriarch Of Romanian Geology

Grigore Antipa Museum of Natural History and Geology Museum and Institute
The beginnings of Romanian geology and paleontology are closely connected to the name of a great scholar, who opened up the way: Gregoriu Stefanescu. An extremely complex scientist, whose contribution has been fully recognized abroad as well as in Romania.This is why now, his spiritual heirs at the Bucharest University gratefully call him the "patriarch of the earth sciences". Those who visit the Grigore Antipa National Museum of Natural History stop flabbergasted when they see the impressive Deinotherium gigantissimum and have the opportunity to learn that the skeleton of this prehistoric giant was discovered by Gregoriu Stefanescu. But very few people know that the scientist was one of the founding "patriarchs" of Romanian geology and paleontology.  Grigorescu's friendThe Geology-Paleontology Chair of the Bucharest University hosts a room where time seems to have stopped at a certain point in the early 20th century. Preserved with the respect that a sanctuary is entitled to, this is the office of scientist Gregoriu Stefanescu. A room packed with shelves full of books and glass boxes with a variety of fossils, which are paleontology rarities. Plus the scientist's desk. An older-type microscope and a pair of glasses that seem to have just been left on the desk create the feeling that the scientist only left this room a few minutes ago. Above the door, hangs an oil painting: it is the face of a dark-haired young man with a beard. The painting is signed by Nicolae Grigorescu, and the young man is the scientist himself, whose image was caught at the age when he was bracing himself to confront the past of our planet. A lesser-known work of art, the result of an almost unknown episode in art history: the painter and the scientist were very good friends. FounderGregoriu Stefanescu was born in Bucharest in 1838. He was a pupil at the St. Sava High School and then he went to Paris to continue his studies: there, he got his degree in natural sciences from the University of Sorbonne. He returned home in 1863, and two years later he published the first zoology school book in the Romanian language. In 1865 he became the first professor of geology, mineralogy, and paleontology at the Bucharest University. In 1866, Gregoriu Stefanescu was one of the founding members of the Romanian Academy. He was the only Romanian geologist who, while being a university professor, participated in all the international geology congresses, from the first one in 1878, until the 10th one in 1906, which elected him chairman.At the congress held in Bologna, Gregoriu Stefanescu was the one who proposed something he achieved later on: to unify the subdivisions of the geological eras and the colors used to draw the specialized maps. In his capacity as a participant deeply involved in the international specialized scientific activity, he was the first Romanian scholar who took up the task of drawing a geological map of Romania. He achieved this before 1890: that year, the first geological map of Romania was published – it was the Romania of the time, which only included the "Old Kingdom," namely without Transylvania.Later, it was integrally included in the geological map of Europe published in the late 19th century. In the ensuing years, the scientist served as dean of the Science Faculty at the University of Bucharest three times; in 1900, he became the rector of that institution.For six years, in 1882-1888, he was the director of the Geological Bureau of Romania, the first research institute that took up the task to study and apply the means to make good use of the natural wealth of our country.At the same time, the Romanian specialist was a great scientist, and his contribution was recognized abroad as well: Gregoriu Stefanescu was a member of the geological societies in France, Belgium, and Italy, of the natural science societies in Kiev and Moscow, and a corresponding member of the geological society in London. Paleo-elephant and camel from OlteniaAt a time when Romanian science was in its infancy, Gregoriu Stefanescu got actively involved in paleontology studies. He was the first Romanian specialist to describe the Conoclypus giganteus, an unknown species of "echinoid," namely one of the prehistoric ancestors of today's "sea urchins." Discovered in the limestone of Albesti-Muscel, that creature lived some time in the Eocene over 50 million years ago.Also, Gregoriu Stefanescu was involved in the discovery and study of the Deinotherium gigantissimum, the most imposing and valuable item held by Grigore Antipa National Museum of Natural History. Discovered in 1890 in Manzati, Vaslui, this creature walked the earth approximately 8 million years ago.The Deinotherium was a mammal of the Proboscidian family, a distant relative of the mammoths and of today's elephants. But, unlike the latter categories, its tusks grew on its lower jaw and pointed downwards. Field studies made it possible for Gregoriu Stefanescu to also discover the fossil of a distant relative of today's camel, Camelus alutensis, or the "camel from Oltenia." Discovered on the bank of the Olt River close to the town of Slatina, this old bone is a mandible piece – the lower jaw of an animal which, scientists have learned, was an important link in the evolution of its species.Its presence in our land proves that, in their migration from Asia to Africa, the ancestors of today's camels passed through the southern part of present-day Romania as well. Indifference of posterity Gregoriu Stefanescu died on February 23 (March 8 by the Gregorian calendar), 1911, following an acute pneumonia. He was buried with all due honors in Bellu Cemetery.Then, the harsh history and the people who were often subjected to pitiless historical circumstances mostly forgot the scientist who was the "patriarch" of Romanian geology and paleontology. For some years now, his spiritual heirs at the Paleontology Chair of the Bucharest University have been struggling to preserve his memory: they wish to name a Bucharest street after him. Theoretically, the authorities agree. But in practice, the application was sent from the Sector City Hall to Bucharest City Hall. For now, their efforts have been stalled at the Bucharest City Hall, blocked by the change of the Bucharest general mayor. ZOOM, August 2, 2008 Translated by Monica Voiculescu

by Vasile Surcel