Wednesday, July 15, 2009

F.A. Fallou: The Father of Soil Science

History is one of the most complicated and subjective academic fields since it is greatly influenced by the knowledge, experience, interest, and personal taste of the authors who reconstruct the history of a given event or human endeavour. It also depends on the availability and accuracy of historical records as well as on the degree of detail of the historical account. The renowned historian Norman Davies author of the book "Europe: A History" (Pimlico, London, 1365pp) wrote that "history can be written at any magnification. One can write the history of the universe on a single page, or the life-cycle of a mayfly in forty volumes." Thus, it is not unusual to read many different versions or revisions of the historical account of a past event.

The history of soil science is no exception. Some aspects of it are still controversial such as the one about its founder. Although the Russian geographer Vasilii Vasilevich Dokuchaev (1846-1903) is widely considered as the founder of soil science on the basis of his book “Russian Chernozem” of 1883 which discussed soil formation as a function of the factors climate, parent material, organism, relief and time, a close examination of historical records would reveal that another scientist had made a major contribution two decades before him. He was Friedrich Albert Fallou.

F.A. Fallou (1794-1877) from Zörbig, a small town in Sachsen, Germany is considered by several important authors as the founder of soil science (Blanck, 1949; Joffe, 1949; Strzemski, 1975; Schroeder, 1983; Feger and Makeschin, 2007). In his seminal book Pedologie oder allgemeine und besondere Bodenkunde (Pedology or General and Special Soil Science) of 1862, Fallou justified why soil is a natural body that needs to be studied and argued for the recognition of soil science as an independent natural science. He also introduced the concept of soil profile, discussed the physical and chemical properties of soils and established a soil classification based on parent rock (Asio, 2005).

Contrary to popular notion, it was Fallou in his book of 1862 who first recognized the soil as a natural body and not Dokuchaev who only published his important work two decades later. This was in fact acknowledged by K.D. Glinka (1867-1927) in his lecture during the first international congress of soil science in 1927 although he appeared to downplay Fallou’s contribution and gave the credit to his teacher and countryman Dokuchaev (Glinka, 1927). Dokuchaev’s fame was further enhanced by the fact that Glinka was widely read in North America especially since he was the first president of the International Society of Soil Science. That Dokuchaev who was only about 16 years old and still a young student when Fallou’s influential book of 1862 (Fallou’s sixth book) was published, reinforces the notion that he was influenced by Fallou although according to Johnson et al. (2005) Dokuchaev cited Fallou only once in his important work on chernozem. Whether or not this omission was intentional is unknown. Interestingly, the American landscape pedologist David J. Brown noted that Dokuchaev’s “geologic-geographic investigations” and soil maps were apparently based on the geographic maps (e.g. climate-vegetation maps) of Russia developed by the great natural scientist and founder of geography Alexander von Humboldt (1769-1859) but this was not acknowledged by Dokuchaev in his book (Brown, 2006).

Until now very little is known about Fallou’s book. This can be seen from the fact that most books and papers that discuss soil science history only make brief mention of Fallou’s soil classification which is only part of Fallou’s trailblazing book. The book is divided into two parts. Part I (p. 1–198) is about the general knowledge of soils and Part II (p. 199–487) presents a detailed description of his soil types based on parent rock and is relatively known.

In the preface of Part I, Fallou wrote that "the current books on soil science are just compilation of mixed materials (an aggregate of unorganized materials) from geology, geography, agricultural chemistry and plant physiology." In contrast, he stated that his book "presents for the first time the existing soil knowledge as an interconnected, concise and organized body of knowledge" and thus, as a science. He wrote: "This is the first attempt of this nature; I have blazed a trail that others may follow and improve, it does not matter if it will lead to an entirely new building of knowledge based on other principles and in another style, so that the poor and unrecognized soil science will once and for all be accorded the honor and that it will likewise be recognized as a science."

In the 22-page introduction, Fallou discussed the nature and aims of soil science, justified why soil science should be an independent natural science, and why soil is a natural body that deserves to be studied. In Chapter 1 on Entstehung des Bodens (p. 23–52), Fallou discussed the origin of soils, particularly the role of weathering and related processes like transformation and leaching, although he did not yet use the term leaching.

Chapter 2 on Wesen des Bodens (p. 54–82) is a comprehensive discussion about the nature, origin, and characteristics of the inorganic and organic soil components.

Chapter 3 on Beschaffenheit des Bodens (p. 83–107) is about soil properties such as color, structure, weight, and density, porosity, penetrability, solubility (now erodibility), and moisture content.

Chapter 4 on Räumlichkeit (p. 108–130) is actually about the dimension of the soil body. It focuses on the horizontal dimension in terms of soil distribution in the landscape as well as the vertical dimension in terms of soil depth or thickness. Fallou also discussed the distribution and thickness of the soil in the landscape in relation to elevation and slope and thus, was a recognition of the effect of relief on soil characteristics.

Chapter 5 (p.131–144) is about the inner part of the soil body in terms of the nature of soil layering. Other chapters are about differences between soils (Chapter 6), classification of soils (Chapter 7), and the role of soil in the hydrologic cycle and in plant and animal growth as well as the changes of soil with time (Chapter 8).

In Chapter 8, he wrote that "everything changes itself in form and substance with time... the soil will, like all other things in this world, get not younger but older and in the end will lose its productivity." On his discussion about the chemical processes of soil change with time, Fallou wrote that "weathering in the soil body involves transformation and rearrangement... the most important is the dissolution of the unweathered rock material to release its nutrients for plants use thereby transforming it completely to soil."

Because of the great impacts of their contributions to the development of soil science, Fallou, Dokuchaev, and Liebig are considered by some authors as co-founders of soil science. Some others notably Joffe made a slightly different distinction: Fallou as the father of soil science; Dokuchaev as the founder of modern soil science.

(Note to readers: details of all references can be requested from me)


"Un Universo invisible bajo nuestros pies" said...

Dear Victor I am Juan-José Ibáñez a soil scientist from Spain. I have a blog on soils along near the last four years and more of 4.000.000 of visits. It is in Spanisch language. In my last post I speak of your interesting blog

Wellcome to the blogsphere

All the best


Victor B. Asio said...

Dear Juanjo,
Thank you very much for your nice comments and for featuring my blog in your excellent and very popular blog. I really appreciate it.
Best regards,

delaram said...

Dear Professor Asio,
I have a question and I would appreciate it if you help me. There is a lead mine in a distance of 3 km from my home. Is it a threat? and if I get pregnant, is it dangerous?

Victor B. Asio said...

Dear Delaram,

Thanks for your question. You have a very valid concern. Lead poisoning is a major health problem in many countries. Unfortunately, it is taken for granted in many poor countries like the Philippines due to the lack of information and awareness. So in a way, people are subject to "killing me softly" effect. If the lead mine located 3-km from your home is a large mining operation, then it is not far enough to be safe although this would also be influenced by the presence or absence of natural barriers (e.g. mountain), wind direction etc. But I suspect that lead-carrying dusts will reach your place. One major way by which lead enters the body is through breathing or swallowing of dusts containing lead. Studies have revealed that lead exposure can harm babies even before they are born. This is because lead is transferred during pregnancy to the foetus and during breastfeeding to the child. For more information on lead pollution, please refer to the following very good websites:,

Best wishes.


Anonymous said...

Dear Professor Asio,
I have a question and I would appreciate it if you help me. There is a lead mine in a distance of 3 km from my home. Is it a threat? and if I get pregnant, is it dangerous?