Jose de Acosta (1539”1600): A pioneer of geophysics



One of the first books written about the American continent was by Father José de Acosta. Entitled Historia Natural y Moral de las Indias (i.e., Natural and Moral History of the Indias), it was published in Seville, Spain, in 1590 (Figure 1). The rapid printing of four editions in Spain in less than 20 yr and the translation of the book into French, Italian, German, Dutch, and Latin less than 15 yr after the first Spanish edition are signs of the rapid popularity that was achieved by this book in Europe.

José de Acosta was born in 1539 in Medina del Campo, Spain. He joined the Jesuit Order in 1553 and travelled to America in 1572. He remained there for 15 yr, travelling frequently and visiting the territories that today belong to Peru, Bolivia, Chile, and Mexico. During his journeys, he took note of his observations of natural phenomena, many of them related to the geophysical sciences, such as the aspect of the skies, distribution of temperature, rain, and winds, volcanic activity, earthquakes, and a variety of new minerals, plants, and animals, as well as on the social behavior of the inhabitants of those lands.