Close; narrow; little
Latinized form of Niels Steensen (1638-1686) Danish anatomist and naturalist, one of the founders of stratigraphy. To illustrate his ideas, Steno sketched what are probably the earliest geological sections.
Steno was born in Copenhagen and studied medicine in Leiden, the Netherlands. In 1666 he was appointed personal physician to the grand duke of Tuscany, and became royal anatomist in Copenhagen 1672. Returning to Italy, he was ordained a Catholic priest 1675, and gave up science on being appointed vicar-apostolic to N Germany and Scandinavia.
As a physician he discovered Steno’s duct of the parotid (salivary) gland, and investigated the workings of the ovaries. Showing that a pineal gland resembling the human one is found in other creatures, he used this finding to challenge French philosopher René Descartes’s claim that the gland was the seat of the human soul.
Steno’s examination of quartz crystals disclosed that, despite differences in the shapes, the angle formed by corresponding faces is invariable for a particular mineral. This constancy is known as Steno’s law.
Having found fossil teeth far inland closely resembling those of a shark he had dissected, in his Sample of the Elements of Myology 1667 Steno championed the organic origin of fossils. On the basis of his paleontological findings, he set out a view of geological history, contending that sedimentary strata had been deposited in former seas.