Sir Archibald Geikie lived from 28 December 1835 to 10 November 1924. He was an eminent geologist who did much to place the geology of Scotland, literally, on the map. The wider picture in Scotland at the time is set out in our Historical Timeline.
Archibald Geikie was the older brother of James Geikie, also a noted geologist. He was born in Edinburgh and educated at the Royal High School before commencing his studies at Edinburgh University. At the age of 20 in 1855 he took up a post as an assistant on the British Geological Survey. He rapidly established himself both as a very capable geologist and as a very effective writer about geology. In 1858 he published the first of a long line of books on the subject, The Story of a Boulder; or, Gleanings from the Note-Book of a Geologist. This brought him to the attention of the leading geologist of the day, Sir Roderick Murchison, whose biographer he later became.
Geikie subsequently worked with Murchison to unravel the complex geology of northern Scotland, and the two jointly published a small geological map of the country in 1862, the first ever produced. Over the following 30 years Geikie's work allowed a much more detailed understanding, which resulted in the publication of a larger and more definitive geological map of Scotland in 1892. In 1863, Geikie's paper On the Phenomena of the Glacial Drift of Scotland set out the first accurate account of the shaping of Scotland by glacial action during the ice ages. It was the publication in 1865 of his Scenery of Scotland which really brought him to public attention. He was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society in the same year.
In 1867, Geikie became director of the British Geological Survey in Scotland, and in 1871 he also was appointed to the Murchison professorship of geology and mineralogy at the University of Edinburgh. Amongst his students was the explorer Joseph Thomson. In 1881 Geikie took the joint appointments of Director-General of the Geological Survey of the United Kingdom and Director of the Museum of Practical Geology in London. He continued in both posts until his retirement in February 1901.
Geikie's early work in Scotland gave him a deep interest in both volcanic rocks and the forces of erosion, and throughout his life he travelled widely, including a period spent studying the Grand Canyon in western USA and the volcanic rocks of Wyoming, Montana and Utah. Among his later important publications were The Ancient Volcanoes of Great Britain published in 1897 and Geological Sketches at Home and Abroad", published in 1882. In 1897 he published his Geological Map of England and Wales, with Descriptive Notes.
Sir Archibald Geikie was knighted in 1891. He was President of the Geological Society of London in 1891 and 1892, and President of the British Association in 1892. Following his retirement in 1901 he served in various posts in the Royal Society, including as its President in 1909. The breadth of his interests can be seen from one of his later publications, Birds of Shakespeare, which appeared in 1916. He died in 1924, and in 1976 had a ridge on the Moon, Dorsa Geikie, named after him.