How palynology could have been paepalology: the naming of a discipline

Kevin J Edwards, Heather S. Pardoe

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8 Citations (Scopus)
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From its ‘modern’ pollen-analytical beginnings, the science of what we now term palynology wrestled with terminology and sought an acceptable name for the discipline. Starting in 1943, the mimeographed Pollen Analysis Circular, edited from Ohio by Paul Sears, led to discussion of the content, organisation and naming of a developing discipline. This came to a head in 1944 with Ernst Antev’s plea for ‘The Right Word’ and the suggestion of the word palynology from the Cardiff duo of Harold Hyde and David Williams. In the search for a suitable term, Hyde consulted Cardiff-based Irish classicist Leopold Richardson who advised against the word palynology and suggested six alternatives. Hyde, however, was wedded to the term palynology and, in the interests of euphony and ‘hankering after my own offspring’, was seemingly able to overcome Richardson’s scholarly objections by argument. Hyde and Williams defined palynology as ‘the study of pollen and other spores and their dispersal, and applications thereof.’ This was considered an advance because alternative terms such as pollen analysis, pollen statistics and pollen science did not include the application or interpretation of pollen evidence. The term palynology quickly found acceptability within the pages of the Pollen Analysis Circular and subsequently received an airing in Nature. Once palynology was adopted by the influential Swede Gunnar Erdtman, it was rapidly accepted by the palaeoecological community.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)4-19
Number of pages16
Issue number1
Early online date17 Dec 2017
Publication statusPublished - 2018

Bibliographical note

For access to archival information, we would like to thank Amgueddfa Cymru National Museum Wales (Hyde papers and correspondence), Nigel Morgan of Cardiff University Library, Maria Asp and the Center for History of Science, Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences and Pia Östensson and the Swedish Museum of Natural History (Erdtman papers), along with those bodies granting permission to use the portrait photographs. We are grateful to Anne Bryan for the photograph of her father (D.A. Williams) and the valuable background information, to Angela Lord for advice on Greek orthography and to Pat Wiltshire for Pitman shorthand interpretation. We are indebted to Richardson’s former colleague, Nick Fisher, for drawing the Starkie autobiography to our attention. The Royal Irish Academy, the Classical Association (Claire Davenport) and Trinity College Dublin (Aisling Lockhart) provided additional information on Richardson. We are appreciative of comments from Ed Schofield and Evan Zimroth on an early draft of the paper, to two referees, and we thank Jim Riding for his encouragement.


  • Palynology
  • etymology
  • E.V. Antevs
  • H.A. Hyde
  • D.A. Williams
  • L.J.D. Richardson
  • G. Erdtman


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