Commission History

Dear colleagues,

We now open the History section of our Commission. We understand that paleosol studies as a whole have much longer history and wider scope. Nevertheless we hope that presenting the milestones in Commission activities will help us to shape them for the future benefit of the paleopedology. The text below was compiled from an input of senior members and the records of Paleopedology Commission. We are especially grateful to Dan Yaalon (Israel), who provided his recollections on the earliest period of Commission activities. The major part of the History was written by him. We will be happy to reproduce other memories, data and views on Commission history.

Please, send us all the materials you would like to share with us.


Paleopedology is devoted to recording and interpreting the records of past soil formations.  When Liu Tungsheng (China) presented in 1961 at the 6th INQUA Congress in Warsaw, Poland the detailed Quaternary loess-paleosol sequences in China, this caused quite a stir and also resulted in increased interest in paleosols in Europe and America.  An International Paleopedology Commission was established as an INQUA Commission in 1965 at the 7th INQUA Congress in Boulder, Colorado, USA, following a proposal by Dan Yaalon (Israel).  Academician I. P. Gerasimov (Russia) was selected to be the first President. 

Multidisciplinary nature of paleopedology stimulated the ways of its broader identification in the system of environmental sciences. And during the 9th International Congress of Soil Science, 1968, Adelaide, Australia, the Commission has been affiliated to the Soil Genesis, Classification and Cartography Commission of the International Society of Soil Science.

The President of Commission had no appointed or selected colleagues by that time. The position of the  President was considered sufficient as it involved mainly making paleopedology a respected topic by sponsoring a thematic meeting during the next congress and corresponding by airmail with relevant colleagues. The main focus of Commission activities was organizing special paleopedology sessions during the INQUA, and later also Soil Science Congresses.          

President R.V. Ruhe  (USA) replaced I.P Gerasimov after 8th INQUA Congress in Paris 1969. At that time the dating of humus and soil organic matter by 14C became more prevalent and of greater interest also in the paleosol context for the ISSS.  A turning point in activity was when Prof F. A. van Baren, then ISSS Secretary General obtained funds from UNESCO to organize a 1970 international meeting in Amsterdam dealing with the age of soils and parent materials and asked Dan Yaalon to edit and publish the proceedings. This was done by 1971 and the volume Paleopedology:  Origin, Nature and Dating of Paleosols was published (Jerusalem, 1971). It is now also on the website of the Paleopedology Commission.

An important aspect of this meeting was the call to distinguish between buried and unburied paleosols and the conclusion of the Working Group on the Origin and Nature of Paleosols that both these groups need to be studied by the same methods used for current unburied soils.  This led gradually to greater attention to the sequence of processes taking place in soils over time due to inevitable environmental changes, thus expanding the traditional five factors Dokuchaev model of soil formation and leading to paleoenvironmental interpretation and reconstruction studies of both buried and unburied soils.

Dan H. Yaalon (Israel) was elected as a President in 1977 during the 10th INQUA Congress in Birmingham.            Position of vice-President and a secretary was then formally recognized (in line with INQUA statutes and bye-laws). So the board of Commission officers became similar to its present status. For the period of 10 years (1977 – 1987) it consisted of Dan H. Yaalon as a President, J.B. Dalrymple as a Vice-President, and  K.W.C. Valentine as a Secretary. Dan Yaalon recalls: - “There certainly was no treasurer because no funding was involved. We just needed willing people to spend a lot or some of their time (and postal expenses) on these things”. A first set of working groups were established by that time, to cover specific activities within Commission:

- On register paleosols (Chairman G.C. Beckmann);

- German working group on paleopedology (Chaiman Helmut E. Stremme).   

Proceedings of the INQUA Congress in Ottawa, Canada, 198 were published in a Special Issue of Geoderma, v.45, issue 2, 1989.

Commission started to produce Newsletters. K.W.C. Valentine compiled first 5 issues, distributed by mail. Mailing list of 118 members was also published in Newsletters. International standard serial number was obtained: ISSN 0256-2340, that was later forgotten.                                                                                          

Dan Yaalon started to seek collaborators for compiling small-scale paleopedological maps of the Continents, starting as a first stage with the map for the LGM period of 18,000 years BP. This idea was then partially realized in the scope of PAGES initiatives.

The next board (1987 - 1995) of officers was elected during the 12th INQUA Congress in Ottawa, Canada (1987) with John A. Catt (UK) as a President, Dan H. Yaalon (Israel)  as a Vice-President and Leon R. Follmer (USA) as a Secretary-treasurer. The position of a secretary-treasurer was formally recognized within INQUA because all Commissions were receiving limited support from the INQUA Executive Committee, mainly to cover printing and mailing expenses for their Newsletters.

5 Newsletters (numbers 6-11) were produced and distributed by mail. A selection from these newsletters are available on Commission web site.

In the Newsletter #6 Leon Follmer raised a problem of expanding the scope of the Paleopedology Commission by affiliating with the IUGS (International Union of Geological Sciences).        Simultaneously the interest in pre-Quaternary paleosols also increased, not only in the broad climatic interpretation and classification within their stratigraphic positions. In 1988 G.J. Retallack (USA) organized in Oregon a Penrose Conference dealing with Paleoenvironmental Interpretation of  Paleosols and published his book Soils of the Past (now in 2nd edition). In 1990 formal connection with the Stratigraphy Commission of the IUGS was established but has not been very active.

Another important milestone of that period is a manuscript “Paleopedology, nature and Application of Paleosols”, edited by A. Bronger and J.A. Catt that was published as Catena Supplement 16.         

A significant and well attended event was the II International Symposium and Field Workshop on Paleopedology in 1993 in Champaign, Illinois, organized by Leon Follmer and Don Johnson (transactions published in 1998 in Quaternary International Vol. 51/52) which was devoted to wide ranging discussions to many topics of both Quaternary and pre-Quaternary paleosols and surface paleosols as well.  Paleopedology Glossary, prepared by John A. Catt (UK) was approved during that meeting and later published in Newsletter 14 (1998). It is now available on Commission web site.

New working groups were established at this Conference:

- Definitions, used in Paleopedology (Paleopedology Glossary), Chairman J.A. Catt, UK

- Classification of Paleosols, Chairman W.D. Nettleton, USA

- Methods of field and laboratory study of Paleosols, Chairman R. Kemp, Great Britain

- Pedostratigraphy, Chairman R.B. Morrison, USA

- Diagenesis of paleosols, Chairman B. Van Vliet-Lanoe, France

- Alluvial pedogenesis, Chairman Whitney Autin, USA

- Paleosols and Paleoclimatic Change in Eastern and Central Asia , Chairman X.M. Fang, China

-Geoarchaeology, Chairman E. A. Bettis, USA.

The Conference was supplemented by field trip (that then became a tradition for paleopedology meetings), covering 5 States of the Middle West with a route over 4,000 km. An excellent guide-book provided thorough explanations on numerous Quaternary and pre-Quaternary paleosols, visited by Conference participants.

The next board of Commission officers was elected at the 14th INQUA Congress in Berlin, 1995. It served for two inter-Congress period (1995-2003) with Arnt Bronger (Germany) as a President, John A. Catt (UK) as a Vice-President and Alexander O. Makeev (Russia) as a Secretary-treasurer. Two additional working groups were requested by the members and approved at the Commission business meeting in Berlin:

- Geopedology of Soils in China, Chairman Lu Jinggang, P.R. China

- Inter-American group on Paleopedology, Chairmen M. Singer and R.B. Morrison, USA.

The idea of working groups thought to be very productive by that time. But later it became obvious that working groups remained mostly inactive, being narrow focused, while the members tend to have broader interests, working alternatively in different areas. In the course of a few years Commission working groups terminated.

An Internet era started during that period. Commission web site was launched in 1995 on the facilities of Moscow State University, supported by Alexander Makeev.  8 Newsletters were issued and distributed both by mail and electronic mailing list of 450 members. Newsletters are still available on Commission website.    

Commission continued to organize special sessions on International Congresses of INQUA and IUSS. Besides this, four International Symposia and Field Workshops on Paleopedology have been conducted: Third – in Rauischholzhausen, Germany, 1997; fourth in Lanzhou, P.R. China, 1998; Fifth in Suzdal, Russia, 2000; Sixth in Mexico-city, 2001. The reports of these meetings are available on Commission web site.

Proceedings of these meetings were published in the following journals:

1.      Special issue of Catena “Reconstruction and climatic implications of paleosols” (Volume 34 nos 1-2, 1998);

2.      Supplement 1 of Chinese Science bulletin “Climatic change: paleopedological and soil rock magnetic approaches”, v. 44, 1999;

3.      Special issue of Catena “Recent and paleo-pedogenesis as tools for modeling past and future global change (Vol. 41, nos 1-3, 2000);

4.      Two special issues of Revista Mexicana de Ciencias Geologicas  (v. 20 n.3 and v. 21, n.1,  2001);

5.      Special issue of Catena ‘Records in soils of environmental and anthropogenic changes” (Vol. 41, 3, 2001)

6.      Two special issues of Quaternary International (Vol. 78, 2001 and Vol. 106-107, 2003).      

The next board of Commission officers was elected at the 16th INQUA Congress in Reno, Nevada, USA in 2003 and served for the period of 2003-2010 with Edoardo Costantini (Italy) as President, Alexander O. Makeev (Russia) as Vice-President and Francesco Malucelli (Italy) as a Secretary.

One issue of Newsletter was produced and later it was decided to replace publishing Newsletters by posting the news on electronic Commission forum. Starting from 2010 Commission decided to continue producing Newsletters on the regular basis besides news and other posts in electronic forum. 

Besides paleopedology sessions during the INQUA and IUSS Congresses two International Symposia and Field Workshops on Paleopedology have been conducted in Florence, Italy (2004) and Chennai, India, 2008. Proceedings of Symposium in Florence have been published in a special issue of Quaternary International, v. 156-157 (2006) and papers of the paleopedology Symposium during the INQUA Congress in Cairns, Australia – in a special issue of Quaternary International, v.209, issues 1-2 (2009).

At this time, the Commission realized that a new push to Paleopedology should only could given by the international recognition given by funded projects. Some attempts have been tried and, aimed at increasing the opportunities of a wider involvement of Paleopedology within environmental focused projects, join meetings with other Societies (EGU, INQUA) and IUSS Commissions were launched.

Among the others, a prominent position was taken by the cooperation between the IUSS Commissions belonging to Division 1 (soil in time and space). The international congress “Soil geography; new horizons” was held in Huatulco (Oaxaca, Mexico) from the 16th to the 20th November 2009. The success of the initiative supported the new tendency and motivated its re-edition in the year 2011 in Germany.

In 2003 the structure of INQUA was changed and paleopedology became only a subcommission within the Commission on Terrestrial Processes, Deposits and History (TERPRO), but activity essentially continued as before until the 17th INQUA Congress in Cairns, Australia. A very disappointing decision was approved their by INQUA General Assembly to delete all existing and leave only four synthetic Commissions. According to the new structure Paleopedology as a group could find itself within Commission on Terrestrial Processes, Deposits and History (TERPRO) and only in the form of a Focus group, a narrow-focused unit existing only within one inter-Congress period.

Very fortunately the structure of ISSS was also reorganized, and the new IUSS Council approved in April 2004 to rename the Paleopedology Working Group and to establish it as Paleopedology Commission within IUSS Division 1 – Soils in Space and Time (see IUSS Bulletin 104, p. 8, 2004). So, in a formal way the International Paleopedology Commission became not an INQUA, but IUSS Commission and the latest board of officers was elected on IUSS Congress in Brisbane, Australia (2010).

Nevertheless, with a well defined conceptual framework and goal of dealing with and interpreting both buried and unburied paleosols in space and geologic time, including the most recent impacts on soils due to human intervention, the Paleopedology Commission is now an integral and active part of both IUSS and INQUA with a current membership of over 350 researchers on its web site all over the world and organizing regular thematic symposia at congresses and meetings at both these organizations. Though cooperation or formal association with IUGS is still subject to improvements and this is considered as a priority of Commission activities for the future.

Paleopedology is experiencing such rapid development that latest approaches, methods and ideas often remains beyond the scope in University programs. For this reason the Commission supported the initiative to organize summer schools for young scholars. Geochronology summer school, organized by Markus Egli was first held in Switzerland in 2009 and then in 2010. Paleopedology summer school, organized by Maria Dergacheva and Alexander Makeev was held in Western Siberia in 2010.

At the Brisbane IUSS Congress 2010 the new Paleopedology Commission officiers were presented and elected: Daniela Sauer as president, Sergey Sedov as vice-president, Alexander Makeev as secretary. Thus, Daniela Sauer became the youngest woman who took a position of Commission president in the history of IUSS.

Alexander Makeev,
Aug 11, 2011, 1:39 AM