Georges Cuvier, Fossil Bones, and Geological Catastrophes: New Translations & Interpretations of the Primary Texts

By M. J. S. Rudwick; George Cuvier | Go to book overview

4
A RESEARCH PROGRAM ON FOSSIL BONES

In 1798, two years after his papers on elephants and the megatherium, Cuvier outlined what was now explicitly his own research agenda, in a paper to the Société d'Histoire Naturelle de Paris (Paris Natural History Society). A summary was published in the bulletin of the Société Philomathique, another informal scientific body in Paris, dominated by young savants such as Cuvier.

Cuvier explained that he planned to study the comparative anatomy of all fossil mammals, and he listed no fewer than twelve distinct species on which he had already started work. They included not only the mammoth and the megatherium, but also the puzzling "Ohio animal," fossil species of rhinoceros and hippopotamus, the huge-antlered deer or "elk" from the peat bogs of Ireland, an alleged bear from caves in Germany, a doglike carnivore from Paris itself, and several others less clearly defined. As in his paper on elephants (text 3), Cuvier concluded that it was not true that the species now living in the tropics had formerly lived at higher latitudes (as Buffon had argued); conversely, he claimed that these fossil species had had a wide geographical distribution but were truly extinct. What was new was Cuvier's final remark, clearly if covertly directed at self-styled "geologists" such as Faujas: "in view of this, it is up to geologists to make such changes or additions to their systems as they consider

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