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

10
A REPORT ON ANDRÉS THEORY OF THE EARTH

Cuvier had now put forward two distinct explanations for the sudden extinction of the large fossil mammals, but the discrepancy between them does not seem to have perturbed him. He did not show how the transient marine incursion he invoked to explain most of the fossil occurrences might have been related to the sudden refrigeration he had inferred to account for the rhinoceros preserved in Siberian ice. However, the latter explanation was reinforced the following year ( 1807), when reports reached Paris of a similar discovery of a frozen mammoth. As with the megatherium more than a decade earlier (text 4), Cuvier had no specimens to study, only a report; but in this case even a brief verbal description contained important information. He interpreted the description of the thick hairy coat of the mammoth as decisive evidence that it had been adapted to the same arctic climate in which its remains had been found. In that respect it confirmed his general conclusion that in each region the climate before the last "revolution" had been the same as it was now. The event itself--whether a sudden drop in temperature or a sudden incursion of the sea--had been drastic in terms of causing widespread extinctions, but it had been a transient event; afterward the physical conditions at the earth's surface had reverted more or less to what they had been before.

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