The Epic History of Biology

By Anthony Serafini | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 16
The Rise of Paleontology

Up to and through the seventeenth century, paleontology, or the science of foseils, had expanded, but only slowly. Buffon had identified organisms embedded in fossils, as had Thomas Jefferson. By the nineteenth century, however, the progress of the field was more rapid. Biologists were starting to realize, even before Darwin, that the crust of the earth was seething with the remains of plants and animals that had evolved, lived, and perished eons ago.

George Cuvier was among the important scientists working in this field. At the onset of his research, studies of prehistoric reptiles cultivated his appetite for paleontology. During the French Revolution, someone had sent a skull of what seemed to be a crocodile to the Jardin des Plantes. Explorers had found it many years earlier in the Netherlands on some land belonging to a "Dr. Goddin." Cuvier, in fact, proved that it was not a crocodile but an ancient lizard related. to the modern monitor lizards. Cuvier incorporated many of his findings into his book Research on Fossil Bones. It was this book that, in effect, established paleontology as a separate science. Beyond this, Cuvier identified fossilized remnants from both oceanic reptiles and. a

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