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

9
A REVIEW OF FOSSIL PACHYDERMS

Cuvier's excursion into the realm of popular exposition was consolidated the year after his first lectures on geology: the galleries of the Muséum were reopened to the public for the first time since the height of the Revolution, and his own new gallery of comparative anatomy gave concrete and visible form to his conception of his science. At the same time the publication of his research in the Annales du Muséum, directed at his fellow naturalists in France and beyond, continued unabated. There were, for example, papers on the fossil bones of bears, hyenas, and rhinoceros, all distinct from their respective living species. More striking still was Cuvier's analysis of the celebrated "Ohio animal," known for more than half a century and the focus of continual debate among naturalists throughout the scientific world. Cuvier gave an authoritative analysis of its anatomy; claimed it was a distinct genus, much further from living elephants than the mammoth (though it had been repeatedly confused with that species); named it Mastodon; and distinguished several species.

In the papers he published in 1806, Cuvier began to be more explicit about the possible character of the event that, he believed, had wiped out all these fossil species. There was no grand speculation, just cautious inferences based on concrete evidence. In his rhinoceros paper Cuvier discussed the significance of the well-known report by Pallas, dating from his exploration of Siberia many years earlier, that he had found a fossil rhinoceros with some of its skin preserved in ice or frozen ground. Cuvier

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