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

13
FOSSIL DEER AND CATTLE

Meanwhile Cuvier's papers on specific fossils continued to appear in every volume of the Annales du Muséum. The series on the palaeotherium and anoplotherium tailed off without the conclusions and reconstructions that he had drafted (text 7); but he added to the Parisian fauna with descriptions of the bones of birds, turtles, and a fox-sized carnivore.

Cuvier also began to publish studies of fossils that now--thanks to his recent survey of the geological literature (text 14)--he knew were distinctly older even than the Parisian ones. For example, studies of the osteology of living crocodiles gave him an authoritative basis on which to claim that certain fossils from Normandy and Thuringia were crocodiles and monitors, though of course distinct from the modern forms. These reptiles, he emphasized, came from "very ancient Secondary beds," far older than the Parisian formations.1 Another paper dealt with a unique specimen that Scheuchzer, almost a century earlier, had famously claimed to be the skeleton of "a man who was a witness of the Deluge" ( Homo diluvii testis, 1726). Cuvier, in a debunking gesture worthy of his Enlightenment forebears, demonstrated that it had been a giant amphibian

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1
In modern terms the fossils from Normandy were Jurassic in age; those from Thuringia, Permian. Historically, the important point is that neither Cuvier nor any of his contemporaries were yet certain about their relative ages, and the standard terms for the major periods did not come into general use until after Cuvier's death.

-157-

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