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Cabinet of Curiosities #5: The Lost World

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.


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This Week Geohistory:

  • May 23, 1707: Birthday of botanist Carl Linnaeus, his famous classification system for the natural world (the binomial nomenclature) included also minerals, as he himself was also interested in mining geology, and influenced later more famous geologists, like Abraham Gottlob Werner. He also published a first textbook on geological fieldwork, in his Instructio peregrinatoris (1759) he recommends to travellers to record height, stratification and rock-type of mountains, but especially to add a description of the local mines.
  • May 22, 1960: The 9.5M Valdivia earthquake was the largest ever recorded in history.
  • May 22, 1859: Birthday of  Arthur Ignatius Conan Doyle, author of the Sherlock Holmes crime stories and The Lost World, where he popularized prehistoric animals like dinosaurs and especially pterosaurs. Coyne himself claims that he was inspired to the Lost World by a strange encounter – a supposedly surviving Plesiosaurus spotted in the Aegean Sea – however it seems more plausible that he based his novel on the discoveries of early paleontologists, speaking of…
  • May 21, 1799: Birthday of “the greatest fossilist the world ever knew“, Mary Anning, daughter of a poor carpenter, she made a living selling sea monsters along the sea shores of Dorset, a dangerous and unusual work for a women at the time.  Mary learned the art to collect and prepare fossils from her father – Richard Anning – however the carpenter died in 1810. Mary´s mother – Mary “Molly” Anning – struggled with grief and wasn´t able to sustain young Mary and her brother Jospeh. Selling the fossils as local “curiosities” was one of the rare opportunities to make some money in a time of a great economic depression. In 1812 she and her brother discovered an almost complete skeleton of an Ichthyosaurus, in 1821 Mary excavated that of a Plesiosaurus and in 1828 she discovered the first British pterosaur. Self-taught naturalist, she used her anatomical and zoological skills to recompose many of the discovered fossil skeletons and formulated and contributed to the scientific understanding of the Lost Worlds inhabited by these creatures. She also provided William Buckland with the needed evidence to identify strange rocks, found along some of the fossil reptiles, as fossil feces or coprolites.

Fig.1. Life appearance of “Ichthyosaurus” and “Plesiosaurus”, from TOULA “Lehrbuch der Geologie” (1900) – both marine species here reconstructed as terrestrial animals ! (image in public domain)

This Week Geonews:

David Bressan About the Author: Freelance geologist dealing with quaternary outcrops interested in the history and the development of geological concepts through time. Follow on Twitter @David_Bressan.

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.





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