Are you the publisher? Claim or contact us about this channel


Embed this content in your HTML

Search

Report adult content:

click to rate:

Account: (login)

More Channels


Channel Catalog


Channel Description:

Program news and collection highlights from BHL

older | 1 | .... | 18 | 19 | (Page 20) | 21 | 22 | .... | 37 | newer

    0 0

    In 1838, Ferdinand Joseph L'Herminier, a French botanist and zoologist born in Basse-Terre, Guadeloupe, published the first description of the Double-striped Thick-knee (vocifer), today known by the scientific name Burhinus bistriatus vocifer [1]. L'Herminier used six specimens to describe the species, which he originally named Ædicnemus vocifer.

    Specimen MLC.2011.0.907 (syntype). Double-striped Thick-knee (Burhinus bistriatus) collected by Dr Beauperthuy and used by L'Herminier to describe his Ædicnemus vocifer in 1838. © Christophe Gouraud, Musée George Sand et de la Vallée Noire, La Châtre, France.
    One of the specimens that L'Herminier used for his description is housed in the Baillon Collection at the Musée George Sand et de la Vallée Noire, La Châtre, France. The Baillon's inscription for the specimen indicates that it was sent by Florent Prévost, assistant naturalist at the Paris Museum, to Louis Antoine François Baillon, whose father started the Baillon Collection. The available information indicated that Prévost received the specimen from L'Herminier himself, but it was unknown who originally provided the specimen to L'Herminier. This question becomes even more intriguing when you consider that the Baillon specimen is the only surviving type specimen of the six originally used by L'Herminier for his 1838 description.

    Christophe guiding on a Zodiac cruise in Antarctica (February 2015). © Lorraine Turci.

    Christophe Gouraud is an expert at solving the mysteries surrounding historic specimens. With a Masters degree in ecology and a specialty in ornithology, Gouraud spends much of his time working as a Polar guide on expedition ships that cruise in Spitsbergen, Greenland, Nunavut, the Russian Arctic, the South Atlantic islands and Antarctica, but before becoming a guide, he took part in many scientific expeditions related with birds in Alaska, Morocco, Kazakhstan, and Peru. Today, he still finds time to pursue his ornithological passion. Between the Arctic and Antarctic seasons, he works with bird collections in France, particularly within the Caire-Chabrand Collection at the Musée de la Vallée, Barcelonnette, France, and the Baillon Collection of La Châtre.

    Christophe working on the Caire-Chabrand Collection, Musée de la Vallée, Barcelonnette, France. © Claude Gouron, http://www.claude-gouron.fr, https://500px.com/claudegouron/sets.

    Discovering information about historic specimens can be a difficult task. Access to historic literature is essential to successful investigations, and thus, Gouraud has found BHL an invaluable ally in his hunt for information.

    "BHL is such a great, impressive and useful tool," lauds Gouraud. "As I am not working in an institution with access to huge libraries, BHL has made possible what I have achieved so far. I don’t know if my work would have been possible without BHL, but for sure it is unbelievable the time that can be saved."

    Gouraud uses BHL to search for the original descriptions of bird species (most of which were described in the 18th and 19th centuries), to locate accounts of early voyages of exploration and discovery (during which many of the specimens he researchers were collected), and to explore references cited by the authors of the publications he consults for his research. When working on the history of a collection, he consults BHL daily, exploring multiple documents during each visit.

    "In a few clicks, you can access, read and download (for free!!!) most of the documents you need," exclaims Gouraud. "All that is needed is a good Internet connection. Through BHL, I can easily access so many old and rare books deposited in just a few institutions worldwide while simply sitting at home drinking a good coffee!"

    Gouraud's favorite BHL feature is the custom PDF download, which allows him to select specific pages of interest for his research and save them for future consultation. His extensive use of the library also revealed some areas where he believes improvements can be made. These include adding a full text search option to BHL, allowing users to search within the contents of a book; improving the OCR, allowing more scientific names to be discovered; and merging the redundant author and title names sometimes displayed throughout BHL.

    Full text search is a high priority for future BHL development, with prototypes currently being investigated. BHL crowdsourcing games, Smorball and Beanstalk, are one method we are currently using to improve BHL's OCR. Multiple instances of the same author or title in BHL result from differences in the library catalogs contributing information to BHL. While we try to automatically de-duplicate entries as they are ingested, not all duplicates can be merged automatically. We rely on feedback from our users to help us identify and allow us to correct duplications that do occur. Use our feedback form to alert us of any errors that should be corrected in the BHL portal.

    BHL allowed Gouraud to solve the mystery of the origin of the Double-striped Thick-knee specimen housed in the Baillon Collection. By consulting L'Herminier's original description in BHL, Gouraud discovered that the specimen was originally collected by Doctor Louis Daniel Beauperthuy, a physician and scientist born in Basse Terre, Guadeloupe, and the discoverer of the transmitting agent of yellow fever. Beauperthuy gave the specimen to L'Herminier, who used it for his description and then sent it on to the Paris Museum.

    "I completed the story and linked Dr. Beauperthuy to L'Herminier only because I had access to the original description by L'Herminier," explains Gouraud. He published his findings in the Bulletin of the British Ornithologists' Club.

    Specimen MLC.2011.0.1006. Grey-tailed Tattler (Heteroscelus brevipes) collected on Mariana Islands during the Freycinet's circumnavigation that survived the wreckage of L'Uranie in the Falkland Islands in 1820. © Christophe Gouraud, Musée George Sand et de la Vallée Noire, La Châtre, France.

    BHL has allowed Gouraud to uncover many fascinating details about the Baillon Collection. As another example, the Baillon Collection contains specimens collected during Louis Claude de Saulces de Freycinet's three year voyage (1817-20) that cruised about the Pacific, visiting Australia, the Mariana Islands, Hawaiian Islands, other Pacific islands, and South America. One such specimen is a Grey-tailed Tattler (Heteroscelus brevipes), collected at the Mariana Islands. Sadly, the expedition met with tragedy when Freycinet's ship, L'Uranie, wrecked in the Falkland Islands on 15 February, 1820, resulting in the loss of almost all of the expedition's natural history collections. By consulting the account of the expedition in BHL, Gouraud discovered that specimens from 313 species survived the wreckage, and 12 specimens are now in the Baillon Collection.

    Gouraud's experiences demonstrate the multi-layered value of BHL's collections. They are useful not only for providing information about species, ecosystems, habitats, and taxonomies, but also for historical investigations, such as uncovering the origins of museum collections. Gouraud has used BHL to uncover many other fascinating details about the Baillon Collection. You can explore some of these findings in his publications:


    Gouraud emphasizes that his research is made possible not only by BHL, but also thanks to Annick Dussault, director of the Musée George Sand et de la Vallée Noire (La Châtre, France) that houses the Baillon Collection, as well as the city of La Châtre, that gave him the opportunity of working with the Baillon Collection.

    We would like to extend a special thanks to Gouraud for sharing his incredible work with us and demonstrating how BHL supports that work. Do you use BHL to support your own work? Want to be featured on our blog? Then send us a message to feedback@biodiversitylibrary.org!

    [1] Dickinson E.C., Overstreet L.K., Dowsett R.J. and Bruce M.D., (Eds.) 2011: Priority! The Dating of Scientific Names in Ornithology: a Directory to the literature and its reviewers. Northampton, U.K., Aves Press.

    0 0

    October 14, 2015, is National Fossil Day, a day to celebrate all things fossils! Museums around the country are celebrating with fossil-related events the entire month of October, especially during the week of Fossil Day. BHL will be joining the fossil-mania next week with our social media campaign, Fossil Stories, running October 13-16, 2015.

    Rocks hold the key to the history of life on Earth. Buried within the earth are millions of years' worth of fossils, each of which tells a unique story about the life and ecosystems that once dominated our planet. These fossils not only reveal Earth's past, but also provide insight into our future. Yet, the scientific study of these fossils began just a few hundred years ago.



    Fossil Stories, presented by the Biodiversity Heritage Library in collaboration with several of our partner institutions, explores the world of fossils, the history of paleontology, and the men, women, and publications that shaped our knowledge about life preserved in rocks. October 13-16, BHL and our participating partner institutions will be producing a plethora of fossil content, which will publish on our blog, Twitter, and Facebook. All content will be tagged with the hashtag #FossilStories. We'll also have hundreds of fabulous historic fossil illustrations available in Flickr and Pinterest, as well as a collection of seminal books in the history of paleontology in our BHL Fossil Stories collection.

    The highlights of our campaign will be a series of four live webcasts at several of our participating partner institutions, as well as a citizen science challenge in partnership with The Field Book Project, the Smithsonian Transcription Center, and the Smithsonian Institution Archives.

    Webcasts
    The Fossil Stories webcasts will feature paleontologists, fossil research, and fossil exhibits at some of America's most prestigious natural history institutions. For the webcasts featuring paleontologists at the respective institutions, you'll have the opportunity to ask these experts your fossil questions!

    The webcast schedule is:
    • "Antarctic Dinosaurs with Dr. Peter J. Makovicky." Presented by The Field Museum.
    • "Exploring The FossiLab with Advait Jukar." Presented by the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History.
    • "Silent Periscope in the AMNH Hall of Ornithischian Dinosaurs." Presented by the American Museum of Natural History.
    • "Behind the Scenes at the NHMLA Dino Lab." Presented by the Natural History Museum, Los Angeles County.
    *For events on Periscope, follow the indicated account on Periscope (Periscope will then alert you when the webcast is live) OR follow @BioDivLibrary or the presenting institution on Twitter to get the link to the event. When the event is live, the link to access the webcast will be tweeted out on the host institution's Twitter account and BHL's Twitter account.

    Citizen Science Challenge
    For Fossil Stories, we're teaming up with The Field Book Project, the Smithsonian Transcription Center, and Smithsonian Institution Archives to issue you a citizen science challenge! Today, we're releasing a set of paleontology field notes from the Smithsonian's collection into the Transcription Center. Can you help transcribe all of them by the end of the campaign, October 16? There's a reward if all of the field notes are successfully transcribed by the end of the challenge. Stay tuned to our blog later today to learn more about the challenge!

    So be sure to follow #FossilStories all next week to explore fossils and the history of paleontology, and tune in later today to get more details on our transcription challenge. We know you'll dig the event!

    0 0

    UPDATE: We are proud to announce that after 3.5 days, volunteers successfully transcribed and reviewed all 252 pages of field notes that we uploaded as part of this challenge! Thanks to all of our great volunteers, and tune in all week (Oct. 13-16, 2015) for more great fossil fun and highlights from the challenge!

    October 14 is National Fossil Day! What do you think you might learn if we unleashed notes on the mighty and micro fossilized specimens in the Smithsonian Institution’s collections? Let’s time travel together with Smithsonian scientists - to their field sites, their discoveries, and the mysteries they uncover.

    We're celebrating fossils during the BHL Fossil Stories social media event, running October 13-16, 2015. Follow #FossilStories on Twitter and Facebook or read this article to learn more.

    As part of Fossil Stories, we’re teaming up with The Field Book Project, the Smithsonian Transcription Center, the Smithsonian Institution Archives, and the National Museum of Natural History to issue a transcription challenge to you!



    To Fossick is to “rummage or search,” often for gold nuggets or gems, though you’ll be gathering pearls of wisdom this week. And since knowledge is golden, we know we’ll all be enriched by our #FossilFossick challenge!

    Here's how the challenge works:

    1. We’ll launch several paleontology-related field notes on the Smithsonian Transcription Center
    2. You successfully transcribe and review the pages of those field notes with many of your transcribing friends 
    3. Follow and share your findings on Twitter with the #FossilFossick hashtag 
    4. We connect you with behind-the-scenes access to fossil specimens and scientists who will tell you more about the real ways fossil records make a difference in our world today 

    The set of field notes we’ve selected for the challenge not only provides a glimpse into the worlds of three paleobiologists (Lester F. Ward, Harry S. Ladd, and G. Arthur Cooper) over nearly a hundred-year period (from 1893 to 1965), but also highlights the fact that paleontology is a discipline that is frequently transformed by technology, whether that is the technology to travel to previously inaccessible places, technology to find and excavate items too hidden or too fragile to unearth before, or technology to inspect, record, and preserve findings in new ways.

    As you transcribe the field notes for this challenge, you’ll discover some of these changes in technology, from sailing ships to “electric cars” and airplanes, and from the naked eye to new scanning microscopes and 3-D scanning. You’ll also uncover the names of other scientists, researchers, and collectors that our paleobiologists corresponded with, the specimens that they collected, and the locations they collected in. We hope you’ll share these findings with us by tweeting with the challenge hashtag #FossilFossick and/or adding them to our Google spreadsheet.

    Local field note-book no. 2 of Lester F. Ward, October 16, 1892 to May 7, 1893. http://biodiversitylibrary.org/bibliography/107244. Smithsonian Institution Archives.

    If you successfully transcribe all of the field notes in the challenge, we’ll celebrate with a live webcast with Dr. Nicholas D. Pyenson, Curator of Fossil Marine Mammals at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History, on October 26 via the BHL Periscope account (@BioDivLibrary). He’ll show off some of his favorite specimens in the collection and you’ll have the opportunity to ask him your most pressing fossil questions.

    So, do you accept our challenge? If so, dig into the field notes here:



    Be sure to share your discoveries using our challenge hashtag, #FossilFossick. Learn more about the collectors who created these field notes and get updates on challenge progress by following #FossilStories all next week.

    Welcome to the #FossilFossick Challenge!

    0 0
  • 10/13/15--05:00: Welcome to Fossil Stories!
  • Welcome to Fossil Stories, a week-long social media event (presented by the Biodiversity Heritage Library in collaboration with several of our partner institutions) celebrating fossils!


    Today, we recognize fossils as representing the preserved remains or traces of life from the ancient past. The scientific study of these fossils, how they formed, and their evolutionary relationship with each other and living species is known as paleontology.

    Humans have been uncovering fossils for millennia, but we have not always understood what they were. Many of these fossils have inspired myths and legends over the centuries, including griffins, dragons, giants, and monsters.

    Myths aside, the term "fossil" originally referred to anything that was dug up from the ground, including inorganic materials such as minerals. Even those specimens that were of organic origin were not widely understood as such, and it was not until the 16th century that books recognizing the similarity between some fossil objects and living creatures began to be published. And while some breakthroughs did occur during the Renaissance, it was not until the early 1800s that the reality of extinction was widely established or that the field of paleontology as we know it today was born.

    And those dinosaurs that everyone loves? The first dinosaur genus was not described and validly named until the 19th century, and the term dinosaur (from the scientific clade "Dinosauria") did not appear until 1842.

    The study of fossils not only reveals Earth's past, helping us delve into the origin of life itself, but it also informs research about our planet's future through, for example, records of ancient climate change that can inform models regarding future change.

    All week (October 13-16, 2015), we'll be celebrating the world of fossils, the history of paleontology, and the men, women, and publications that shaped our knowledge about life preserved in stones with  social media content, including:

    All content will be tagged with the event hashtag, #FossilStories, to make it easy for you to follow along and catch all of our great posts. You can find more information about the webcasts and the citizen science challenge below. We hope you'll join us in our fossil-mania this week! We're sure you'll dig it! 


    Webcasts
    The Fossil Stories webcasts will feature paleontologists, fossil research, and fossil exhibits at some of America's most prestigious natural history institutions. For the webcasts featuring paleontologists at the respective institutions, you'll have the opportunity to ask these experts your fossil questions!

    The webcast schedule is:


    *For events on Periscope, follow the indicated account on Periscope (Periscope will then alert you when the webcast is live) OR follow @BioDivLibrary or the presenting institution on Twitter to get the link to the event. When the event is live, the link to access the webcast will be tweeted out on the host institution's Twitter account and BHL's Twitter account.

    Citizen Science Challenge




    For Fossil Stories, we've teamed up with The Field Book Project, the Smithsonian Transcription Center, and Smithsonian Institution Archives to issue you a #FossilFossick citizen science challenge! Last Friday, October 9, we released a set of paleontology field notes from the Smithsonian's collection into the Transcription Center. We're excited to announce that all 252 pages of field notes that we released for the challenge have been successfully transcribed and reviewed as of Oct. 12! Thanks to all of our great volunteers for their hard work and dedication! We'll be sharing more information about the paleontologists featured in the challenge, and highlights from the challenge, all week, so be sure to follow #FossilStories to catch all this great information.

    As a reward for successfully completing the challenge, we'll be featuring a live webcast with Dr. Nicholas D. Pyenson, Curator of Fossil Marine Mammals at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History, on October 26 via the BHL Periscope account (@BioDivLibrary). He’ll show off some of his favorite specimens in the collection and you’ll have the opportunity to ask him your most pressing fossil questions, so be sure to tune in! More information to come later.

    We hope to see you on social media this week! Let the #FossilStories begin!

    0 0

    During the 1990-91 austral summer, geologist David Elliot came across fossil bones on Mount Kirkpatrick in the Beardmore Glacier region of the Transantarctic Mountains in Antarctica at an altitude of ~4,000 m (13,000 ft) high and about 640 km (400 mi) from the South Pole. The team notified paleontologist Bill Hammer, who then excavated the fossil-bearing rock over a three week period. The excavated skeleton was eventually given the name Cryolophosaurus ellioti in an 1994 article in Science by Hammer and paleontologist William J. Hickerson. Two subsequent expeditions to Mount Kirkpatrick in 2003 and 2010-11 recovered yet more remains of Cryolophopsaurus, as well parts of three herbivorous dinosaurs.

    Cryolophosaurus ellioti was a significant find. It was the first carnivorous dinosaur to be discovered in Antarctica and the first non-avian dinosaur from the continent to be officially named. It dates from the Early Jurassic Period, and is ~194 million years old.

    At this point, at least a few of you are probably saying, "I didn't know there used to be dinosaurs in Antarctica!" Anxious to learn more about the previous inhabitants of Earth's southern-most continent? Well, you're in luck.




    On October 13, at 11am EST, The Field Museum hosted a live webcast with Dr. Peter J. Makovicky, Associate Curator of Dinosaurs at The Field Museum. Dr. Makovicky was interviewed by none other than Field's Chief Curiosity Correspondent, Emily Graslie, whom you may recognize from her show The Brain Scoop.

    Did you miss the live event? You can see the recording of it here: http://sml.fieldmuseum.org/sml/play/DigitalStudio/48-recording

    Dr. Makovicky studies dinosaurian evolutionary history, and he has led expeditions to the western US, China, Argentina and Antarctica. Some of his recent work has focused on Antarctic dinosaurs. In 2007, he co-authored a paper with Dr. Hammer and Drs. Nathan Smith and Diego Pol, as well as lengthy treatment on Cryolophosaurus in the Zoological Journal of the Linnean Society. Smith and Pol named the only other known early Jurassic dinosaur from Antarctica, Glacialisaurus hammer, in 2007.

    Follow our blog and #FossilStories on Twitter and Facebook all week for more great fossil fun and live webcasts. Check out the full webcast schedule below:




    0 0

    The study of mythology associated with fossils is a relatively new field, which Adrienne Mayor (2005) terms “the folklore of paleontology”; she continues by saying that “[c]ombining oral traditions and paleontology, and drawing on history, archaeology, anthropology, and mythology, the investigation of fossil legends offers a new way of thinking about pre-Darwinian encounters with prehistoric remains” (Preface, p. xxiv). Drawing from several resources, one can create a dynamic picture of what a large variety of cultures around the world and throughout time have thought were the myths associated with dinosaur, bird, and other prehistoric fossils.

    Due to extensive travel, Greeks and Romans discovered fossils throughout the Mediterranean and into India (Mayor, 2000b, p. 8). The fossils of dinosaurs, mastodons, mammoths and other creatures were pervasive parts of the natural landscape in the Greek and Roman periods, helping to account for why Greeks and Romans developed mythologies about giant creatures as they sought to understand the presence of these remains (Mayor, 2000b, p. 8). Some highlights from Greek and Roman mythology include the following accounts.

    Griffin, likely inspired by encounters with fossils. Jonstonus, Joannes. Historiae naturalis de quadrupedibus libri. pt. 6 (1657). http://biodiversitylibrary.org/page/40913115. Digitized by Smithsonian Libraries.

    In 675 B.C. when the Greek traveler, Aristeas, visited Scythian nomads in the Gobi deserts, the nomads told him about an area beyond Issedonia where griffins defended gold from the nomads (Mayor, 2000b, pp. 22-3). Aristeas wrote that the nomads would battle the griffins and that Issedonian accounts portrayed these creatures as lion-sized, with curved beaks like eagles (Mayor, 2000b, p. 23). Near Eastern cultures have been depicting such creatures since 3000 B.C. (Mayor, 2000b, p. 23). In the thirteenth century, the Chinese in Turfan and Lop Nur feared the surrounding deserts—which used to be Issedonian lands that were thought to be haunted by demons and dragons. In particular, the people feared the large bones in these deserts, calling them “dragon bones” (Mayor, 2000b, p. 38). In 1922, American adventurer Roy Chapman Andrews followed caravan trails through China to the Gobi desert and found the fossilized remains of Protoceratops (the size of a lion) and Psittacosaurus (which has a prominent beak); these fossil bones combine to form the image of the griffin, as described by the Scythian nomads and later the Greeks, Romans and other cultures (Mayor, 2000b, pp. 39-40).

    Various dragon forms. Dragon myths may have been inspired in part by encounters with fossils. Jonstonus, Joannes. Historiae naturalis de quadrupedibus libri. pts. 2-5 (1657). http://biodiversitylibrary.org/page/40918325. Digitized by Smithsonian Libraries. 

    In North Africa during the third to second century B.C., Carthaginians were digging trenches when they came upon two fossilized skeletons, each about 34 feet long (Mayor, 2000b, p. 153). The skeletons were assumed to be those of mythic giants, and Phlegon of Tralles, who served Hadrian (reigned between A.D. 117-38) at the time, claimed that the skeletons were proof that all life forms were becoming smaller (Mayor, 2000b, p. 149). This area, Ancient Carthage on the Gulf of Tunis, is rich with mastodon fossils, deinotheres, and mammoths (Mayor, 2000b, pp. 153-4), which paleontologists believe to be the source of the giant myths. Mayor provides evidence of the similarity between prehistoric fossils and Greek and Roman mythical creatures by citing contemporary Greek and Roman oral (transcribed) and written histories, as well as artwork produced during these periods.

    Mammoths may have inspired many Native American myths. Westell, William Percival. The book of the animal kingdom. (1910). http://biodiversitylibrary.org/page/10102652.

    Not to be ignored are Native American fossil mythologies from the Americas, also treated by Mayor (2005) in another work. She addresses tribes from North and South America and those mythologies believed to be based on prehistorical fossils by analyzing oral, Native American fossil lore preserved by various people during the colonial period, the sixteenth to eighteenth century, and the nineteenth and twentieth centuries (Preface, pp. xxxvi-xxxviii). Additionally, she interviewed scholars and Native Americans willing to discuss important myths concerning large creatures and monsters that she—and they—associate with fossilized creatures. Included in her findings are myths about monster bison, giants that were neither man nor animal (but were probably based on mastodon bones), a giant monster that promised its own extinction (thought to be a mammoth), giants in Tlaxcala, Mexico believed to have killed all the ancestors of the Tlaxcalteca people (presumed to be inspired by Colombian mammoth fossils), bird monsters (that were probably fossilized prehistoric birds of prey), giant lizards (assumed to be Triceratops) and sea creatures that battled flying creatures (assumed to be the marine fossils of mosasaurs and the fossils of the flying Pteradons, respectively). Each of these mythological creatures, and many more, addressed by Mayor, come from different Native American cultures throughout the Americas, though there are some overlaps occasionally in mythological themes, and the connection between myth and creature is largely supported by the actual presence of fossils in the region of the myth that reflect the appearance of the mythological creature being addressed.

    Want to learn more about the connection between ancient myths and fossils? Then check out these resources (also cited above):

    • Greer, A., Dermitzakis, M. and Vos, J. (2008). Fossil folklore from India: The Siwalik Hills and the Mahâbhârata. Folklore, 119(1), 71-92. 
    • Lyons, S. L. (2009). Species, serpents, spirits, and skulls: Science at the margins in the Victorian age. Albany, N.Y.: State University of New York. 
    • Mayor, A. (2000a). A time of giants and monsters. Archaeology, 53(2), 58-61. 
    • Mayor, A. (2005). Fossil legends of the first Americans. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press. 
    • Mayor, A. (2000b). The first fossil hunters: Dinosaurs, mammoths, and myth in Greek and Roman times. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press.

    Tune in all week for more great fossil fun with our Fossil Stories event, including:
    Follow #FossilStories on Twitter and Facebook to learn more.

    Laurel Byrnes
    Outreach Volunteer
    Biodiversity Heritage Library

    0 0

    Until the end of the 18th century, it was generally believed that species could not become extinct, and despite important scientific advances in the 16th and 17th centuries, it was widely held that since the dawn of life, no new animal or plant species had been created or lost.

    Furthermore, until the 19th century, the word "fossil" referred to any object that had been dug up from the ground, including not only what we recognize today as organic remains, but also gemstones, minerals, and other inorganic materials.

    Fossil crab. Gessner, Conrad. De rerum fossilium, lapidum et gemmarum maximè, figuris & similitudinibus liber. 1565.  http://biodiversitylibrary.org/page/48518847. Digitized by: Smithsonian Libraries.

    Finally, at the time of the 16th and 17th centuries, when the first books on "fossils" were being published, the living equivalent of many "fossil" species had not yet been discovered, making it extremely difficult to draw connections between fossil specimens and living organisms.

    These three scenarios together created a daunting challenge for early naturalists trying to classify and understand fossils, and advances in each were required before true fossils could be widely identified as the remains of past life.

    Conrad Gessner is one of the most influential naturalists in scientific history. Born in Zürich, Switzerland in 1516, his five-volume masterpiece Historiae animalium (1551–1558) is considered the beginning of modern zoology.

    Woodcut illustration of an ammonite, which he placed in the same class as fossil shells.  Gessner, Conrad. De rerum fossilium, lapidum et gemmarum maximè, figuris & similitudinibus liber. 1565. http://biodiversitylibrary.org/page/48518841. Digitized by: Smithsonian Libraries.

    In 1565, Gessner published a short but incredibly important work entitled De rerum fossilium, lapidum et gemmarum maximè, figuris & similitudinibus liber or "A Book on Fossil Objects, Chiefly Stones and Gems, their Shapes and Appearances." While he, like others of his time, included both organic remains and inorganic objects within his definition of fossils, he correctly recognized the resemblance of some fossils to living organisms. For instance, he recognized the similarity between several fossil echinoids and living sea-urchins, as well as a fossil and living crab. Other specimens, however, were more difficult to relate to living species. For instance, Gessner placed various fossil ammonites alongside gastropods and serpents, and the fossilized spines of cidariods he placed within his chapter on fossil wood.

    Detached spines of cidaroids, which Gessner mistakenly placed in his fossil wood chapter, as he thought they resembled the fruit or acorn of a tree. Gessner, Conrad. De rerum fossilium, lapidum et gemmarum maximè, figuris & similitudinibus liber. 1565. http://biodiversitylibrary.org/page/48518770. Digitized by: Smithsonian Libraries.

    In addition to correctly drawing correlations between several fossil objects and living species, On Fossil Objects represented three important innovations in the history of paleontology. First, it was the first publication in which illustrations were used systematically to supplement a text on fossils.

    On Fossil Objects was also the first work on fossils that clearly refers to a distinct collection of fossil objects. The precursors to museum collections were beginning to be aggregated in university and private collections in the 15th and 16th centuries, and these collections were an important step towards ensuring that naturalists were referring to the same species as they could reference a distinct type specimen. On Fossil Objects references the "fossil objects" collection of physician Johann Kentmann of Torgau as the source of many of the objects described within the book, providing a concrete, verifiable point of reference for other naturalists.

    Fossil belemnites. Gessner knew of no comparable living animal. Gessner, Conrad. De rerum fossilium, lapidum et gemmarum maximè, figuris & similitudinibus liber. 1565. http://biodiversitylibrary.org/page/48518695. Digitized by: Smithsonian Libraries.

    Finally, to support research for his book, Gessner corresponded with naturalists across Europe, and thus On Fossil Objects is also the first work on fossils to employ the use of a cooperative research community. This not only helped form the first scholarly paleontological community, but also ensured that a greater breadth of fossil objects could be represented within the book.

    Gessner intended for On Fossil Objects to be merely a prelude to a much larger work on fossil objects akin to his Historiae animalium. Unfortunately, Gessner never had the opportunity to write his next masterpiece. He died of the plague in 1565, shortly after the publication of On Fossil Objects.

    This innovative work on fossils, which helped shape the future of paleontology, was the last publication from one of history's most influential naturalists.


    Fossil Stories

    Stay tuned all week for more great fossil fun with our #FossilStories campaign, including:
    Follow #FossilStories on Twitter and Facebook to learn more.


    0 0

    Our Fossil Stories citizen science challenge - a challenge to fully transcribe three paleontologists' field books from the Smithsonian collection - is complete! Volunteers have successfully transcribed and reviewed 252 pages from 9 field books in just 3.5 days! Thanks to all of our awesome volunteers for their monumental efforts! As a reward, we'll be hosting a behind-the-scenes tour of Smithsonian fossil collections with Dr. Nicholas Pyenson, Curator of Fossil Marine Mammals at the Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History, on the BHL Periscope Account on October 26. Stay tuned on Twitter and Facebook to learn more. Follow #FossilStories all week to learn more about the paleontologists featured in the challenge and to get highlights from our #FossilFossick Challenge.

    Or just read below to learn more about Lester F. Ward!

    One of the field books in the challenge is from Lester Frank Ward. Ward (1841-1913) is probably best known as the "Father of American Sociology," publishing pioneering works in the field. But before he was a sociologist, he was a geologist and paleontologist with the United States Geological Survey (USGS) from 1882 to 1905. Some of his field notes now reside at the Smithsonian Institution Archives as part of the Field Notebooks, 1881-1915 and undated collection (SIA Acc. 07-041).

    Pterophyllum and Ginkgo (USNM 33359 and 33360) on same slab, from Douglas county, Oregon. Collected by Lester Ward and James Storrs, in 1899. Courtesy of Department of Paleobiology, National Museum of Natural History.

    While working for the USGS, he collected living and fossilized examples of plants in the vicinity of the District of Columbia, even publishing a guide to the area’s flora. Examples of his botanical and paleobiological collecting can be seen on Smithsonian's Collections Search Center. His field books tend to offer wonderfully detailed information about his time in the field. This is especially true in his DC field books, in which he describes conversations with individuals offering specimens as well as locality information that specifies street intersections or neighborhoods.

    Page from Lester F. Ward field book. Local field note-book no. 2 of Lester F. Ward, October 16, 1892 to May 7, 1893. http://biodiversitylibrary.org/page/48485371. Smithsonian Institution Archives.

    If you would like to know more about Lester F. Ward, we encourage you to check out his other field books on Collections Search Center, his publications and field book on BHL, and his personal papers at George Washington University.

    Be sure to follow #FossilStories on Twitter and Facebook all week for more great fossil fun and more highlights from our #FossilFossick Challenge!

    Lesley Parilla
    Cataloger
    The Field Book Project

    0 0

    By the seventeenth century, it was still widely believed that species could not become extinct, and a widely-held belief, extending back to Aristotle's time, was that fossils were formed by the Earth itself, and that some "extraordinary Plastick virtue" could create stones that resembled, but were not, living organisms.

    But also during the seventeenth century, some critical advances in the world of science were paving the way for new discoveries regarding fossils.

    Robert Hooke was born at Freshwater, on the Isle of Wight, in 1635. Though of humble origins, he eventually studied at Oxford and impressed many of England's leading scientists with his ability to design experiments and build equipment. In 1662, Hooke was named Curator of Experiments of the newly formed Royal Society of London, where he demonstrated new equipment and experiments during the Society's weekly meetings.

    Robert Hooke's microscope. Micrographia, 1665. http://biodiversitylibrary.org/page/786364. Digitized by: Missouri Botanical Garden.

    One of his inventions was a novel compound microscope and illumination system, one of the best microscopes of the time. In 1665, Hooke published Micrographia, his masterpiece detailing his microscopic observations. It is the first book to illustrate plants and animals as seen through the microscope, and the stunning illustrations capture minute details such as the intricacies of a flea or the cells in cork tissue. In fact, Hooke coined the term "cells," as the structures he saw in his microscope reminded him of the cells of a monastery.

    Hooke also examined fossils with his microscope, thus becoming the first person to do so. Through his observations, he noticed striking similarities between petrified and living wood and fossil shells and living mollusk shells. Comparing petrified wood to a piece of rotten oak wood, Hooke realized that wood could be turned to stone when water deposited minerals throughout the wood. Similarly, his observations on shell-like fossils led him to conclude that shells could also be turned into fossils when they were "fill'd with some kind of Mud or Clay, or petrifying Water, or some other substance."

    A section of petrified wood. Micrographia, 1665. http://biodiversitylibrary.org/page/786478. Digitized by: Missouri Botanical Garden.

    Throughout his life, Hooke continued to study fossils and compare them to living organisms. Recognizing that many fossils did not have living equivalents, he concluded that some represented species that no longer exist. If this was true, he deduced, it was likely that there are species alive today that did not exist in past ages.

    Thus, nearly 200 years before Darwin, Hooke's observations of fossils led him to assert that they are not only the remains of past-living organisms, but that they also document the history and changes of life on Earth.

    Fossil Stories

    Stay tuned all week for more great fossil fun with our #FossilStories campaign, including:
    Follow #FossilStories on Twitter and Facebook to learn more.


    Reference
    UC Berkeley: Robert Hooke

    0 0

    At the end of the eighteenth century, Jean Léopold Nicolas Frédéric Cuvier, also known as Georges Cuvier and widely remembered as the Father of Paleontology, helped establish extinction as a fact and laid the foundation for vertebrate paleontology.

    Born in Montbéliard, France, in 1769, Cuvier formed an interest in natural history at a young age, and by the time he was 26 (in 1795), he became the assistant of Jean-Claude Mertrud, the chair of comparative anatomy at the Jardin des Plantes. Also in 1795, Cuvier was elected a member of the Institut de France's Academy of Sciences, and in 1796, at the opening of the National Institute, he read his first paleontological paper, which was published in 1800 as "Mémoires sur les espèces d'éléphants vivants et fossiles."

    Comparing the jaws of the Indian elephant and the mammoth. Cuvier, Georges. "Mémoires sur les espèces d'éléphants vivants et fossiles." 1800. http://biodiversitylibrary.org/page/16303001. Digitized by Natural History Museum, London.

    The paper presents Cuvier's findings from his analysis of Indian and African elephant skeletons as well as mammoth fossils and a fossil skeleton known as the "Ohio animal," which would later be named "mastodon" by Cuvier. Using comparative anatomy, Cuvier showed for the first time that the Indian and African elephants were distinct species, and that the mammoth and mastodon fossils were distinct from living elephants, thus representing extinct species. This work represents a major milestone in the history of paleontology by establishing the use of comparative anatomy within the field and confirming the reality of extinction.

    While Cuvier's work established extinction as a fact, he believed that these extinctions were the result of catastrophism. Catastrophism is the theory that several global catastrophes have occurred throughout Earth's history, resulting in the extinction of many species that were then replaced by new species in successive eras. Cuvier discussed these ideas in great detail in the preliminary discourse of his Recherches sur les ossements fossiles de quadrupèdes ("Researches on quadruped fossil bones"), published in 1812. This work also summarizes Cuvier's principal palaeontological and geological investigations.

    Megatherium, a genus of elephant-sized ground sloths endemic to South America. Cuvier, Georges. Recherches sur les ossemens fossiles de quadrupèdes. t. 4 (1812). http://biodiversitylibrary.org/page/40031828. Digitized by Smithsonian Libraries.

    Cuvier staunchly objected to the evolutionary theories being proposed by naturalists such as Jean-Baptiste Lamarck and Geoffroy Saint-Hilaire, which argued for the gradual transmutation of species over time. These early evolutionary theories held that species were transitory (the concept of a defined species was "unreal"), constantly shifting from one form to another rather than dying off to be replaced by new species. Thus, this theory excluded the possibility of extinction. Cuvier maintained that his extensive experience with fossils indicated that species did not change over time, but instead that the fossil record showed abrupt appearances of new forms and the extinction of old ones. This fueled his support of Catastrophism.

    Later that century, Darwin would propose a new theory of evolution that combined both the idea of extinction and the transmutation of species over time with his publication of On the Origin of Species. While Cuvier (or Lamarck, for that matter) may not have gotten all of the details right regarding the emergence of new species, his contributions to the field of paleontology are extensive, and indeed he is sometimes referred to as the Father of Paleontology. Establishing the reality of extinction, and the use of comparative anatomy within the field, were critical to the progress of paleontology as a science.

    Fossil Stories

    Stay tuned all week for more great fossil fun with our #FossilStories campaign, including:
    Follow #FossilStories on Twitter and Facebook to learn more.


    0 0

    The Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History's FossiLab is a busy place, responsible for preparing newly-collected fossils for Smithsonian's scientists and maintaining the fossils in the Smithsonian's collection. Visitors to the museum can actually watch staff and volunteers at work in the FossiLab, which is located within the Last American Dinosaurs Exhibition.

    One of the projects in the FossiLab is the conservation and rehousing of specimens from the Museum’s fossil marine mammal collection. The specimens range from individual teeth to skulls, jaws and more-or-less complete skeletons comprised of both intact and fragmentary bones. Some of the most important specimens were described by Smithsonian scientists in articles now available online through the Biodiversity Heritage Library. The BHL collection gives FossiLab staff easy access to early photographs and drawings of these fossils, aiding their conservation work greatly. How is that? Fossils tend to break over time (gravity, vibration, and even the most careful handling may cause old repairs to fail or new fractures to form). Most such breaks are easy to repair, but in a large collection of fragmentary bones it’s not always easy to distinguish breaks that occurred during storage from those that predate a fossil’s discovery. When staff compare the bones to the original illustrations, the distinction becomes clear. Not only can they see if fragments have gone missing, but they also learn the approximate shapes of any missing pieces. If you’ve ever put a jigsaw puzzle together, you know how much easier it is to find a missing piece if you know what it looks like!

    The photos below show an example of the FossiLab's work. This past summer, the fossil of an extinct shark-toothed dolphin, Squalodon calvertensis (USNM 10484), was brought to FossiLab for rehousing. It had been described in 1923 by Remington Kellogg in the Proceedings of the United States National Museum. When staff compared the ribs with the photo in the publication (left), they realized that some had broken during their 92 years in storage. A careful search among all the bones in the storage drawer turned up the missing pieces. FossiLab staff reattached them using an archival adhesive before rehousing the entire specimen and returning it to storage. The repaired and rehoused ribs are shown in the photo on the right.

    Ribs from Squalodon calvertensis. Left: Photo from "Description of two squalodonts recently discovered in the Calvert Cliffs, Maryland; and notes on the shark-toothed cetaceans." Kellogg, Remington. Proceedings of the United States National Museum. 62(2462). pg. 1-69. http://biodiversitylibrary.org/page/16118643. Right: Same ribs, recently rehoused at the Smithsonian's FossiLab.

    The FossiLab is also very interested in fossil teeth. Why? According to FossiLab volunteer Advait Jukar, a PhD student at George Mason University, these teeth can help us determine, for example, the number and types of dinosaur species in a region.

    Curious to know more about the fascinating things that fossil teeth can tell us about ancient life and to further explore the work going on at the Smithsonian's FossiLab? You're in luck!



    Tune in today, October 14, at 9am EST for a live tour of the FossiLab with Advait Jukar! The event will take place on the BHL Periscope account. To participate, simply follow BHL (@BioDivLibrary) on Periscope (you'll then receive a notification via Periscope once the event is live) or follow @NMNH or @BioDivLibrary on Twitter. We'll tweet out the link to the Periscope event on those accounts once it's live.

    If you missed the live event, you're in luck. You can see the recording on YouTube!



    We hope to see you today on Periscope, and remember to follow our blog and #FossilStories on Twitter and Facebook all week for more great fossil fun and live webcasts. Check out the full webcast schedule below:



    0 0

    We're so excited that our #FossilStories Citizen Science Challenge was successfully completed on October 12, with 252 pages from 9 field books fully transcribed and reviewed in just 3.5 days! Be sure to tune into the behind-the-scenes tour of Smithsonian fossil collections with Dr. Nicholas Pyenson, Curator of Fossil Marine Mammals at the Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History, via the BHL Periscope on October 26 as a reward for the successful completion of the challenge. More details to come on Twitter and Facebook.

    First page of Harry S. Ladd's first field diary, 1915-72. http://biodiversitylibrary.org/page/48485440. Smithsonian Institution Archives.

    One of the journals in the challenge is from Harry Stephen Ladd (1899-1982), a geologist and paleontologist who worked much of his career with the US Geological Survey. Many of his fossil specimens can be found in the Stratigraphic collections and Mollusca Cenozoic Marine Type collection at the Department of Paleobiology, National Museum of Natural History. He began working in the field in the 1920's and eventually became a leading authority in the geology of the islands in the Pacific Ocean. His two volume diary documents some of his earliest work in the Pacific region. In 1934, he went into the field for the second time with J. Edward Hoffmeister of the University of Rochester to study the coral formations in Fiji (in the 1960s he even used aerial observations made from a helicopter the document the shape and character of Fiji reefs). This work would go on to stimulate the debate about "the coral problem" of how did islands and atolls form. There were two competing theories in the early twentieth century -- Darwin's and Reginald Daly's.

    In the midst of this work, Ladd writes about his experiences in the field, with local communities, and getting married. All of this is shared as a series of letters to his colleague "Edward."

    Page from Harry S. Ladd's second field diary, 1915-72. http://biodiversitylibrary.org/page/48485425. Smithsonian Institution Archives.

    Volunteers working on the #FossilFossick challenge uncovered some awesome quotes from Ladd within his field book. For instance:



    Thanks to our awesome volunteers for the incredible information that they pulled out of Ladd's field books. Stay tuned to our blog on Friday for more highlights from the challenge!

    If you would like to know more about Harry Ladd and E. J. Hoffmeister, we encourage you to check out Ladd's field books and specimen records on Smithsonian's Collections Search Center, his publications and field books in BHL, and Hoffmeister's personal papers at UC San Diego.

    Be sure to follow #FossilStories on Twitter and Facebook all week for more great fossil fun and more highlights from our #FossilFossick Challenge!

    Lesley Parilla
    Cataloger
    The Field Book Project

    0 0

    Most people today are at least somewhat familiar with the order of extinct marine reptiles known as Plesiosauria, thanks to the legend of the Loch Ness monster, which is often described as resembling a plesiosaur. Indeed, some argue that Nessie may in fact be a surviving member of this order. Scientists, however, reject this suggestion, if for no other reason that the Loch Ness lake formed a mere 10,000 years ago, while the fossil record indicates that plesiosaurs went extinct over 66 million years ago. And yet, even if plesiosaurs can't account for the Loch Ness legend, the story of their discovery is still captivating.

    Plesiosaurs are among the first extinct fossil reptiles to be recognized as such. Plesiosaur fossils were described as early as 1605, though in the seventeenth century they were not recognized as extinct reptiles. In 1719, Anglican clergyman William Stukeley, who pioneered archaeological studies at Stonehenge and Avebury, described a partial plesiosaur skeleton that had been brought to his attention by Robert Darwin of Elston, Charles Darwin's great-grandfather. The skeleton had been found at a quarry at Fulbeck, England. It had been used to reinforce the slope of a watering-hole until the fossils were discovered within it, after which it was displayed in the local vicarage as the remains of a sinner killed during the Biblical flood. Stukeley's description in "An Account of the Skeleton of a Large Animal Impressed on Stone," which describes the fossils as belonging to a sea creature such as a crocodile or porpoise, is the first published description of an articulated fossil reptile skeleton.

    Stukeley's plesiosaur. Original Publication: Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London. 1719. Reprint, 1809: http://biodiversitylibrary.org/page/23269260. Digitized by University of California Libraries.

    Further descriptions of plesiosaurs through the early nineteenth century were still based on incomplete specimens. In 1821, William Conybeare and Henry Thomas De la Beche gave the genus its name, Plesiosaurus, when they described a partial skeleton from the collection of Colonel Thomas James Birch.

    It was 1823 when the next great milestone in the plesiosaur story occurred. Famous "fossil-hunter" Mary Anning discovered a nearly complete skeleton at Lyme Regis in Dorset, England. The fossil was acquired by the Duke of Buckingham, who lent it to geologist William Buckland, who himself made it available to William Conybeare. Conybeare described the find, and asserted the full species name, Plesiosaurus dolichodeirus, during the same lecture at which Megalosaurus, the first dinosaur genus to be validly named, was described.

    Anning's plesiosaur. Transactions of the Geological Society. ser. 2, v.1. 1824. http://biodiversitylibrary.org/page/36238986. Digitized by California Academy of Sciences.

    Sadly, despite Mary Anning's significant contribution to the history of plesiosaur discovery, she is not named in Conybeare's paper.

    Fossil Stories

    Stay tuned all week for more great fossil fun with our #FossilStories campaign, including:
    Follow #FossilStories on Twitter and Facebook to learn more.

    0 0

    If you've seen Jurassic World (or even just the trailers), then you're familiar with Mosasaurus. In the film, it's portrayed as a giant aquatic lizard thundering out of the water to devour great white sharks...and other mega prey.

    Of course, the Jurassic World version is an exaggeration of the real thing (the film version is portrayed at 60 feet long, while the real animal maxed out at 46-50 feet long and was not capable of the water acrobatics depicted in the movie), but it is nevertheless based on a real, extinct aquatic reptile.

    An historic account of an early discovery of mosasaur fossils is also probably more of an exaggeration than reality.

    Jaws of the Mosasaur. Harting, Pieter. Album der Natuur. 1866. http://biodiversitylibrary.org/page/35222337. Digitized by Natural History Museum, London.

    According to French geologist Barthélemy Faujas de Saint-Fond's eighteenth century account of the discovery of the second known partial mosasaurus skull, quarrymen at the subterraneous quarries of St. Peter's Mount, at Maestricht, Netherlands, uncovered the massive skull embedded in the rock sometime between 1770-74. They informed local surgeon, Leonard Hoffmann, who reportedly offered a reward for any fossils discovered in the quarry. Hoffmann took the specimen home, only to have canon Godding of Maestricht, who owned the quarry, demand to have the specimen given to him, claiming rightful ownership since the fossil had been discovered on his land. Godding subsequently filed a lawsuit against Dr. Hoffmann, eventually gaining custody of the piece.

    But the story doesn't end there. In 1795, the French revolutionary army captured Maastricht. De Saint-Fond was the Scientific Commissioner for the army, and he entered Maestricht with the express purpose of securing the "celebrated head" for the French. However, when he arrived at Godding's mansion, the skull had already been removed from the house. A reward of six hundred bottles of good wine was offered to anyone who could locate the skull and return it to de Saint-Fond. The next morning, twelve grenadiers brought it to the French camp, where it was packaged and sent to the Museum of Natural History in Paris. De Saint-Fond also reportedly offered a substantial renumeration to Godding for the loss of the fossil.

    Tooth of Mosasaur. Harting, Pieter. Album der Natuur. 1866.  http://biodiversitylibrary.org/page/35222340. Digitized by Natural History Museum, London.

    And so the story goes. Dutch historian Peggy Rompen, however, has found the story to be more fiction than truth. According to her 1995 thesis, Godding was in fact the original owner of the skull. Hoffmann never possessed it, there was never a lawsuit between Godding and Hoffmann, and De Saint-Fond apparently offered no renumeration to Godding for the loss of the fossil. It seems that De Saint-Fond fabricated the story to justify the French seizure of the specimen.

    Mosasaur vertebrae. Camper, Adriaan Gilles. Annales du Muséum national d'histoire naturelle. v. 19 (1812). http://biodiversitylibrary.org/page/3499442. Digitized by Natural History Museum, London.

    Despite the uncertainty surrounding the truth about early discoveries of mosasaur fossils (and additional evidence that some early fossils may have been tampered with), Leonard Hoffmann did corresponded with Dutch Professor Petrus Camper about the infamous mosasaur skull. Hoffmann believed the skull belonged to a giant crocodile, while Camper insisted it was some unknown toothed whale. In 1798, Petrus' son, Adriaan Gilles Camper, reexamined his father's description and decided that the skull must belong to a giant, extinct monitor lizard. He communicated this belief to Georges Cuvier in 1799, and in 1808, Cuvier indicated that, based on comparative anatomy, the specimen did indeed show affinities with lizards. In 1812, Camper published a longer description of several mosasaur fossils from Maastricht. Finally, in 1822, William Daniel Conybeare gave the animal the genus name Mosasaurus, and in 1829, Gideon Mantell supplied the specific epithet hoffmannii.


    Fossil Stories

    Stay tuned all week for more great fossil fun with our #FossilStories campaign, including:
    Follow #FossilStories on Twitter and Facebook to learn more.

    0 0

    French botanist Adolphe-Théodore Brongniart is known as the Father of Paleobotany. Active in many branches of botany, Brongniart is most-remembered for his pioneering work on the relationship between extinct and living plants. In 1822, he published a paper on the classification and distribution of fossil plants, which he subsequently followed-up with his masterpiece Histoire des vegetaux fossiles ("History of fossil plants") in 1828. This work was instrumental in the development of the field of paleobotany.

    In 1828, Brongniart, son of the geologist Alexandre Brongniart (who worked with Georges Cuvier on geological studies in France), first published an introduction to his history of fossil plants, entitled Prodrome d'une histoire des végétaux fossiles. He then followed the introduction with his two-volume magnum opus, Histoire des végétaux fossiles.

    Brongniart, Alexandre. Histoire des végétaux fossiles. (1828-37). http://biodiversitylibrary.org/page/40155235. Digitized by: Smithsonian Libraries.

    Within Histoire, Brongniart asserted that the history of plants could be divided into four periods. Mirroring findings from the animal kingdom, Brongniart found that, with each successive period, the represented plants became more diverse and complex. The first period was dominated by cryptogams; the first conifers emerged in the second period and then cycads in the third. Finally, in the fourth period, flowering plants made their debut. Though there were sharp floral discontinuities during the transitions between these four periods, during each period there were gradual changes within the characteristic groups.

    Brongniart, Alexandre. Histoire des végétaux fossiles. (1828-37). http://biodiversitylibrary.org/page/40155265. Digitized by: Smithsonian Libraries.

    Brongniart's work is important not only because of its impact on the field of paleobotany, but also because it further demonstrated the long, progressive history of life on Earth and the emergence of new, increasingly complex forms of life over time. His work also supported the theory that Earth's climate changed over time, as Brongniart concluded that the fossil record indicated that northern Europe had once had a tropical climate. Furthermore, Brongniart suggested that there was a correlation between the profusion of plants and the emergence of terrestrial vertebrates. As plants increased and diversified, they locked up more and more carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and produced more and more oxygen, thus fueling the environment necessary to support first air-breathing reptiles and later mammals. His theories show striking similarities to modern theories about the evolution of Earth's atmosphere.

    Fossil Stories

    Stay tuned all week for more great fossil fun with our #FossilStories campaign, including:
    Follow #FossilStories on Twitter and Facebook to learn more.

    0 0

    We're so excited that our #FossilStories Citizen Science Challenge was successfully completed on October 12, with 252 pages from 9 field books fully transcribed and reviewed in just 3.5 days! Be sure to tune into the behind-the-scenes tour of Smithsonian fossil collections with Dr. Nicholas Pyenson, Curator of Fossil Marine Mammals at the Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History, via the BHL Periscope on October 26 as a reward for the successful completion of the challenge. More details to come on Twitter and Facebook.

    Several of the field books that have been transcribed as part of the challenge are from G. Arthur Cooper. Cooper (1902-2000) was a paleobiologist at the National Museum of Natural History (NMNH) and a recognized authority on the taxonomy and stratigraphy of Paleozoic brachiopods. Cooper worked at the Smithsonian, 1930 – 1974, first as assistant curator in the U.S. National Museum, later progressing through the ranks, becoming chairman of the Department of Paleobiology.  The Field Book Project includes records for 105 field books documenting his extensive field work in the United States, Canada, and Mexico. During his many years with the Museum, he amassed a fossil collection numbering in the thousands, now housed in the Paleobiology department, often part of the stratigraphic, Mollusca, or Bryozoa collections. His digitized field books document his work during the 1950’s and 60’s.

    G. Arthur Cooper, c. 1957. Smithsonian Institution Archives, RU009524, Box 1, G. Arthur Cooper Oral History Interviews. Negative number 86-497.

    During the #FossilFossick challenge, volunteers found great connections between the work documented in the field book and outside resources. Take, for instance:


    Thanks to all of our volunteers for the awesome connections they made as part of this challenge! Stay tuned to our blog tomorrow for more highlights from the challenge!

    To learn more, check out his publications and field books in BHL, as well as his field books and images on Smithsonian’s Collections Search Center.

    You can also see interviews with Dr. Cooper on the Smithsonian Institution Archives' YouTube channel! Find out how he prepared and photographed fossil specimens (below) and see how fossil specimens are etched out of a rock.



    Be sure to follow #FossilStories on Twitter and Facebook all week for more great fossil fun and more highlights from our #FossilFossick Challenge!

    Lesley Parilla
    Cataloger
    The Field Book Project

    0 0

    When the fossils of extinct species were first discovered, they were often misidentified. Case in point: Ichthyosaurs.

    The first probable illustrations of ichthyosaur fossils were published by Edward Lhuyd in his Lithophylacii Brittannici Ichnographia, 1699. He attributed the fossils to fish. In 1708, Swiss naturalist Johann Jakob Scheuchzer attributed two ichthyosaur vertebrae to a man who drowned during the Biblical flood. In 1783, an ichthyosaur jaw with teeth was exhibited by the Society for Promoting Natural History as those of a crocodilian. In 1804, Edward Donovan discovered a four metres long ichthyosaur specimen that he described as a giant lizard.

    In 1811, a young boy named Joseph Anning discovered a "crocodile" skull in the cliffs near his home in the seaside community of Lyme Regis, England. A year later, in 1812, his sister, Mary Anning, uncovered the torso of the same specimen. Mary would go on to discover many incredibly important fossils throughout her lifetime.

    Ichthyosaurus skull discovered by Joseph Anning. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London. v. 104. 1814. http://biodiversitylibrary.org/page/48435496. Digitized by: Natural History Museum, London.

    The Anning specimen was sold and later acquired by the British Museum. British surgeon Sir Everard Home was intrigued by the specimen, and, in 1814, published a description of it in the Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London. This article would later be recognized as the first scientific publication dedicated to an ichthyosaurus. Home believed the specimen was more closely related to fish than any other group, although he expressed some doubts, as several aspects of it resembled reptiles. He concluded that it represented a transitional form between fish and crocodiles, exhibiting, like the platypus, he argued, traits of many different groups.

    Ichthyosaurus torso discovered by Mary Anning. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London. v. 104. 1814. http://biodiversitylibrary.org/page/48435498. Digitized by: Natural History Museum, London.

    In 1817, German naturalist Karl Dietrich Eberhard König referred to the specimen as Ichthyosaurus, or "fish saurian." Although he would not publish this name until 1825 (in his Icones fossilium sectiles), and despite the fact that in 1819 Home proposed the formal generic name of Proteosaurus in a scientific publication, other naturalists such as William Conybeare and Henry Thomas De la Beche adopted the name Ichthyosaurus in their own publications. By the standards of nomenclature, Home's name should have priority, as it was published first, but the prevalent use of the name Ichthyosaurus consigned Proteosaurus to a status of "forgotten" nomen oblitum.

    Today, we use the order Ichthyosauria, which was proposed by Henri Marie Ducrotay de Blainville in 1835, to describe over fifty valid genera of marine reptiles that flourished during the Mesozoic era and went extinct in the Late Cretaceous.


    Fossil Stories

    Stay tuned all week for more great fossil fun with our #FossilStories campaign, including:
    Follow #FossilStories on Twitter and Facebook to learn more.

    0 0

    Pterosaurs, flying reptiles that lived 228-66 million years ago, are the earliest vertebrates known to have evolved the capacity for powered flight.

    The first known pterosaur specimen was described by Cosimo Alessandro Collini in 1784. Twenty years earlier, in 1764, Collini had been appointed to supervise the Naturalienkabinett at Mannheim, established as part of the Kurpfälzische Academy of Sciences, in present-day Germany. The first-known pterosaur specimen arrived at Mannheim sometime between 1767 and 1784, probably originating from Bovaria. Collini was baffled by the specimen, but deduced that it was not a bird or a bat. He concluded that it must have been some form of marine creature, since he assumed that the ocean depths were more likely than land to house unknown species.

    Collini's pterosaur. Cuvier, Georges. Recherches sur les ossemens fossiles de quadrupèdes. t. 4 (1812). http://biodiversitylibrary.org/page/40032094. Digitized by: Smithsonian Libraries.

    In 1800, Jean Hermann, Professor of Medicine in Strasbourg, drew the legendary paleontologist Georges Cuvier's attention to the specimen through a letter that included the first restoration of a pterosaur. Hermann interpreted the figure as an intermediate form between birds and mammals and correctly deduced that the long fourth finger was used to support a wing membrane.

    Reviewing Collini's description and conclusions, Cuvier declared that the animal was actually an extinct flying reptile, which he named "Ptero-Dactyle" (Greek for "wing finger"). Cuvier published his findings in a short description in 1801 and then followed it with a longer publication in 1809. In 1818, Lorenz Oken, Professor of Medicine and Natural History at Jena, latinized Cuvier's name to Pterodactylus.

    In 1812, Samuel Thomas von Sömmerring at the Academy of Science of Bavaria published the first binomial for a pterosaur. Working from the Collini specimen, Sömmerring named the creatureOrnithocephalus antiquus (now Pterodactylus antiquus), believing it to be a form between mammals and birds (with which Cuvier disagreed. He again described the pterosaur as a reptile in his 1812 publication). Even into the mid-1800s, despite mounting evidence for the reptilian interpretation, many still believed that Pterodactylus antiquus represented other groups. For instance, in 1830, German zoologist Johann Georg Wagler published a paper on amphibians in which he interpreted the pterosaur's wings as flippers.

    Pterosaur with wings interpreted as flippers. Wagler, Johann Georg. Natürliches System der Amphibien. 1830. http://biodiversitylibrary.org/page/38966085. Digitized by: Smithsonian Libraries.

    Although many additional Pterodactylus species were named over the years, these were found to belong to other genera or to be juvenile forms of P. antiquus, which is now the only valid species within this genus.


    Fossil Stories

    Stay tuned all week for more great fossil fun with our #FossilStories campaign, including:
    Follow #FossilStories on Twitter and Facebook to learn more.

    0 0

    In 1676, the lower part of a massive femur was discovered in the Taynton Limestone Formation of Stonesfield limestone quarry, Oxfordshire. The bone was given to Robert Plot, Professor of Chemistry at the University of Oxford and first curator of the Ashmolean Museum. Plot published a description of it in 1677 in the Natural History of Oxfordshire. The illustration that accompanied the description is the first known published illustration of a dinosaur bone.

    First published illustration of a dinosaur bone. The Natural History of Oxfordshire. 1677. http://biodiversitylibrary.org/page/48062596. Digitized by Smithsonian Libraries.

    Plot first concluded that the bone belonged to a Roman war elephant, but later decided that it must instead represent the thighbone of a giant human like those described in the Bible. In 1763, Richard Brookes used Plot's illustration of the thigh bone in his six-volume publication A System of Natural History. His reproduction of the illustration includes a caption that reads Scrotum Humanum, referencing the visual similarity between the bone and the human scrotum. Though the name is not considered valid today, its structure, following the Linnaean system of binomial nomenclature, has caused some to argue that it represents the first species name ever applied to an extinct dinosaur, because this thighbone does not, in fact, belong to a giant human, as Plot concluded. It belonged to a dinosaur, probably a Megalosaurus, although, since the specimen has since been lost, it's impossible to know with certainty which species it belonged to.

    Scrotum Humanum notwithstanding , Megalosaurus represents the first dinosaur genus to be described and validly named. In 1824, William Buckland gave the genus the name Megalosaurus in his article "Notice on the Megalosaurus or Great Fossil Lizard of Stonesfield," describing it as an extinct giant reptile. The lithograph of the Megalosaurus jaw that accompanied the description was based on drawings done by Buckland's wife, Mary Morland. Later in 1827, Gideon Mantell, in his The Geology of the southeast of England, assigned the type specimen its current valid binomial: Megalosaurus bucklandii.

    Megalosaurus jaw and teeth. Transactions of the Geological Society. ser.2, v. 1 (1824). http://biodiversitylibrary.org/page/36238855. Digitized by: California Academy of Sciences.

    The carnivorous Megalosaurus, together with the herbivorous Iguanodon and armored Hylaeosaurus, were the three genera later used by Richard Owen to define Dinosauria.


    Fossil Stories

    Stay tuned all week for more great fossil fun with our #FossilStories campaign, including:
    Follow #FossilStories on Twitter and Facebook to learn more.

    0 0

    The second validly-named dinosaur was Iguanodon, but the identification of its fossils as a distinct and extinct species was a somewhat long and arduous process.

    In 1822, Gideon Mantell, English geologist and paleontologist, came into possession of some large fossil teeth, discovered either by himself or his wife, Mary Ann. At the time of the discovery, Mantell had been acquiring and studying British fossils for several years, and he was in the process of publishing his first book, The Fossils of South Downs (1822).

    Realizing that the teeth were something unique, but not certain what they were, Mantell presented them to several members of the Geological Society of London, including William Buckland, who described and validly named the first dinosaur genus, Megalosaurus. Geologist Charles Lyell also showed some of the teeth to the "Father of Paleontology," Georges Cuvier. The teeth were initially dismissed as belonging to fish or a rhinoceros (even Cuvier at first attributed them to a rhinoceros). However, after his publication on Megalosaurus, Buckland again viewed Mantell's collection of teeth, this time concluding that they were in fact teeth from a giant reptile, which he believed to be carnivorous. Emboldened by Buckland's opinion, Mantell again sent some of the teeth to Georges Cuvier, who this time responded that he believed they were actually reptilian, belonging to an herbivore of some kind.

    The original Iguanodon teeth described by Mantell. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London. v. 115. 1825. http://biodiversitylibrary.org/page/48364668. Digitized By: Natural History Museum, London.
    Hoping to elucidate the nature of the teeth further, Mantell visited the Royal College of Surgeons in 1824, where he discovered that his teeth resembled those of an iguana skeleton recently prepared by the College's assistant-curator, Samuel Stutchbury.

    Mantell was finally ready to formally present his findings. In recognition of the resemblance between modern iguana teeth and his own fossils, Mantell gave his genus the name Iguanodon, meaning "iguana-tooth." The name and description were published in the Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London in 1825 within his article "Notice on the Iguanodon, a Newly Discovered Fossil Reptile, from the Sandstone in Tilgate Forest, in Sussex."

    Fossil Iguanodon remains described by Mantell. Now classified as Mantellodon carpenteri. Mantell, Gideon. The Wonders of Geology. v. 1 (1841). http://biodiversitylibrary.org/page/40448764. Digitized by: Smithsonian Libraries.

    Although the genus name Iguanodon means "iguana-tooth," Iguanodon represents ornithopod, herbivorous dinosaurs, which we now know are only very distantly related to modern snakes, lizards (like iguanas), and turtles (learn more about how dinosaurs, modern reptiles, and birds are related). Nevertheless, Mantell's description represents the second dinosaur genus to be described and validly named, and together with Megalosaurus and Hylaeosaurus, were used to define Dinosauria in 1842.


    Fossil Stories

    Stay tuned all week for more great fossil fun with our #FossilStories campaign, including:
    Follow #FossilStories on Twitter and Facebook to learn more.

older | 1 | .... | 18 | 19 | (Page 20) | 21 | 22 | .... | 37 | newer