April 4 - First Paleontological Lecture!

Posted on April 4, 2017

Even during ancient times, humans saw signs of much-more-ancient creatures that had once lived, but no longer existed.

Just as we do, ancient peoples once in a while found old fossilized bones or other fossils that would made them wonder about creatures who lived long, long ago. Finding a skull that looked like no living creature must have been fascinating to the ancients. We think that myths of cyclops and dragons, among other creatures, were influenced by these rare finds.

It wasn't until Georges Cuvier started to compare the bones and body structures of living creatures to those of fossils that the scientific study of ancient lifeforms began.

This branch of science is called paleontology, because paleo- means "old" or "ancient." (You probably already know that the -logy part of the word basically means "study of.")

Of course, we now call Cuvier the "Father of Paleontology."

(By the way, fossils don't include JUST bones. Any trace of a long-ago creature/organism can be a fossil - tracks or footprints, leaf impressions, seashells, petrified wood, fossilized nests, insects preserved in amber, fossilized teeth and eggs and bones and claws - even fossilized poop! - all are considered fossils.)

The comparison of organisms' body parts is called comparative anatomy, and before Cuvier comparative anatomy only dealt with modern creatures. Based on these comparisons, animals (and plants and other organisms) had, in the early 1700s, been grouped into different species, families, classes, and phyla. This classification system is called Linnaean taxonomy (because the basic structure and many of the classifications were created by a scientist named Carl Linnaeus). 

Starting in the late 1700s, Cuvier expanded Linnaean taxonomy to include extinct creatures that had left behind fossils. 

And on this date in 1796, Cuvier delivered the first lecture on his new science!

Also on this date:

Sonia Kovalevsky Mathematics High School Day (held on different dates by different institutions)

Anniversary of the knighthood of Francis Drake

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