Chapter

Bones of Contention the American Incognitum and the Discovery of Extinction

in Nature's Ghosts

Published by University of Chicago Press

Published in print October 2009 | ISBN: 9780226038148
Published online March 2013 | e-ISBN: 9780226038155 | DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.7208/chicago/9780226038155.003.0002
Bones of Contention the American Incognitum and the Discovery of Extinction

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In addition to his considerable accomplishment in the political sphere, Thomas Jefferson was also a skilled naturalist who made early, important contributions to the field of paleontology. At the height of the American Revolution, while the outcome of the rebellion against Great Britain remained uncertain, Jefferson grappled with the problem of fossils. His Notes on the State of Virginia signaled the beginning of his active interest in fossil vertebrates. Jefferson meticulously cataloged the natural resources of his home state and the surrounding region. The first animal he described was “the Mammoth, or big buffalo.” For the remainder of his life, Jefferson vigorously pursued the American incognitum (as the animal was often referred to at the time) and other quadrupeds whose fossilized remains were periodically uncovered across North America. This chapter focuses on the American incognitum and the discovery of extinction. It focuses on natural history and the order of nature, nationalism and the natural world, the exhumation of the mastodon, and Georges Cuvier's research on elephants.

Keywords: Thomas Jefferson; extinction; incognitum; Georges Cuvier; fossils; natural history; nationalism; mastodon; elephants

Chapter.  13317 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: Environmental History

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