Monsters From Deep Time (1819–24)

in Worlds Before Adam

Published by University of Chicago Press

Published in print July 2008 | ISBN: 9780226731285
Published online March 2013 | e-ISBN: 9780226731308 | DOI:
Monsters From Deep Time (1819–24)

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This chapter discusses the discovery of new fossil reptiles from the Lias rocks of England. These were found by fossilists such as Richard Anning, described and named by geologists such as William Daniel Conybeare, and analyzed authoritatively by Georges Cuvier himself. But the significance of the ichthyosaur and plesiosaur, and the other fossil reptiles, could be appreciated fully only if they could each be assigned to their correct relative dates within geohistory. In other words, the fossils' value as traces of the long history of life depended on an accurate assessment of their positions within the pile of rock formations. Cuvier was well aware of the relative ages of, say, the new reptiles from the English Lias and the fossil mammals that he himself had described from the Gypsum formation around Paris. What he and others needed, however, was more precise knowledge of the order, and hence the relative age, of all the formations that were yielding important fossils.

Keywords: fossil reptiles; ichthyosaur; plesiosaur; Georges Cuvier; Richard Anning; William Daniel Conybeare

Chapter.  4899 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: History of Science and Technology

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