Chapter

The last mass extinction (1826–31)

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: http://dx.doi.org/10.7208/chicago/9780226731308.003.0015
The last mass extinction (1826–31)

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This chapter describes what was widely taken to be growing evidence for the reality of a geologically recent “revolution,” based on how it seemed to have affected the living world. In the middle years of the 1820s, William Buckland worked hard to consolidate his claim that the effects of the enigmatic diluvial event had been extremely widespread or even worldwide. However, his diluvial interpretation of fossil evidence was continuously challenged by John Fleming's critique, namely that the “antediluvial” and “postdiluvial” faunas were not as distinct as Buckland (and Cuvier) claimed, and that the alleged mass extinction of the spectacular megafauna might in fact have been gradual, piecemeal, and due to the hunting and other activities of early humans. Charles Lyell emerged at this time as a shrewd commentator on current research. He was clearly in the mainstream of geological opinion: he expressed confidence in the almost consensual picture of geohistory as directional, in terms both of a gradually cooling global climate and of a broadly progressive fossil record.

Keywords: William Buckland; John Fleming; Charles Lyell; geohistory; diluvial fossils; mass extinction; cooling climate

Chapter.  7715 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: History of Science and Technology

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