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Timeline of the great findings of Paleontology and Biology

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Rebecca
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« on: September 05, 2008, 01:26:33 pm »

1704-D. Michael Bernhard Valentini assembles sources of "true and false" unicorn horns.


1705-The Ambonese Curiosity Cabinet by G.E. Rumphius is published. It provides detailed descriptions of soft and hard shellfish, minerals, rocks and fossils from Indonesia.

1705-Maria Sybilla Merian publishes Metamorphosis Insectorum Surinamensium describing insect species and other animals she has studied in Surinam.

1705-A giant fossil tooth is found along the banks of the Hudson River. It will initially be identified (by Cotton Mather) as that of a human giant who perished in Noah's flood, then correctly identified (by Georges Cuvier) as that of a mastodon.

1707-Hans Sloane publishes the first of two volumes describing the natural wonders of Jamaica. (The second volume will be published in 1725.)

1714-On the advice of Leibniz, Peter the Great opens a public museum in Saint Petersburg.

1715-Edmund Halley lectures the Royal Society that the age of the earth could be calculated by measuring the ocean's salinity since ocean salts result from sediments carried by rivers and streams.

1717-Dutch pharmacist Albertus Seba inventories his wonder cabinet for the avid collector Peter the Great, including 1,000 European insects and 400 animal specimens. The czar buys the inventory, and Seba begins his second collection, which he will describe in print starting in 1734.

1719-William Stukeley publishes "An Account of the Almost Entire Sceleton of a Large Animal in a Very Hard Stone." The fossil is a plesiosaur, but is identified as a crocodile.

1720-René Réaumur submits a report to the Paris Academy of Sciences proposing that a brief Noachian flood cannot account for the thick sedimentary layers (composed largely of broken shells) underlying the region of Tours. He suggests instead that the region was once covered by the sea.

1722-Benoît de Maillet anonymously publishes Telliamed, named after an oriental sage who says that the earth must be at least 2 billion years old, based on measurements of falling sea level. (In fact, no sage exists; the title is really the author's name spelled backward.)

1723-Antoine de Jussieu addresses a paper to the Académie des Sciences suggesting that an ancient object, e.g., a stone tool, made of the same material and by the same process as those used by a modern population probably has the same function.

1728-Hans Sloane publishes two papers on fossils found in Siberia and North America arguing that they are fossil elephants, not giants or monsters.


1731-Johann Jakob Scheuchzer publishes Sacred Physics, a pictorial account of earth's history based on the Old Testament. Included is a description of what he believes is a fossilized victim of the biblical flood.


1735-Linnaeus publishes Systema Naturae, laying the groundwork for the system of binomial nomenclature that will continue for over two centuries.

1739-Native Americans traveling with French soldiers find mastodon fossils along the Ohio River. The bones will be shipped back to France and become the first American fossils studied by scientists.

1744-Scholar and teacher Abraham Trembley publishes Mémoires Concerning the Natural History of a Type of Freshwater Polyp with Arms Shaped Like Horns. After watching them move and eat, he has concluded that the simple creatures (later to be classified as cnidarians) are animals, not plants.

1749-Georges-Louis Leclerc de Buffon publishes the first volume of Historie Naturelle, claiming that the planets were formed by a comet crashing into the sun. Under pressure from the Faculty of Theology of Paris, he will publish a retraction in the next volume.

1751-Encyclopedists Diderot and d'Alembert publish the first volume of the Encyclopedia, or Classified Dictionary of Sciences, Arts and Trades emphasizing a dispassionate presentation of factual information rather than reliance on age-old "wisdom."

1753-The British Museum opens.

1760-Giovanni Arduino proposes a naming system for geologic strata, in order of oldest to youngest: Primary: lacking fossils; Secondary: tilted with fossils; Tertiary: horizontal with fossils; Quaternary: sands and gravels overlying Tertiary strata. Although he does not relate these systems to scripture, many people will interpret them in terms of biblical events.

1762-George III purchases the Paper Museum of Cassiano Dal Pozzo, a 17th-century patron of arts and sciences. Preserved by the Albani family, this "museum" contains more than 7,000 science illustrations, including highly accurate depictions from the Lincean Academy that will prove invaluable to later science historians.

1767-Benjamin Franklin writes a thank-you letter to a wealthy Irish trader for a box of proboscidian "tusks and grinders." Franklin believes the remains belong to elephants but makes astute observations about how their climate must have differed from the present.

1768-James Cook sets sail on the Endeavour bound for the South Pacific. Accompanying Cook is naturalist Joseph Banks, who will collect tens of thousands of plant and animal specimens and initiate the exchange of flora and fauna between Europe, the Americas and the South Seas.

1769-William Hunter publishes a paper describing an American fossil proboscidian as a carnivore and suggesting that it is extinct.

1770-Erasmus Darwin has the allegorical motto E conchis omnia or "Everything from shells" painted on his carriage, promoting the idea of common descent. Bowing to social pressure, he removes it shortly thereafter.

1771-Joseph Priestly discovers that a plant can produce enough breathable air to sustain a mouse and keep a candle burning. Though he describes it in different terms, he has discovered oxygen.

1776-Patriots in the North American colonies sign the Declaration of Independence.

1776-Abbé Jacques-François Dicquemare describes reptilian fossils in Journal de Physique but refrains from speculating about their sources.

1778-Buffon publishes Les Epoques de la Nature, asserting that the earth is a staggering 74,832 years old, and has existed long before the arrival of humans or any other form of life.

c.1780-Abraham Gottlob Werner asserts that all rocks have been deposited by a primordial ocean. This "Neptunian" view is accepted with little question.

1784-Charles Willson Peale establishes a natural history museum in Philadelphia, one of the first successful American museums.

1784-Historian and naturalist Cosimo Alessandro Collini publishes a description of the first known pterosaur.

1785-Thomas Jefferson publishes Notes on the State of Virginia refuting Buffon's claim that America's harsh, moist climate stunts the growth of its inhabitants. He also addresses the issue of race, describing Native Americans favorably, but African slaves unfavorably.

1787-Caspar Wistar and Timothy Matlack inform the American Philosophical Society of Philadelphia that they have discovered a "giant's bone" in New Jersey. (The bone probably belongs to a dinosaur.) Soon afterwards, the bone is lost.

1787-Anatomist and artist Petrus Camper publishes On the Absurdity of the Supposed Unicorns arguing that no land species has a cranial structure that can support a single heavy bone mass above the eyes.


1788-Juan-Bautista Bru mounts the first relatively accurate fossil reconstruction of an extinct animal from South America. Georges Cuvier classifies it as a giant sloth.


1789-French polymath Antoine Lavoisier publishes a paper on French geology defining peacefully deposited pelagic sediments and violently deposited littoral sediments. He argues that these sediments illustrate a fluctuating sea level on an ancient planet.

1789-The French Revolution begins.

1794-James Hutton publishes An Investigation of the Principles of Knowledge. Buried in the 2,138-page philosophical tome is a chapter about variety in nature in which Hutton anticipates Charles Darwin's theory of natural selection.

1795-James Hutton overturns the "Neptunian" view of rock formation in his Theory of the Earth, suggesting instead that forces of rock creation are balanced by forces of rock destruction.

1799-Faujas publishes a description of the Maastricht animal, a spectacular mosasaur found in chalk quarries in the Netherlands, describing it as a crocodile.

1799-Charles White publishes An Account of the Regular Gradation in Man, and in Different Animals and Vegetables, a treatise on the great chain of being, showing people of color at the bottom of the human chain.

1799-Thomas Jefferson publishes a paper describing Megalonyx, a North American fossil ground sloth similar to the one found in South America.

1799-Alexander von Humboldt names the Jurassic System, after the Jura Mountains. This time period will later be identified as the "middle period" for the dinosaurs.

1799-George Shaw publishes a description of a platypus even though he suspects the odd animal might be a hoax.


1799-The British government purchases the collection of Scottish anatomist John Hunter, forming the Hunterian Museum.

1799-William Smith maps rock formations in the vicinity of Bath, England, making perhaps the world's first geologic map. The same year, Smith, Joseph Townsend and Benjamin Richardson recognize the Permo-Triassic boundary, though not necessarily by that name. (The Permo-Triassic boundary will later be identified as marking the earth's most catastrophic mass extinction.)
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