Tuesday, November 08, 2011

The Bones of the Drowned

In 1726, Swiss scientist Johann Scheuchzer published the Lithographia Helvetica, in which he analyzed several fossils. Alongside the ancient remains of various primordial shellfish was the vertebrate pictured to the right. Scheuchzer dubbed the thing Homo Diluvii Testis; Latin for Evidence of a Diluvian Human. Scheuchzer believed the fossil to be the crushed and distorted remains of a man, drowned in the biblical flood. Homo Diluvii was scientific evidence of god's wrath, frozen forever in stone.

Eighty-six years later, a French zoologist with a prodigious name (Jean Léopold Nicolas Frédéric Cuvier...known to his friends and academic colleagues as Georges) studied the Homo Diluvii fossil in the Netherlands and concluded that the bones were not those of a human being. It was not long afterwards that the fossil was identified as belonging to a prehistoric species of giant salamander, and Homo Diluvii was renamed Andrias Scheuchzeri. Despite being the one to disprove Scheuchzer's theory, Cuvier himself did not believe in early notions of evolution and contended that extinction was an impossibility. When faced with the remains of animals that clearly no longer existed, Cuvier proposed the existence of multiple previous worlds, each destroyed by cataclysms to make way for our own.

In 1936, Czech satirical author Karel Čapek (the man responsible for coining the term "robot") read about the Andrias Scheuchzeri and it inspired his dystopian novel War with the Newts. The novel was intended to comment upon racism and fascism, depicting the intelligent descendents of the salamanders enslaved by humanity only to revolt and conquer most of civilization.

The Andrias Scheuchzeri fossil is hardly remarkable when compared to the other fossils that scientists have recovered. It stands around three feet high, is far from complete, and the giant salamander lacks the impressive, iconic status of, say, a tyrannosaurus or a mammoth. And yet, the Scheuchzeri is unique among all others. It has been shown to have a certain quality that leads men to consider doomsday.

Perhaps it's in the eyes.

But don't take my word for it!
-You can read about it in a book.
-Or, alternately, you can read about in this book.

No comments:

Post a Comment