Strange Science: The Rocky Road to Modern Paleontology and Biology

Ever wonder how people figured out there used to be such things as dinosaurs? Curious about how scientists learned to reconstruct fossil skeletons? The knowledge we take for granted today was slow in coming, and along the way, scientists and scholars had some weird ideas.

Travelogues: SmithsonianCradle of Humankind Burgess Shale ROM Galápagos UK Darwin Groupie Handouts 1 2 3

New in the Goof Gallery

Hair-color-sample tin Bipedal, spiky stegosaur Trading card Brethmechin

Featured in the Goof Gallery

Prehistoric grouch Elephant battle Burgess Shale scene Contrived dragon

Featured in Biographies

Benjamin Waterhouse Hawkins Frederik Ruysch Gideon Mantell Francis Galton

Timeline Tidbits

1443-Workmen digging the foundation of St. Stephen's Cathedral in Vienna find a huge femur (probably from a mammoth). The bone is inscribed with its discovery date and the motto of Emperor Frederick III, and chained to one of the cathedral doors.

1519-Tlaxcalteca warriors from the Yucatán present Cortés's army with "giant's bones" that are actually mastodon remains.

1603-Two brothers find a mammoth tusk while fishing near Rotterdam. They rightly attribute the fossil to a proboscidean, but wrongly guess it belonged to one of Hannibal's elephants.

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.

1894-The intricately carved mammoth ivory figurine known as the Lady (or Venus) of Brassempouy is discovered in France. At roughly 25,000 years old, it ranks among the earliest known depictions of a human face.

Things you should know about this site

This is not a comprehensive history of paleontology or biology, nor is it the result of systematic research. It's not the work of a professional scientist, educator or historian. It's just an eclectic collection of old illustrations and information.

Although this site focuses more on the history of science than on evolution, it treats evolution as a scientific fact, not "just a theory."