French Naturalist and Zoologist
Georges Cuvier, fully Jean Léopold Nicolas Frédéric Cuvier
French Naturalist and Zoologist
It is to them [fossils] alone that we owe the commencement of even a Theory of the Earth ... By them we are enabled to ascertain, with the utmost certainty, that our earth has not always been covered over by the same external crust, because we are thoroughly assured that the organized bodies to which these fossil remains belong must have lived upon the surface before they came to be buried, as they now are, at a great depth.
Life, therefore, has been often disturbed on this earth by terrible events—calamities which, at their commencement, have perhaps moved and overturned to a great depth the entire outer crust of the globe, but which, since these first commotions, have uniformly acted at a less depth and less generally. Numberless living beings have been the victims of these catastrophes; some have been destroyed by sudden inundations, others have been laid dry in consequence of the bottom of the seas being instantaneously elevated. Their races even have become extinct, and have left no memorial of them except some small fragments which the naturalist can scarcely recognise.
Moreover, it thus follows that not a great deal of time was needed for the large animals of the three major parts of the world to become known to the people who spent time on the coasts of those regions.
My object will be, first, to show by what connections the history of the fossil bones of land animals is linked to the theory of the earth and why they have a particular importance in this respect.
Nurse, it was I who discovered that leeches have red blood.On his deathbed when the nurse came to apply leeches
Fortunately Nature herself seems to have prepared for us the means of supplying that want which arises from the impossibility of making certain experiments on living bodies. The different classes of animals exhibit almost all the possible combinations of organs: we find them united, two and two, three and three, and in all proportions; while at the same time it may be said that there is no organ of which some class or some genus is not deprived. A careful examination of the effects which result from these unions and privations is therefore sufficient to enable us to form probable conclusions respecting the nature and use of each organ, or form of organ. In the same manner we may proceed to ascertain the use of the different parts of the same organ, and to discover those which are essential, and separate them from those which are only accessory. It is sufficient to trace the organ through all the classes which possess it, and to examine what parts constantly exist, and what change is produced in the respective functions of the organ, by the absence of those parts which are wanting in certain classes.
Secondly, the nature of the revolutions which have altered the surface of the earth must have had a more decisive effect on the terrestrial quadrupeds than on the marine animals.
Genius and science have burst the limits of space, and few observations, explained by just reasoning, have unveiled the mechanism of the universe. Would it not also be glorious for man to burst the limits of time, and, by a few observations, to ascertain the history of this world, and the series of events which preceded the birth of the human race?
Since nothing can exist that does not fulfill the conditions which render its existence possible, the different parts each being must be coordinated in such a way as to render possible the existence of the being as a whole, not only in itself, but also in its relations with other beings, and the analysis of these conditions often leads to general laws which are as certain as those which are derived from calculation or from experiment.
Hence the same instant which killed the animals froze the country where they lived. This event was sudden, instantaneous, without any gradual development.
The appearance of the bones of quadrupeds, especially those of complete bodies in the strata, tells us either that the layer itself which carries them was in earlier times dry land or that dry land was at least formed in the immediate area.
I am of opinion, then... that, if there is any circumstance thoroughly established in geology, it is, that the crust of our globe has been subjected to a great and sudden revolution, the epoch of which cannot be dated much farther back than five or six thousand years ago; that this revolution had buried all the countries which were before inhabited by men and by the other animals that are now best known; that the same revolution had laid dry the bed of the last ocean, which now forms all the countries at present inhabited; that the small number of individuals of men and other animals that escaped from the effects of that great revolution, have since propagated and spread over the lands then newly laid dry; and consequently, that the human race has only resumed a progressive state of improvement since that epoch, by forming established societies, raising monuments, collecting natural facts, and constructing systems of science and of learning.
The lowest and most level land areas show us, especially when we dig there to very great depths, nothing but horizontal layers of material more or less varied, which almost all contain innumerable products of the sea.
If they [enlightened men] take any interest in examining, in the infancy of our species, the almost obliterated traces of so many nations that have become extinct, they will doubtless take a similar interest in collecting, amidst the darkness which covers the infancy of the globe, the traces of those revolutions which took place anterior to the existence of all nations.
The observer listens to nature: the experimenter questions and forces her to reveal herself.
In my work on Fossil Bones, I set myself the task of recognizing to which animals the fossilized remains which fill the surface strata of the earth belong... As a new sort of antiquarian, I had to learn to restore these memorials to past upheavals and, at the same time, to decipher their meaning. I had to collect and put together in their original order the fragments which made up these animals, to reconstruct the ancient creatures to which these fragments belonged, to create them once more with their proportions and characteristics, and finally to compare them to those alive today on the surface of the earth. This was an almost unknown art, which assumed a science hardly touched upon up until now, that of the laws which govern the coexistence of forms of the various parts in organic beings.
The older the layers, the more each of them is uniform over a great extent; the newer the layers, the more they are limited and subject to variation within small distances.
In spite of what moralists say, the, animals are scarcely less wicked or less unhappy than we are ourselves. The arrogance of the strong, the servility of the weak, low rapacity, ephemeral pleasure purchased by great effort, death preceded by long suffering, all belong to the animals as they do to men.
The traces of upheavals become more impressive when one moves a little higher, when one gets even closer to the foot of the great mountain ranges. There are still plenty of shell layers. We notice them, even thicker and more solid ones.
It has been long considered possible to explain the more ancient revolutions on... [the Earth's] surface by means of these still existing causes; in the same manner as it is found easy to explain past events in political history, by an acquaintance with the passions and intrigues of the present day. But we shall presently see that unfortunately this is not the case in physical history:—the thread of operation is here broken, the march of nature is changed, and none of the agents that she now employs were sufficient for the production of her ancient works.
The works which this man [Joseph Banks] leaves behind him occupy a few pages only; their importance is not greatly superior to their extent; and yet his name will shine out with lustre in the history of the sciences.
It is evident that one cannot say anything demonstrable about the problem before having resolved these preliminary questions, and yet we hardly possess the necessary information to solve some of them.
It is in this mutual dependence of the functions and the aid which they reciprocally lend one another that are founded the laws which determine the relations of their organs and which possess a necessity equal to that of metaphysical or mathematical laws, since it is evident that the seemly harmony between organs which interact is a necessary condition of existence of the creature to which they belong and that if one of these functions were modified in a manner incompatible with the modifications of the others the creature could no longer continue to exist.
It is my object, in the following work, to travel over ground which has as yet been little explored and to make my reader acquainted with a species of Remains, which, though absolutely necessary for understanding the history of the globe, have been hitherto almost uniformly neglected.
All organs of an animal form a single system, the parts of which hang together, and act and re-act upon one another; and no modifications can appear in one part without bringing about corresponding modifications in all the rest.