EXHIBITS: Meet a Fossil Pioneer

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Science  20 Jul 2001:
Vol. 293, Issue 5529, pp. 399
DOI: 10.1126/science.293.5529.399a

He's the most important paleontologist you've never heard of. In the mid-1800s, when European paleontologists dismissed their American colleagues as yokels, Joseph Leidy proved otherwise with his meticulous studies of vertebrate fossils pouring in from the West. Among other things, Leidy showed that horses roamed North America long before the Spanish conquest and that the continent was once home to enormous ground sloths. This online exhibit from the Philadelphia Academy of Natural Sciences uncovers the life and work of local hero Leidy (1823–91). The site includes lithographs of fossils from some of the pioneering paleontologist's more than 230 publications and summaries of his treatises on dinosaurs, mammals, and other extinct vertebrates. The modest and cautious scientist was appalled by the slapdash science and egocentric antics of the “bone wars” between rivals Othniel Marsh and Edward Drinker Cope, one of Leidy's protégés. So Leidy withdrew from paleontology to spend the rest of his career with some more wholesome characters—parasites.


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