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The Rise and Progress of Palaeontology by Thomas Henry Huxley
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by Thomas Henry Huxley
This is Essay #2 from "Science and Hebrew Tradition"



That application of the sciences of biology and geology, which
is commonly known as palaeontology, took its origin in the mind
of the first person who, finding something like a shell, or a
bone, naturally imbedded in gravel or rock, indulged in
speculations upon the nature of this thing which he had dug out
--this "fossil"--and upon the causes which had brought it into
such a position. In this rudimentary form, a high antiquity may
safely be ascribed to palaeontology, inasmuch as we know that,
500 years before the Christian era, the philosophic doctrines of
Xenophanes were influenced by his observations upon the fossil
remains exposed in the quarries of Syracuse. From this time
forth not only the philosophers, but the poets, the historians,
the geographers of antiquity occasionally refer to fossils;
and, after the revival of learning, lively controversies arose
respecting their real nature. But hardly more than two centuries
have elapsed since this fundamental problem was first
exhaustively treated; it was only in the last century that the
archaeological value of fossils--their importance, I mean, as
records of the history of the earth--was fully recognised;
the first adequate investigation of the fossil remains of any
large group of vertebrated animals is to be found in Cuvier's
"Recherches sur les Ossemens Fossiles," completed in 1822;
and, so modern is stratigraphical palaeontology, that its
founder, William Smith, lived to receive the just recognition of
his services by the award of the first Wollaston Medal in 1831.