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

Bear man and flying men Racial map of France Title page Wine jar

Featured in the Goof Gallery

Marginalia Prehistoric spat Illuminated manuscript Broadsheet

Featured in Biographies

Francis Willughby Athanasius Kircher Buffon Bernard Palissy

Timeline Tidbits

1650-Irish archbishop James Ussher calculates the date of creation, based on the ages of biblical prophets. Using his calculations, theologians will identify the date of creation as on October 26, 4004 BC.

1778-Buffon publishes Les Epoques de la Nature, asserting that the Earth is a staggering 74,832 years old, and has existed long before the arrival of humans or any other form of life.

1804-Georges Cuvier suggests that fossils found in the area around Paris are "thousands of centuries" old. This casual observation pushes the age of the Earth well beyond its commonly accepted limits. Cuvier also publishes a paper explaining that the fossil animals he has studied bear no resemblance to anything still living, an unambiguous endorsement of the theory of extinction.

1953-Fiesel Houtermans and Clair Patterson publish independent estimates inferring the age of the Earth through radiometric dating of meteorites. Both estimates are over 4.5 billion years.

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."