Fossil Record & A
History of Life on Earth
The French anatomist George Cuvier established as fact the revolutionary
idea of extinction. It is said that Cuvier could identify the remains
of an organism from just a few bones. Several people were key to
ordering fossils chronologically and thus building a history of life
At about the same time George Cuvier and Alexandre Brongniart (1770-1847),
a French naturalist and geologist, were mapping the Paris Basin.
In reconstructing the changing sea levels of the Atlantic Ocean Brongnairt
and Cuvier showed that fossils had been layed down during alternating
fresh and salt-water conditions thus establishing the fact that there
existed a succession of fossils in different formations representing
One of the chief legacies of these 19th century efforts is the geological time scale. The present day scale or column divides geologic time into intervals separated from each other by changes in rock type and abrupt changes in fossil groups. Stephen J. Gould (1941-2002), an American evolutionary biologist, believed the geologic time table to be one of the greatest contributions to human understanding (2001).
"The establishment of a time scale, and the working out of a consistent and worldwide sequence of changes in fossils through the stratigraphic record, represents the major triumph of the developing science of geology during the first half of the nineteenth centruy....By 1850, geology had developed a coherent global chronology based on life's history. This discovery and construction of history itself must rank as the greatest contribution ever made--indeed, I would argue, ever makable--by geology to human understanding. (p.15)."
Bibliography for Echoes of Life Through Time
Benton, M. (2001). Four Feet on the Ground. In Gould, S. [Ed]. The Book of Life: An Illustrated History of the Evolution of Life on Earth (pp. 79-126). New York: W.W. Norton & Company, Inc.
S. (2001). Reconstructing (and Deconstructing) the Past. In
Gould, S. [Ed]. The Book of Life: An Illustrated History
of the Evolution of Life on Earth (pp. 6-21). New York:
W.W. Norton & Company, Inc.
Jones, S., Darwin's Ghost: The Origin of Species Updated. New York: Random House, 2000.
Kirk, G.S. & Raven, J.E., The Presocaratic Philosophers: A Critical History with a Seclection of Texts. Cambridge University Press, 1973.
Miller, K.R., Finding Darwin's God: A Scientist's Search for Common Ground Between God and Evolution. New York: Harper Collins, 1999.
Milner, R., The Encyclopedia of Evolution: Humanity's Search for Its Origins. New York: Facts on File, 1990.
Palmer, D., Atlas of the Prehistoric World. New York: Random House, 1999.
Prothero, D.R., Brining Fossils to Life: An Introduction to Paleobiology. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1998.
S.M., Extinction. New York: Scientific American Books,