Why Would a Fossil Hunter Visit a Marine Biology Lab?

Science has changed throughout history (of course). One interesting trend in science has been scientists’ increasing specialization. Today, clear lines are drawn between geologists and botanists, between paleontologists and marine biologists. In contrast, during time periods I examine in my dissertation, scientists were interested in the study of nature more broadly. That means that sometimes they looked at fossils, other times embryos, and other times still pigeons. This, of course, has been covered by many historians, but I’ve been finding mad evidence for the lack of disciplines in my recent work.

As some of you know, I work on a history project for the Marine Biological Laboratory (MBL) in Woods Hole, Massachusetts (in fact I recently wrote about why I still like history of paleoanthropology better than marine biology). The more time I spend on this project, the more I’m amazed how many incredible scientists visited the Lab. Of special interest to me are the anatomy and paleontology visitors who contributed to the study of human origins paleoanthropologists that visited the MBL. To me, this variety of scientists at the lab highlights the breadth of questions researchers investigated during this time..

The first anatomist I noticed at the MBL was Raymond Dart, discoverer of the Taung Child. The naturalist came over while he was working in London (so before he moved to South Africa and discovered the fossil). Dart is listed in the MBL records as an independent investigator in Zoology, 1921.

Next, I stumbled upon a photo of Eugene Dubois from 1934. This is especially cool because relatively few photos of him survive. I haven’t yet uncovered what it was Dubois was doing at the MBL, so stay tuned!

A fun group that had a huge presence at the MBL was a bunch of guys from The American Natural History Museum in New York. Regular visitors included explorer Roy Chapman Andrews, President of the AMNH Henry Fairfield Osborn, and artist Charles Knight. Osborn visited the MBL in 1890, 1894, and 1895, delivering multiple lectures, including one titled “Evolution and Heredity.”

Finally, I’ve recently looked into Franz Weidenreich’s presence at the MBL, finding that he came to the Lab in 1939. In the MBL’s weekly publication called the Collecting Net discussed Weidenreich’s visit, saying that he visited the Lab and gave a lecture (which is transcribed in the Net) while doing a tour of the US discussing “Pithecanthropus and the Paleolithic man of North China.” After his tour he returned to the Lab for the rest of the summer, apparently to do “bibliographical work.”Screen Shot 2015-09-18 at 3.47.18 PM

Speaking of Pithecanthropus–hominin reconstructions themselves made their way to the Marine Biological Laboratory scientists. Possibly my favorite picture in the entire archives is a picture of the Columbia gang with some crazy Pithecanthropus reconstruction in 1921.

Screen Shot 2015-09-18 at 3.27.29 PM

So what’s the bottom line? Well, basically that the Marine Biological Laboratory was a hub for the guys in my dissertation–and I had no idea! Fun times in the archives. It seems like in the twentieth century, whether you studied fossils or heredity, you might find a reason to come do some science by the seashore in Cape Cod.

Not exactly a deep historical point but just some cool stuff. Anyway, I basicaly just threw a bunch of random archival materials at you guys, but it provides an insight in what I do day to day! Also, again, I think it’s cool because most people haven’t seen these photos before! And of course, the pictures from the MBL cited in this post are open access, so use away!

Columbia Gang Dining with Pithecanthropus https://hpsrepository.asu.edu/handle/10776/2204

Columbia Gang Dining with Pithecanthropus https://hpsrepository.asu.edu/handle/10776/2204

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