Dinosaurs, Gorillas, & More: Re-remembering Richard Owen

Sir Richard Owen is often remembered for his massive row with Charles Darwin and Darwin’s followers over the theory of evolution through natural selection. Scientists like Thomas Huxley painted Owen as a backward creationist who didn’t conduct good science. But Owen was much more complex than that. Though he didn’t fully agree with Darwin’s version…

Neanderthals and Giant’s Bones

  A Strange Skeleton The bones revealed a human of “extraordinary form,” he concluded. It was January 1857, and Hermann Schaaffhausen had just viewed a fossilized skeleton that was unlike anything he had ever seen. The surviving bits of the skeleton–made up of a partial skull, along with some leg bones, ribs, and other bits…

Neanderthal DNA: A Historical Fossil Resurfaces

Who were the Neanderthals, and how were they related to humans? These are questions that have plagued paleoanthropologists since the first Neanderthal fossil was found over a century and a half ago. On July 11, 1997 a very important paper appeared in the journal Cell that shed light on this issue. It was titled “Neanderthal…

What Does a Historian of Science Actually Do?

If you follow me on twitter (@FossilHistory) you may have seen I’ve been doing some writing outside of my blog. Today I wanted to share a piece I recently wrote for  SAPIENS–but also I’d like to use this to briefly illuminate what it is I do as a historian of science, and why I think it’s the…

Teeth & Human Evolution: Scientist Spotlight on W.K. Gregory

  William King Gregory was a paleontologist who studied a variety of fossils creatures during the first half of the 20th century. He worked at the American Natural History Museum and Columbia University, and spent many years studying everything from fish to primates to human ancestors. Gregory introduced new approaches to examining fossils, helped settle human ancestor debates, and…

Much to be Discovered: Cradle of Humankind Pre-History

To a non-paleoanthropologist, the names Sterkfontein and Kromdraai may not mean much…but, that’s about to change. These are two limestone cave systems that make up the World Heritage Site known as the Cradle of Humankind. This South African site is the richest place for hominin fossils in the world. The sheer number of hominin fossils found at Sterkfontein and…

Human Ancestor or Immature Gorilla? The Taung Child

Inventing a Southern Ape In early February 1925, Raymond Dart announced his discovery of the Taung Baby fossil to the world. I recently wrote about how Nature was scooped on the announcement, but I now want to focus on how the scientific world reacted to Taung’s discovery. In his paper, Dart argued that Taung represented a new…