Big Bone Lick: The Cradle of American Paleontology

Overview

Shawnee legend tells of a herd of huge bison rampaging through the Ohio Valley, laying waste to all in their path. To protect the tribe, a deity slew these great beasts with lightning bolts, finally chasing the last giant buffalo into exile across the Wabash River, never to trouble the Shawnee again. The source of this legend was a peculiar salt lick in present-day northern Kentucky, where giant fossilized skeletons had for centuries lain undisturbed by the Shawnee and other natives of the region. In 1739, the ...

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Big Bone Lick: The Cradle of American Paleontology

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Overview

Shawnee legend tells of a herd of huge bison rampaging through the Ohio Valley, laying waste to all in their path. To protect the tribe, a deity slew these great beasts with lightning bolts, finally chasing the last giant buffalo into exile across the Wabash River, never to trouble the Shawnee again. The source of this legend was a peculiar salt lick in present-day northern Kentucky, where giant fossilized skeletons had for centuries lain undisturbed by the Shawnee and other natives of the region. In 1739, the first Europeans encountered this fossil site, which eventually came to be known as Big Bone Lick. The site drew the attention of all who heard of it, including George Washington, Daniel Boone, Benjamin Franklin, Meriwether Lewis and William Clark, and especially Thomas Jefferson. The giant bones immediately cast many scientific and philosophical assumptions of the day into doubt, and they eventually gave rise to the study of fossils for biological and historical purposes. Big Bone Lick: The Cradle of American Paleontology recounts the rich history of the fossil site that gave the world the first evidence of the extinction of several mammalian species, including the American mastodon. Big Bone Lick has played many roles: nutrient source, hallowed ground, salt mine, health spa, and a rich trove of archaeological and paleontological wonders. Natural historian Stanley Hedeen presents a comprehensive narrative of Big Bone Lick from its geological formation forward, explaining why the site attracted animals, regional tribespeople, European explorers and scientists, and eventually American pioneers and presidents. Big Bone Lick is the history of both a place and a scientific discipline: it explores the infancy and adolescence of paleontology from its humble and sometimes humorous beginnings. Hedeen combines elements of history, geology, politics, and biology to make Big Bone Lick a valuable historical resource as well as the compelling tale of how a collection of fossilized bones captivated a young nation.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

""Although it is difficult to produce a book that will both interest a wide audience and maintain scholarly integrity, Stanley Hedeen has succeeded in doing so with this history of the fossil beds at Big Bone Lick."--Journal of Southern History" --

""Concerns a noted fossil site and its importance to the history of American paleontology." --Historical Studies in the Natural Sciences" --

""A valuable historical resource as well as the compelling tale of how a collection of fossilized bones captivated a young nation."--Machester Enterprise" --

""Hedeen tells the story of Big Bone Lick from all viewpoints: geological, paleontological, and human.... a wonderful summary of a complex site with a special place in American history." --Indiana Magazine of History" --

Publishers Weekly

History and science come together in this fascinating story of a woodland salt lick and how the fossil bones found there influenced the beginnings of paleontology in America. The saline springs of northern Kentucky's Big Bone Lick have nurtured humans and animals for centuries, and the bones of extinct mastodons, bison and other creatures are there to prove it. Biology professor emeritus Hedeen illuminates a time when the concept of extinction was considered outrageous, if not downright blasphemous, since it contradicted the biblical doctrine of a "perfect, unchanging creation." Early 18th-century naturalists believed the bones were remnants of some rare type of elephant, possibly even Asian elephants that had somehow wandered into American forests. Naturalists such as Georges-Louis Leclerc de Buffon and Georges Cuvier (who coined the term "mastodon") appear alongside Benjamin Franklin, George Washington and extinction skeptic Thomas Jefferson, who sent Lewis and Clark west with a laundry list of goals that included finding "knowledge of 'living Mammoth, & of the Megatherium also.' " Hedeen depicts a vibrant and exciting era, when the 1755 map notation "Elephants Bones found here" drew the attention of the whole world. (Feb.)

Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information
School Library Journal

Big Bone Lick, designated a Kentucky state park in 1960, is known as "the tomb of mammoths." Fossil remains of other extinct species have also been found at this site: helmeted musk ox, two species of ground sloth, complex-toothed horse, mastodon, mammoth, and elk-moose. Hedeen (biology, emeritus, Xavier Univ., OH) chronicles the history of a place of scientific worth-both for a young America and for the new science of paleontology. First discovered in 1739 by Europeans, Big Bone Lick continued to attract the attention of scientists as well as such historical figures as Benjamin Franklin, George Washington, Daniel Boone, and, particularly, Thomas Jefferson, who asked Lewis and Clark to collect some mammoth bones for him from this site. What created such a stir about these fossils was their tremendous size. The idea of extinct species was unacceptable to many scientists and most people at that time; only God created species, and why would he make them extinct? Despite the intriguing topic, Hedeen's dry and dull prose and narrow focus (he fails to provide any depth or insight into the findings of the famous Americans who discovered fossils here) recommends this only for larger public and academic libraries.
—Gloria Maxwell

Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780813133867
  • Publisher: University Press of Kentucky
  • Publication date: 2/1/2011
  • Pages: 204
  • Product dimensions: 5.10 (w) x 8.10 (h) x 0.70 (d)

Meet the Author

Stanley Hedeen is professor emeritus of biology and former dean of the College of Arts and Sciences at Xavier University. He has written several books on the natural and environmental history of the greater Cincinnati region.

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Table of Contents

List of Illustrations ix

Foreword xi

Acknowledgments xv

Introduction xvii

1 Geologic Setting 1

2 Source of Salt and Health 8

3 Indian Accounts of Great Buffalo 20

4 Gathering the Bones 31

5 Animal Incognitum 45

6 Thomas Jefferson Takes an Interest 56

7 A Question of Tusks 69

8 William Goforth's Stolen Specimens 83

9 William Clark's Bountiful Collection 96

10 The Faunal List Evolves 112

11 Other Mammoth Changes 123

12 Agents of Extinction 138

Notes 151

Index 175

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