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So instead Pander found himself in Baer's shoes and on a journey into the very origins of life itself. Two thousand eggs later, he emerged from his studies, crowned with a "laurel of eggshells," doctorate in hand and placed in the pantheon of pioneering embryologists. In a single stroke he had risen from student to distinguished man of science. Baer continued this search for the origins of life in the world of the unborn and soon eclipsed Pander as an embryologist.

Pander, by contrast, began to turn his attentions to the long dead, joining his illustrator and naturalist friend Eduard d'Alton on a tour of the great natural history museums of Europe. It was in these bizarre menageries of fossils, animal corpses, and dismembered bodies that these two men saw an opportunity for a gigantic work they called Comparative Osteology. Laying the groundwork for this fourteen-volume series during their travels in and , these books revealed Pander to be an early evolutionist envisaging the development of life as an ongoing transformation of species in response to environmental factors.

In this, of course, Pander was not alone; he knew well the early evolutionary literature then being published across continental Europe, particularly in France.

Pander's views were shared by Baer and, when he eventually made his contribution to the evolutionary literature, some forty years later, acknowledged by Charles Darwin. Petersburg, beginning his field study of fossils in the s with an examination of the older rocks that outcrop along the river valleys around that city and form the picturesque coastal cliffs of modernday Estonia. In all this distance they are undisturbed by Earth movements and show little lithification despite their extraordinary age.

In the s, the new "geologists" were still in the early stages of working out the order in which these rocks had been laid down, work that would enable them to figure out the passage of geological time. The rocks that interested Pander were simply known as the "transition formation. Or so Pander thought. And soon he understood why: Laboring long and hard, he could only turn up mere fragments of fossils. At this low ebb in his research, he chanced upon a local community of fossil collectors who had been far more successful than he had.

It was a turning point. Now he could exploit the curiosity and impecuniousness of children and local villagers to build a collection overflowing with fine specimens. Many of these fossils found their way into the hand-colored illustrations in his book Contributions to the Geology of the Russian Empire: The Environs of St. Petersburg , published in But Pander was still not happy. Suffering repeated bouts of malaria and having to foot the bill for the plates himself — the academy being unwilling to do so — he resigned from that august body in Leaving St.

Petersburg in , he returned to his father's estate of Zarnikau near Riga, there to be — perhaps unwillingly — a gentleman farmer with only a leisure interest in paleontology. Nevertheless, Pander's book — which was published before British geologists Roderick Murchison and Adam Sedgwick had packed their "knapsacks" to begin their own investigations of rocks of equivalent age in Britain — would in time give him some recognition. In the early nineteenth century, no country offered greater geological opportunities than Great Britain. Its extraordinary rocks — diverse in age and type, rich in fossils, and exposed in mountains, coasts, and the countless quarries and excavations produced by its Industrial Revolution — gave the country a huge advantage in the new science.


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Britain fostered individualism and social ambition and at that time possessed a rapidly expanding middle class only too ready to elevate themselves in the new science of geology. That science had by the s worked out its methods and was beginning to locate its "great men," as these British geologists increasingly wished to see themselves. The science was becoming white hot and deeply entangled in controversy and dispute.

By , the "transition formation" marked the geological frontier, and all who sought fame looked in its direction.

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Only a few of them, however, knew anything of Pander's book. Pander did not live in such a competitive world, though he may have experienced it on his trips to Britain, France, and Spain. But it was not simply that he lived beyond the reach of this world that prevented his study achieving for him the fame reserved for Murchison and Sedgwick; the geology itself was also to blame. The rocks Pander studied were arranged simply one upon another and were unchanged over huge distances.

He needed no complex terminological inventions to describe them and simply named what he saw: a basal blue clay overlain by a sandstone rich in a brachiopod he called Ungulites better known today as Obolus , then a black shale named after the fossil Dictyonema, now Rhabdinopora , which it contains and a green sandstone, its greenness caused by the presence of the mineral glauconite.

It was in this green sandstone, many years later, that Pander would discover his strange tiny teeth. This succession of rocks was topped offby an out-jutting limestone crammed with straight-shelled nautiluses. The rocks that confronted Murchison and Sedgwick could not have been more different: folded, faulted, and metamorphosed strata in mountainous Wales and sod-covered Cornwall and Devon.

Using fossils as time indicators, and with considerable effort, these men managed to connect rocks in different regions and of different ages as if assembling a great jigsaw. In order to do so, both men, together and alone, conceptualized great swathes of rocks, and thus vast blocks of geological time, in new abstract "systems" they named Cambrian, Silurian, Devonian, and Permian.

The Great Fossil Enigma: The Search for the Conodont Animal - Simon J. Knell - Google книги

They, like Pander, exploited the knowledge and specimens of local collectors. However, working on their own projects in different parts of the country, in overlapping sequences of rocks, it was inevitable that Murchison's Silurian and Sedgwick's Cambrian would come into conflict. This dispute is, from our perspective, still in the future and not of great concern to our story, but it says something of the personal investment involved in this new science. Murchison, who had once been a military man and whose Silurian was the first invention of its kind, wished to see his system as an international standard, and to this end he marched into Russia painting the geological map of continental Europe in the colors of his own precious system.

When he did so, he was delighted to discover that Pander had done some of the groundwork for him and had, indeed, already compared the Russian strata with rocks in Sweden and Norway. He was even happier when Pander offered to support his scheme.

Passing among hillocks of blown sand We were received in the little or winter villa adjoining, and breakfasted and dined there. We were loaded with kindness, and saturated with fossils and good cheer. How many copies would you like to buy? Knell Series: Life of the Past. Add to Cart Add to Cart. Add to Wishlist Add to Wishlist. Stephen Jay Gould borrowed from Winston Churchill when he described the eel-like conodont animal as a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma.

The Great Fossil Enigma

The search for its identity confounded scientists for more than a century. Some thought it a slug, others a fish, a worm, a plant, even a primitive ancestor of ourselves. As the list of possibilities grew, an answer to the riddle never seemed any nearer. Would the animal that left behind the miniscule fossils known as conodonts ever be identified?