Good tidings & well-wishes and, for all of my American readers, happy fourth of July!
I’ve always enjoyed reading about the American founding fathers (however, I’m certainly not the sort of person to canonize them) and the political environment which led to the birth of our nation. It therefore comes as no surprise that I devoured Paul Semonin’s excellent book entitled “American Monster: How The Nation’s First Prehistoric Creature Became A Symbol Of National Identity” and its accompanying website as soon as I was able to do so. Both chronicle the effects of early American paleontology (which chiefly concerned Mammut americanum and Megalonyx sp.) 0n several of the emerging country’s most influential revolutionaries such as George Washington and Benjamin Franklin. However, of these men, none were so smitten by paleontology than the author of “The Declaration Of Independence” himself and the man to whom this pyrotechnic holiday primarily owes its conception, Thomas Jefferson.
Jefferson famously asked Louis and Clark to be on the lookout for living mastodons at the onset of their journey (which was obviously a fruitless search, though they did manage to find a host of fossils from various beasts) and even stored several remains of these mysterious animals in the White House itself during his presidency.
The historic Academy of Natural Sciences has compiled a comprehensive and very readable guide to Jefferson’s paleontological collections and endeavors. What better way for a paleo-enthusiast to spend the fourth than reading up on something that’s both patriotic and paleontological? It beats shooting fireworks in my humble opinion (and it costs a lot less)…
May the fossil record (and those who’ve studied it) continue to enchant us all!