Sunday, March 27, 2011

Jefferson’s Botanist and Whitman’s Photographer ~ A Two-Part Exploration Prompted by a Coincidence

Part I – Benjamin Smith Barton and Parenthood

In which the blogger learns something about an early 19th Century botanist and indulges in some pop pyschologizing of the poor man.

I’ve been reading about the somewhat enigmatic Benjamin Smith Barton (1766 – 1815) and thinking about parenthood.  The why behind my current interest in Barton will be explored in Part II.  That I’m particularly attuned to the issue of parenthood in the Barton story may be a function of having become a grandparent for the first time this past week.

Barton is probably remembered best for his role in preparing Thomas Jefferson’s secretary Meriwether Lewis for the botanical aspects of the scientific demands of the expedition “to have the Missouri explored & whatever river, heading with that, runs into the Western ocean.”  (Letter from Jefferson to Barton, February 27, 1803.  Sources are listed below.)

Jefferson charged Barton with the task of ensuring that, during the trek into the unknown West, Lewis would be able to find “the objects most desirable . . . in the lines of botany, zoology, or . . . Indian history which you think most worthy of inquiry & observation.”  It was a teaching task that the President knew his fellow member of the American Philosophical Society was eminently qualified to fulfill.  Barton, a practicing physician, held a professorship at the University of Pennsylvania, teaching natural history, botany, and materia medica (pharmaceutical chemistry in which medicinal plants figured prominently).  In 1803, he published the first botany textbook in America, titled Elements of Botany: or, Outlines of the Natural History of Vegetables.  The cover page and first plate of the 1804 edition published in England appear below.  Barton identified this flower as the “Purple Side-Saddle-flower” (Sarracenia purpurea), a carnivorous plant native to North America.


Barton’s interests ranged well beyond his professional responsibilities.  His fascination with Indian culture (particularly Indian mounds) and language led to publishing on both.  In his New Views of the Origin of the Tribes and Nations of America (1798), he posited that, based on his study of Indian languages and some Asian tribal languages, American Natives had originated in Asia.  He dipped into paleontology as well, with a particular interest in mammoth and mastodon bones.

In mid-spring, 1803, Lewis visited Barton at his home in Philadelphia at 44 North Fifth Street and undertook a course of study.  [Later edit:  I previously listed 184 Mulberry as Barton's home in 1803.  That was in error as Part II of this posting will make clear.  He was living at 184 Mulberry in 1807 when Lewis visited to ask his assistance with the publications stemming from the expedition.]  Barton became so caught up in the spirit of the adventure and its possibilities that he even considered joining his student on the expedition, but presumably long standing health issues militated against the academic taking that bold step.  Possibly his most important contribution to the ultimate success of the expedition was reflected in the skill Lewis showed in identifying, collecting, preserving, and labeling his floral finds.

Barton’s complex personality came to the fore in his later relationship with the Lewis and Clark Expedition.  Soon after the explorers returned East, Barton agreed to prepare the volume on natural history for the expedition’s published accounts.  First approached about the task in 1807 by Meriwether Lewis, he renewed his commitment in 1810 with Nicholas Biddle who assumed the editorial responsibilities for the project after Lewis committed suicide in 1809.  But Barton failed to follow through, dying in 1815 with the volume unprepared, and, as a result,
later naturalists gained credit for ‘discovering’ plants and animals that Lewis and Clark had painstakingly described years earlier.  (Duncan and Burns, Lewis & Clark:  The Journey of the Corps of Discovery, p. 218)
Why, then, from 1807 until his death in 1815, was Barton unable to meet this obligation?  Historian Stephen Ambrose attributed the inaction to Barton’s ongoing ill health.  Others have suggested other causes.  Botanist Joseph Ewan evinced little patience with Barton’s lack of follow through, writing that Barton
hampered the publication of the Lewis and Clark discoveries, hoping to incorporate their findings with what he had accumulated into one grand work.  (Ewan, From Calcutta and New Orleans, or Tales from Barton’s Greenhouse, 1983, p. 133.)
In fact, though ill health cannot be ignored, this was probably a manifestation of a basic personality trait that played out through his adult life, beginning, perhaps, with the medical degree he claimed to have earned while abroad, but apparently never did.  Francis W. Pennell, curator of plants at the Academy of Natural Sciences of Philadelphia, in summing up this aspect of Barton’s personality, wrote
All his life long there remained this menace of poor health.  His enthusiasm was constantly meeting handicaps, so that achievement was repeatedly curtailed.  As we glance at Professor Barton’s works, we are conscious of a remarkable number of endeavours, commenced but not fulfilled.  I would not lay all the responsibility for this upon Barton’s poor health, for we know of the marvelous achievements of a Darwin under like conditions.  There was doubtless also something temperamental, that led Barton to see the possibilities of subject after subject, each soon abandoned with the tedium of effort.  I suspect that this course is one into which a person of Barton’s semi-invalidism very readily drifts.  (Benjamin Smith Barton as Naturalist, 1942, p. 111)
Setting up Darwin as a benchmark for what is possible is pretty unreasonable, though I am attracted to the argument that Barton’s string of promises unmet may be attributable to the combined effect of chronic health problems and “something temperamental.”

In a book-length treatment of Barton, Ewan and his botanist wife Nesta viewed the issue from a different perspective, asking whether Barton’s health issues may have, in fact, stemmed at least in part from this character flaw.  They focused on Barton’s efforts over the years to hide his failure to earn his medical degree and posed the question, “How much did this shame contribute to his suffering from chronic gout and other ills?”  (Benjamin Smith Barton, p. xii)

I find it hard to avoid some pop psychologizing at this juncture.  There’s an aspect of Barton’s childhood that I find truly remarkable, and I have to assume was traumatizing for the young boy.  Perhaps the propensity to lose one’s self in myriad projects, to always have the future “booked” so to speak, without the ability or true intention of bringing them all to closure, might have had its roots here.  Perhaps it was a way to gain some control over a future that had shown itself to be capricious.

In 1774, the Anglican Reverend Thomas Barton and his wife Esther Barton lived in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, where Barton had a church.  Esther died that year, leaving behind eight children, including an eight year old Benjamin.  Though the Reverend remarried in 1776, the family was about to be destroyed by the internecine demands of the American Revolution.

As a matter of conscience, Thomas Barton professed loyalty to the crown and refused to take an oath of allegiance to the United States Government which included formally disavowing the King.  He continued to include blessings for the King and Queen of England in his sermons.  As a result, he lost his congregation and ultimately his family.  In 1778, he petitioned the Supreme Executive Council of Pennsylvania for permission to sell his property and cross into New York City, then held by British forces.  The Council acceded to his request, but, as recounted by the Ewans,
stipulated that the children must stay and be educated in loyalty to the United States of America.  (Benjamin Smith Barton, p. 9)
We so easily forget or ignore the harsh realities of the Revolution.  It was war, make no mistake about it, and Loyalists suffered severely for their choice.  The Barton family had already shown strains under the pressure of the Revolution, with Barton’s oldest children having joined the Patriots.

Thomas Barton, faced with either maintaining his principles or keeping his family, chose the former, writing,
How melancholy and distressing is my situation! . . . . [N]o choice was left me, but either to take the oath or to suffer painful separation from my dearest connexions. . . . [T]hat many conscientious and good men have conformed to the test-act, yet my own conscience always revolted at the adjuration part of it. . . . I now suffer banishment from all that are most dear to me; with an interdict, ‘not to return again.’  (Benjamin Smith Barton, p. 9-10)
He traveled to New York City alone in 1778, where he died in 1780, ill health having prevented his departure for England.  Thus, by age 14, Benjamin had lost both of his biological parents, his father under particularly painful circumstances.

What a very disturbing turn of events, even when viewed at a distance of over 230 years – the Revolution made manifest in the dissolution of a family.  A father choosing conscience over family, not the choice I would make.  Truly a melancholy scene, worthy of the imagination of Charles Dickens.  Thomas Barton was anguished over this choice.  Still, I am puzzled that it came down to such a black or white decision.  Were there no other options that would keep the father and his minor children together without violating his principles?  Fleeing to Canada?

Though before his departure, the Reverend had made arrangements for the care of his minor children, this was nothing less than an act of abandonment.  One that, with his death, became coldly permanent.  I don’t image that 14 year old Benjamin Smith Barton emerged unscathed from this harsh severing of parental bonds.


Note:  None of these sources, with the exception of the Jefferson letter, is fully available online for free.  Most of the articles were obtained through JSTOR, a subscription service.  Portions of some of the books are available on Amazon or at Google books.

Ambrose, Stephen E., Undaunted Courage:  Meriwether Lewis, Thomas Jefferson, and the Opening of the American West (1996).

Duncan, Dayton and Ken Burns, Lewis & Clark:  the Journey of the Corps of Discovery (1997).

Ewan, Joseph, From Calcutta and New Orleans, or, Tales from Barton’s Greenhouse, Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society, Vol. 127, No. 3 (June 16, 1983).

Ewan, Joseph and Nesta Dunn Ewan, Benjamin Smith Barton:  Naturalist and Physician in Jeffersonian America (2007).

Jefferson, Thomas, to Benjamin Smith Barton, letter of February 27, 1803.  Appears at the website, Envisaging the West:  Thomas Jefferson and the Roots of Lewis and Clark, a joint project of the University of Nebraska – Lincoln, and the University of Virginia.

Jeffries, Theodore W., A Biographical Note on Benjamin Smith Barton (1766-1815), Isis, Vol 60, No. 2 (summer, 1969).

McCourt, Richard and Earle Spamer, Jefferson’s Botanists:  Lewis and Clark Discover the Plants of the West (2004).

Pennell, Francis W., Benjamin Smith Barton as Naturalist, Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society, Vo. 86, No. 1 (September 25, 1942).

The photograph of the portrait of Barton, by Samuel Jennings, is from Wikimedia Commons and it is asserted there that it is in the public domain.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

It's What Follows "We Don't Know" That Matters

Paleontologist Alton Dooley of the Virginia Museum of Natural History is leading ground breaking work (literally) at the Carmel Church Quarry in Virginia.  The week-long dig that Dooley ran last week with his wife, son, and four college students is featured in this morning’s  Washington Post (March 15, 2011).  The video accompanying the story makes clear the conditions under which this dig took place.  No lounging on warm sand in the sun, and no frolicking in the surf for these college students who went fossil hunting on their spring break.  This is messy and difficult work as the mud-caked boots and hands testify.  It’s also rewarding in terms of the fossils found.   Dooley described some of each day’s finds on his blog Updates from the Vertebrate Paleontology Lab.

At the Carmel Church site, a Middle Miocene bed of the Calvert Formation is exposed (see Trochim and Dooley, Diatom Biostratigraphy and Paleoecology of Vertebrate-bearing Miocene Localities in Virginia, Jeffersoniana, No. 23, 2010).  An initial striking feature of the site is its remarkable concentration of marine fossils, among them, according to the article, 17 whale and dolphin species, and many fish species, including more than a dozen kinds of shark.  As the Post article described it,
Some of the fossils are pressed together, overlapping, as if they had settled to the bottom on top of one another.  Some have bite marks, evidence that the carcasses had been eaten by sharks or other scavengers.
Clearly, there’s an abundance of fossils here; Dooley notes in the Day 3 posting on his blog that even the author of the Post piece, Eric Niler, during his visit to Carmel Church, stumbled upon a sturgeon bone fossil.

A second remarkable aspect of Carmel Church, given that the Calvert Formation was laid down when the area was under water, is the “unusual abundance of terrestrial animals and plants” that have been found here, relative to other Calvert Formation sites.  (Dooley, Barstovian (Middle Miocene) Land Mammals from the Carmel Church Quarry, Caroline County, Virginia, Jeffersoniana, No. 18, 2007.)  Dooley has offered a possible explanation,
Carmel Church is the westernmost known exposure of the Calvert Formation, and is therefore possibly the nearest to the paleoshoreline as well.  (Jeffersoniana, No. 18)
I guess the logic is that terrestrial creatures swept out to sea, for whatever reason and in whatever condition (dead or alive), would be more likely to be found here rather than places farther from shore.

But the mystery that seems to most envelop Carmel Church is why this site has such an incredible concentration of animal (mostly marine) species.  In the Post piece, Dooley is quoted as stating frankly, “We don’t know how they got here.”

To my mind, part of the beauty of science is what follows such an admission of ignorance, that is, the challenge of looking for answers among possible natural causes.  Just as with a Carmel Church dig, it’s a messy procedure.  This one involves asking questions, fashioning and testing hypotheses, making mistakes and correcting them, and, perhaps, coming up with an explanation that gains traction.

And Dooley is looking for answers.  The article closes with a couple of sentences that wonderfully capture some of the essence of this process.
“We have some partial explanations,” Dooley said with a smile.  “But I’ve gotten used to being wrong.”

I have tweaked the syntax in several sentences after first uploading this post.  It's the price I pay for being in a hurry.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Saprotrophic Beauty in the Rain

and the rain came in from the wide blue yonder
~ from the song Coma Girl
by Joe Strummer and the Mescaleros

On this day of torrential rainfall, I suppose it’s natural for thoughts to turn to . . . fungi.

Setting aside plant roots, fungi constitute some 90 percent of the biomass of forest soil, release huge amount of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere as they do their work on dead wood, give that rise to bread and that kick to beer and wine, aid us with antibiotics, and, until recently, I have to admit, mostly went unnoticed as I traipsed through the woods to a fossil site or shepherded my dog on a walk along a woodland trail.

Frankly, I’m surprised it took so long for the fantastically complex Fungi Kingdom to really register with me.  I mean my usual posture in the field is certainly appropriate – head down, eyes scanning the ground.  (Of course, I’ve been looking for the telltale signs of fossilized tooth or bone.)

Further, one of my favorite naturalists, Beatrix Potter, was a mycologist, producing aesthetically pleasing and scientifically accurate drawings of fungi.  This gloomy, dreary day is a perfect moment to have a cuppa and read about Potter or reread one of her children’s tales.

In a previous post, I’ve touched on Potter’s rebuff by the British scientific community when she dared to assert herself on scientific matters involving fungi.  Excluding the summary dismissal by the establishment that essentially concludes the story of her scientific endeavors with fungi, it’s an uplifting account of a shy woman in her late 20s reaching out and connecting over fungi with an older, withdrawn, and eccentric mycologist.  Scotsman Charles McIntosh was someone the Potter family knew from vacations in Scotland.  He worked as a postman but the self-taught naturalist was a renowned expert on fungi, consulted by botanists and mycologists from throughout Britain.  Potter and McIntosh had a truly symbiotic relationship, she drew pictures of the specimens that he sent her, he shared his knowledge, identifying specimens she found.  The two exchanged thoughts and insights on the fungal lifecycle.

In her journal entry of October 29, 1892, Potter described him this way with her usual wit,
When one met him, a more scared startled scarecrow it would be difficult to imagine. . . . He was quite painfully shy and uncouth at first, as though he was trying to swallow a muffin . . . .   (p. 82, Beatrix Potter:  A Life in Nature by Linda Lear)
In another comment in that same journal entry, I sense that she realized the McIntosh, a curious man and a man of curiosities, was a “throw back” and that his expertise arose from a disconnect with late 19th century British life.
[M]odern habits and machines are not calculated to bring out individuality or the study of Natural History.  (p. 81)
I like to think on the relationship between these two who found the broader social world difficult to navigate.

And on this wet day, there’s also something fitting about a particular fungi, Tremella foliacea, known as Leafy Jelly Fungus, an organism that truly enjoys the rain.  Indeed, for much of the week, I was frustrated in my efforts to identify it and there’s a wonderfully logical reason for that as demonstrated by the pictures below.  The first two show either end of a stretch of the fruitbodies of this fungus earlier in the week.

This second set of pictures shows the ends of the same array of fruitbodies this afternoon, after a couple of inches of rain.

Such dramatic changes.  From black to reddish orange, from shriveled scabs to erect gelatinous “leaves” clearly bloated with rainwater – now matching guidebooks on fungi.  A saprotrophic beauty in the rain.

(Part of the allure of being a neophyte in any aspect of natural history is the encounter with new words, particularly words that please the ear, tongue, and mind.  Well, mentally pleasing is probably not what saprotrophic is.  The word is from a Greek root sapro meaning rotten or putrid, and trophi meaning nourish or food – together, an adjective describing an organism that draws nourishment from dead or dying matter.)

Additional Sources

For the information on fungi presented here, I’ve relied on Mushrooms of Northeast North America by George Barron (1999), one of the best guides to fungi I’ve found and, believe me, I’ve consulted many of those readily available.  Barron has a degree in botany from the University of Glasgow in Scotland (how appropriate) and a doctorate in mycology from Iowa State University.  No one guide seems to do it all, but this one gets closest for my neck of the woods.

For the derivation of the saprotrophic, I used Donald J. Borror’s Dictionary of Word Roots and Combining Forms.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

The Pain of the Search

Dr. [Michael P.] Taylor has never participated in an excavation, instead choosing to study the scores of unnamed fossils that are collecting dust in the basements of museums.  He takes pictures from many angles and makes detailed measurements that he studies.
“Given the limited time I have available for paleo, conferences and museum visits are more important,” he said.
~ Dinosaur-Hunting Hobbyist Makes Fresh Tracks for Paleontology, The New York Times, February 28, 2011.

I welcomed March by hunting for fossils along the Calvert Cliffs.  With a biting wind from the north and temperatures in the low 40s, the day brought no promise of Spring despite a shockingly blue sky.  I had hoped that the rainstorm of the day before would have shaken loose treasure from the cliffside, but, for the most part, that wish went unfulfilled.

The day was remarkable, not for the fossils found, but for the pain it inflicted.  Nothing serious, just the usual price paid for this high privilege.  The picture above was one of a few I took as the day began (the view is toward the north by the way, showing mostly Calvert Formation, and fossils from here would be some 20 to 14 million years old).  But, by day’s end, when I thought to burrow into my winter jacket to pull my camera from a shirt pocket for another shot, I realized I couldn’t unbutton the flap that protected that pocket because I couldn’t feel the button with my fingers, much less maneuver it through the buttonhole.  My gloves had failed early in the day and now my hands were wet, red, raw, unresponsive, and thoroughly, thoroughly brutalized by the cold wind and water of the Chesapeake Bay.  They ached, not with some low-level ache, but with a sharp, vicious hurt.  The decision to surrender the day and turn for home came when I could no longer pick up fossils.  Oh, certainly, I could have forced my fingers to close on that mythical five inch megalodon shark tooth, but on nothing less.  It had become an out of body experience to watch my hand attempt to pull a tissue from a coat pocket to staunch my runny nose.  Back at my car, I discovered that the pains in my hands had masked the fact that one of my hip boots had sprung a leak and my left foot had been bathed in icy bay water for most of the day.

I lied about the fossils found not being remarkable – yes, as fossils, they were not remarkable, but as trophies, rewards for a day of hard, painful work, they were memorable.

The physical pain that may accompany the search and discovery of fossils is important, I think.  It means that you have seen the landscape that births a fossil, you know the place, its sights, smells, noises, earth, rocks, wind, heat, cold, sun, plants – you know something intrinsic to the fossil itself, something important.  Though it might not advance the science, what you’ve learned by doing the physical labor becomes part of the value of the fossil, if only to you personally.

I recently read Mark Jaffe’s The Gilded Dinosaur:  The Fossil War Between E.D. Cope and O.C. Marsh and the Rise of American Science (2000), an account worthy of the epic battle in the latter half of the 19th century that pitted two of the nation’s most prominent paleontologists against each other.  Edward Drinker Cope (1840 – 1897), associated at one time with the Academy of Natural Sciences in Philadelphia, and Yale professor Othniel Charles Marsh (1831 – 1899) competed bitterly to uncover fossils and identify new species, particularly dinosaur species.  The American Experience TV series recently ran a nice overview of the Cope-Marsh conflict titled The Dinosaur Wars.

These members of the paleontology community waged their blood feud across a broad swath of the country, from quarries in New Jersey to the badlands of the West.  Other scientists found themselves forced to take sides.  One of my paleontological heroes, Joseph Leidy, abandoned paleontology altogether to escape the reach of the combatants (and, suggests Jaffe, also because the science was evolving beyond him).  A picture of Cope appears below, followed by one of Marsh.

Some have posited that their battle royal was detrimental to the science, but, I think Jaffe believes otherwise.  The sheer productivity of the two, particularly Cope’s, was undoubtedly fueled by their hatred for each other.  Certainly some of the scientific analysis was a bit slipshod in the rush to get into print, and Cope suffered because he had access to fewer specimens.  But, they pushed back the frontier of paleontology and opened up new areas of the West to paleontological exploration, bringing a scientific approach to the field work.

Well, it must be acknowledged that Marsh reportedly destroyed fossils to keep them out of Cope’s hands, and went so far as to seed a site with teeth from one animal and a skull from another.  He then stood back, allowing Cope to find them and describe a new species, an error that took two decades to undo.

Though agents in the field shipped both men copious amounts of fossils (Marsh, with his greater fortune, benefited more than Cope in this), both men spent substantial periods in the field, doing the hard work.

Here’s a description of Marsh at work at one site with winter coming on.
When the Marsh party reached the edge of the badlands, they set up camp in an area screened by ravines and started collecting.  The fossils were scattered over a ten-mile circuit, and the weather was so intensely cold that everyone worked hard just to keep warm.  Icicles formed on Marsh’s beard, and he had to chip them off so he could eat dinner.  Each morning, he had to thaw out his boots before he could get his feet into them.  The group quickly built a large pile of fossils.  (Jaffe, p. 122)
Also in the badlands, but at another time and another season, Cope and two companions found the going as tough.
The work was hard, the days hot, and the three were constantly plagued by swarms of gnats that got under their hats and shirt sleeves and gave them sores that ran pus and produced thick scabs.  The gnats also got under the saddles, causing the horses great irritation.  The men tried to combat the bugs by covering their faces and arms with bacon grease and rubbing the stuff under the collars and saddles of their horses.  Despite the pests, they worked the badlands tenaciously.  (Jaffe, p. 178)
I began this posting with a quotation from a recent New York Times profile of Mike Taylor.  The article described him as a “British computer programmer” with a deep interest in dinosaurs who has published extensively on dinosaurs, and named two without, apparently, ever going into the field.

A man of seemingly unlimited chutzpah (check out his web page), Taylor entered the paleontology ranks a decade ago when, after reading a paleontological paper, he concluded
[B]limey, I could do better than that. . . .  And then I decided, why shouldn’t I?  What’s stopping me?”
So, he found the niche which Yale paleontologist Nicholas Longrich, as quoted in the Times piece, described this way.
You just need a decent camera, a little time and money to travel to museums, some experience, a good eye. . . . It’s still hard – not just anybody can do it – but the barrier to entry is a lot lower than for other fields.
The species Taylor has named are based on his careful and meticulous study of unidentified dinosaur fossils residing in museum collections, fossils that others originally found, one as recently as 1995 and the other in the 1890s.

Toward the end of the decade in which he has pursued this side interest in dinosaurs, Taylor earned a PhD in paleontology from the University of Portsmouth (UK), writing a dissertation titled Aspects of the History, Anatomy, Taxonomy and Palaeobiology of Sauropod Dinosaurs.

All in all, an impressive vita, replete with contributions to the science, still, I find it hard to get beyond the perspective that “conferences and museum visits are more important” than going into the field.

Sure, someone needs to work through the material found in the field, and it need not be the individuals who made the discoveries.  The Cope-Marsh conflict, for instance, produced more than enough material for many assistants and students to work on for years, with the prospect of identifying new species without ever traveling to the sites where the specimens were found.  (Marsh, it should be noted, was notorious for keeping his assistants from receiving credit for the work they did, so it doesn’t always work out for those “lesser beings.”)

Still, I hope that, at some time, even if only as a child, Taylor actually dirtied his hands rooting in the ground or burnished them plunging them into icy salt water in pursuit of fossils.  There is something to be gained by the pain of the search, if only a greater appreciation of the prize.

Novelist Penelope Lively captured the essence of the fossil quest in the opening pages of her novel Moon Tiger.  Actually, I was reminded of Cope and Marsh when I reread those pages.

The novel opens with Claudia Hampton, in her late 70s, lying on her deathbed, reliving a moment from her childhood.  (A nurse, having earlier heard fragments of thoughts and conversations that escape Claudia’s lips, asks the doctor, “Was she someone?”  A particularly frightening and thoughtless question.  But, recast as “who was she,” it lies at the core of the novel.)
She climbs a little higher, on to another sliding shelving plateau of the cliff, and squats searching furiously the blue grey fragments of rock around her, hunting for those enticing curls and ribbed whorls, pouncing once with a hiss of triumph – an ammonite, almost whole.  The beach, now is quite far below; its shrill cries, its barkings, its calls are clear and loud but from another world, of no account.
At this moment in her dying reverie, Claudia is a ten-year old, locked in a fierce competition, a vicious no holds barred struggle, with her older brother Gordon to find and lay claim to fossils.
For the sake of beating Gordon to a choice-looking seam of Jurassic mud I was prepared to bash a hundred and fifty million years to pieces with my shiny new hammer and if necessary break my own arm or leg falling off a vertical section of Blue Lias on Charmouth beach in 1920.
Indeed, she and Gordon tussle over “his bit” of the cliffside, and she plummets to the beach below.


The picture of O.C. Marsh is from the Smithsonian and was taken during the 1860s.  It is negative number 78-15940.

The picture of E.D. Cope is cropped from the frontispiece of Syllabus of Lectures on the Vertebrata, Volume 2, 1898 by Cope, with an introduction by Henry Fairfield Osborn.
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