Quote: Cuvier on fossil destruction

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Georges Cuvier is generally remembered for the idea of “catastrophism” – but I ran across this quote (in translation) from his description of the famous opossum fossil, which shows he was interested in a different kind of destruction as well:

It is without doubt a really admirable thing, this rich collection of debris and animal skeletons of an ancient world, assembled by nature in the quarries that surround our city, as if preserved by her for the study and instruction of the present age. Every day some new remains are discovered there; every day adds to our surprise by proving more and more that none of what then peopled the earth in this part of the globe has been preserved on our present soil; and these proofs will doubtless be multiplied to the extent that more interest is shown in them and more attention given to them. In certain beds there is scarcely a block of gypsum that does not conceal some bones: how many millions of these bones have already been destroyed, since the quarries began to be exploited and the gypsum used for building! How many are being destroyed even now by simple negligence, and how many by their small size still escape the eye of even the laborers who are most attentive to collect them!

This translation appears on page 69 of Martin Rudwick’s 1998 book, Georges Cuvier, Fossil Bones, and Geological Catastrophes: New Translations and Interpretations of the Primary Texts.

UPDATE (2009-07-29): No, Cuvier was not claiming to be the “stud” of the “present age” – that was my typo. Still, there is this: