It is well known, that on the Ohio, and in many parts of America further north, tusks, grinders, and skeletons of unparalleled magnitude are found in great numbers, some lying on the surface of the earth, and some a little below it … But to whatever animal we ascribe these remains, it is certain that such a one has existed in America, and that it has been the largest of all terrestrial beings… Thomas Jefferson


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The legacy of the Mastodon : the golden age of fossils in America  Keith Thomson  New Haven : Yale University Press, c 2008  Hardcover. 1st ed. and printing. xvii, 386 p., [16] p. of plates : ill., maps ; 24 cm. Includes bibliographical references (p. 345-369) and index. Clean, tight and strong binding with clean dust jacket. No highlighting, underlining or marginalia in text. VG/VG

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The uncovering in the mid-1700s of fossilized mastodon bones and teeth at Big Bone Lick, Kentucky, signaled the beginning of a great American adventure. The West was opening up and unexplored lands beckoned. Unimagined paleontological finds awaited discovery: strange horned mammals, birds with teeth, flying reptiles, gigantic fish, diminutive ancestors of horses and camels, and more than a hundred different kinds of dinosaurs. This exciting book tells the story of the period of fossil discovery in American history from the years 1750 to 1890.

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The volume begins with Thomas Jefferson, whose interest in the American mastodon led him to champion the study of fossil vertebrates. The book continues with vivid descriptions of the actual work of prospecting for fossils – a pick in one hand, a rifle in the other – and portraits of Joseph Leidy, Ferdinand Hayden, Edward Cope, and Othniel Marsh among other major figures in the development of the study of paleontology. Shedding new light on these scientists’ feuds and rivalries, on the connections between fossil studies in Europe and America, and on paleontology’s contributions to America’s developing national identity, The Legacy of the Mastodon is itself a discovery for every reader.

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I abide in a goodly Museum,
Frequented by sages profound:
‘Tis a kind of strange mausoleum,
Where the beasts that have vanished abound.
There’s a bird of the ages Triassic,
With his antediluvian beak,
And many a reptile Jurassic,
And many a monster antique.
— May Kendall, 1887

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