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  • Susan Elaine Jones

Curious beasts before the deluge

A belated write up of a lovely afternoon spent in the company of curious beasts at the Whipple Museum as part of Open Cambridge.

L'Ichthyosaure et le Plesiosaure

These lovely beasts, I'm sure you recognise as an Ichthyosaur and a Plesiosaur. Aren't they just beautiful?

I spent over an hour just looking through one volume at the Whipple display, Louis Figuier's La terre avant le deluge (1872 edition). I note the date because in his first edition he depicted Adam and Eve in Eden. In his second edition (1867), influenced by Charles Lyell's Geological Evidences of the Antiquity of Man of 1863, he replaced the image with cavemen in skins, hunting!

Apparation de l'homme

The appearance of man. (Not woman, obvs.)

But still, this was a major advance in thinking, from religious to scientific, based on geological and fossil evidence. All kudos to Monsieur Figuier! Even the title of the book, "The World before the Deluge" became massaged slightly as the geological evidence started to indicate that there wasn't one big biblical deluge, but a series of environmental disasters that resulted in major changes in the animals seen in the rocks.

But also, how gorgeous are these illustrations? Drawn by Édouard Riou, he made his living illustrating not only scientific texts, but the Science Fiction works of Jules Verne! Imagine that as an office job!

The pictures are so gorgeous - each perfectly composed to show a whole world scene filled with little animal dramas. Worth looking up his work and enjoying every little detail.

Teleosaur (ancient crocodilians) and Hylaeosaurus (just poking his spiny head in from the right).

Google translates "Periode oolithique moyenne" as "average oolithic period"... which I think is googlish for "Jurassic times". And, I like these images so much, I've put together a portfolio of the main geological age illustrations and a few favourite details. Find them here.

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