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54 MIN READ TIME

REVOLUTIONARY MONSTER

The Ohio incognitum was such a famous American mystery that it attracted intense interest from Founding Fathers of the United States even during the birth of the new nation.

We’ve seen that Benjamin Franklin had already played a part in scientific debates about the creature. He possessed four precious tusks and three grinders from Big Bone Lick. By the time of the American War of Independence (1775– 1783) George Washington also owned a grinder tooth from Big Bone Lick. The mystery caught Washington’s attention even during the hard fought years of the Revolutionary War. When more huge teeth were found on a farm in New York’s Hudson River valley in 1780, Washington and his officers rode out one wintery day to see the fossils for themselves. Two years later, Washington sent a dozen men to the same farm to help dig for more.

But for Thomas Jefferson, the Ohio incognitum was more than an interesting puzzle. It became a lasting obsession. Jefferson’s involvement in the mystery began four or five years after he wrote the Declaration of Independence (with changes and contributions from Benjamin Franklin and others). He discussed the unknown Ohio animal in his only book, Notes on the State of Virginia, because of a matter of national pride. As the Thirteen Colonies fought for independence from England, Americans wished to celebrate their culture and natural wonders. But people in the old cities of Europe had an annoying habit of looking down on the young colonies. A particularly insulting example of this attitude was a peculiar scientific theory by the famous French naturalist Georges Louis Leclerc de Buffon. According to Buffon, nature was much weaker, much less active, on one side of the globe than the other. Europe, where Buffon lived, was of course on the strong, vigorous side. But in America the climate was unhealthy for living things. This made American animals feeble and small, Buffon claimed. Even the people were weaklings.

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Review of The Invention of Science: A New History of the Scientific Revolution, by David Wootton
A Review of The Age of Genius: The Seventeenth Century and the Birth of the Modern Mind by A.C.Grayling
Review of The Myth of an Afterlife: The Case against Life after Death edited by M. Martin and K. Augustine
Review of The Witch of Lime Street: Séance, Seduction, and Houdini in the Spirit World by David Jaher
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