Lecture | Public event
Public lecture: Fossils of Giants?
- 28 March 2019
- Entrance: Special Guest Card, entrance ticket, Friend of the Museum
- Rijksmuseum Boerhaave
Lange St. Agnietenstraat 10
2312 WC Leiden
- Einstein room
Imagine you are the first person who digs up a fossil of a dinosaur. You probably think what in heaven's name would this bone have belonged to? How did people who actually found the first fossils interpret their findings? In her lecture Anita Guerrini takes the audience through this experience and the fantastic stories the fossils gave rise to.
In antiquity, fossil bones were thought to be the remains of gods and mythological creatures. Like the mosasaur of Maastricht, fossil bones could become national symbols. However in early modern times the interpretation of fossils went beyond symbolism, and these remains were used to rewrite national histories. In France for instance, the supposed remains of the Gaulish king Teutobochus, found in 1613, confirmed that Gauls rather than Franks were the true Frenchmen.
Across Europe, fossil bones were compared with human bones. They looked like human arm and leg bones, but they were two to five times bigger. The historical narratives built around these bones told the stories of superhuman giants, origins for a favored nation, but also a belief in human decline.
In her talk Anita Guerrini will not only show how modern historians and archaeologists have determined these bones to be the remains of mammoths, mastodons, and other extinct animals. But she will also shed a light on early modern antiquarians and natural philosophers, each claiming specific expertise, struggling to interpret the fossils within the shifting boundaries of early modern knowledge. In the eighteenth century, these debates crossed over into new explorations of time and extinction, once more rewriting natural and human history.
This public lecture is organized by Rijksmuseum Boerhaave and the Lorentz Center.