Discover blog “80 beats”: Newly Unearthed Papers From Fossil Hunters Include An Ode to Bones

The science magazine Discover has covered the research of SMU vertebrate paleontologist Louis L. Jacobs and the infamous Bone Wars of the late 1800s.

In a post on Discover’s “80 beats” blog, the magazine reprinted the translation of a poem written by frontier naturalist and fossil hunter Jacob Boll.

Jacobs came across the poem at the American Museum of Natural History on a label on the back of Eryops specimen No. AMNH 4183.

SMU biology professor Pia Vogel translated the poem. Vogel and Jacobs worked with SMU English professor John M. Lewis to retain the essence of the poem in English.

The Bone Wars was a flurry of fossil speculation across the American West that escalated into a high-profile national feud. Drawn into the spectacle were two scientists from the Lone Star State, geologist Robert T. Hill, now acclaimed as the Father of Texas Geology, and Boll, who made many of the state’s earliest fossil discoveries.

Hill and Boll had supporting roles in the Bone Wars through their work for one of the feud’s antagonists, Edward Drinker Cope, according to Jacobs’ new study.

A professor in Dedman College‘s Roy M. Huffington Department of Earth Sciences, Jacobs joined SMU’s faculty in 1983.

Currently his field projects include work in Mongolia and Angola. His book, “Lone Star Dinosaurs” (1999, Texas A&M University Press) was the basis of an exhibit at the Fort Worth Museum of Science and History that traveled the state. He consulted on the new exhibit, Mysteries of the Texas Dinosaurs, which opened in 2009.

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EXCERPT:

Discover
This poem in praise of the Permian amphibian Eryops was scrawled on the back of a label now in the American Museum of Natural History by Jacob Boll, a Swiss-German fossil hunter involved in a tumultuous 19th-century paleontology feud.

Graduate students and post-docs do a lot of important work in science these days, in the names of their more eminent supervisors, and there was a similar set-up in the early days of American paleontology. Many of the fossils named by and attributed to E.D. Cope and O.C. Marsh, archenemies and the era’s most prominent paleontologists, were collected in the field by hired hunters like Boll and his contemporary Robert T. Hill, who both worked for Cope.

Paleontologists sifting through papers in the library of Southern Methodist University recently came across letters between Hill and Cope and, while examining specimens at AMNH, happened on Boll’s little poem.

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