Saturday, January 24, 2015

John Filson. On Big Bone Lick. 1784

John Filson. On Big Bone Lick.  1784

from Kentucke
edited by
Avi Hathor

At a salt spring, near Ohio river, very large bones are found, far surpassing the size of any species of animals now in America. The head appears to have been about three feet long, the ribs seven, and the thigh bones about four; one of which is reposited in the library in Philadelphia, and said to weigh seventy-eight pounds. The tusks are above a foot in length, the grinders about five inches square, and eight inches long. These bones have equally excited the amazement of the ignorant, and attracted the attention of the philosopher. Specimens of them have been sent both to France and England, where they have been examined with the greatest diligence, and found upon comparison to be remains of the same species of animals that produced those other fossil bones which have been discovered in Tartary, Chili, and several other places, both of the old and new continent. What animal this is, and by what means its ruins are found in regions so widely different, and where none such exists at present, is a question of more difficult decision. The ignorant and superstitious Tartars attribute them to a creature, whom they call Maimon, who, they say, usually resides at the bottom of the rivers, and of whom they relate many marvellous stories; but as this is an aslertion totally divested of proof, and even of probability, it has justly been rejected by the learned; and on the other hand it is certain, that no such amphibious quadruped exists in our American waters. The bones themselves bear a great resemblance to those of the elephant. There is no other terrestrial animal now known large enough to produce them. The tusks with which they are equally furnished, equally produce true ivory. These external resemblances have generally made superficial observers conclude, that they could belong to no other than that prince of quadrupeds; and when they first drew the attention of the world, philosophers seem to have subscribed to the same opinion. — But if so, whence is it that the whole species has disappeared from America? An animal so laborious and so docile, that the industry of the Peruvians, which reduced to servitude and subjected to education species so vaslly inferior in those qualities, as the Llama and the Paca, could never have overlooked the elephant, if he had been to be found in their country. Whence is it that these bones are found in climates where the elephant, a native of the torrid zone, cannot even subsist in his wild state, and in a state of servitude will not propagate? These are difficulties sufficient to stagger credulity itself; and at length produced the enquiries of Dr. Hunter. That celebrated anatomist, having procured specimens from the Ohio, examined them with that accuracy for which he is so much distinguished. He discovered a considerable difference between the shape and structure of the bones, and those of the elephant. He observed from the form of the teeth, that they must have belonged to a carnivorous animal; whereas the habits of the elephant are foreign to such sustenance, and his jaws totally unprovided with the teeth necessary for its use: And from the whole he concluded to the satisfaction of naturalists, that these bones belonged to a quadruped now unknown, and whose race is probably extinct, unless it may be be found. in the extensive continent of New Holland, whose recesses have not yet been pervaded by the curiosity or avidity of civilized man. Can then so great a link have perished from the chain of nature? Happy we that it has. How formidable an enemy to the human species, an animal as large as the elephant, the tyrant of the forests, perhaps the devourer of man! Nations, such as the Indians, must have been in perpetual alarm. The animosities among the various tribes must have been suspended till the common enemy, who threatened the very existence of all, should be extirpated. To this circumstance we are probably indebted for a fact, which is perhaps singular in its kind, the extination of a whole race of animals from the system of nature.

Filson, Kentucke, p. 33-36.

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