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"The Fight over Fossils" - new exhibition at Kilmer Library

HADROSAURUS FOULKII - Head detail of dinosaur sculpture by John Giannotti, sculptor. Epoxy Bronze casting from original mold of life-size bronze statue in Haddonfield, NJ

The Kilmer Library is proud to announce the opening of their new exhibition - "Bones of Contention: The Fight over Fossils from New Jersey to the Far West after the Civil  War…or, Cope vs. Marsh"

The discovery, naming, description, and interpretation of fossils have engendered often fierce debate for almost two centuries. This "Bones of Contention" exhibit highlights the 30-year war of words and deeds between Edward D. Cope and Charles O. Marsh, the two preeminent American paleontologists during the second half of the nineteenth century. Complicating their ideological conflict during this time was the simultaneous evolution of their discipline - paleontology -- from one composed of independently-wealthy gentleman naturalists, as best illustrated by Cope, to one of increasingly institutional-level practice, and often combat, as usually practiced by Marsh.

Beyond the rivalry of Cope and Marsh, there were wider arenas of conflict such as whether or not fossil discoveries supported Charles Darwin's then-new theory of evolution. Cope, and many other scientists at the time, said no. Marsh, on the other hand, said yes and was personally thanked by Darwin for providing the best evidence to date in support of his work.

Museums, too, also became involved in the controversies over fossils. Once they discovered that mounted dinosaur skeletons became their most popular attractions, museums began to compete to acquire the most impressive specimens. The first example of this phenomenon in the U.S., indeed in the entire world, was the New Jersey Hadrosaur that was put on display, in 1868, at the Academy of Natural Sciences, in Philadelphia.

Controversy also ensued as paleontologists sought to name the mysterious creatures from Deep Time and then to "read the bones," that is, to interpret what these fossils suggested about prehistoric life, about life in general, and -- more controversially -- what all that might imply about the nature of human beings as well.

The way in which these animals and their environments were re-imagined by artists -- in painting, sculpture, drawings in popular and scholarly periodicals, museum mountings, and now in film - was, and remains today, continually contested territory.

Virtually all the books and the DVD on display in this exhibit are available in the Rutgers University Libraries' collections, and are meant to serve as but a modest introduction to these living issues, brought to life by the "Bones of Contention" exhibit.

Special thanks to John Giannotti, the sculptor who created, among many other works, the life-size bronze statue of a Hadrosaur, currently at large in downtown Haddonfield, New Jersey [Haddonfield was the discovery site of the first nearly complete dinosaur skeleton in the world, in 1858.] John has loaned his most recent dinosaur project - "HADROSAURUS FOULKII - Head Detail" - completed just this summer, for the benefit of this exhibit.

Thanks as well go to Kilmer Library staff person Kevin McGuire, the curator of the "Bones of Contention" exhibition. The Libraries are grateful for Kevin's dedication, drive, and creativity, which have resulted in this informative and engaging display.

The "Bones of Contention: The Fight over Fossils from New Jersey to the Far West after the Civil War…or, Cope vs. Marsh" will be on display through December 16th.

Additional supporting materials can be seen at http://libguides.rutgers.edu/bonesofcontention

Posted November 1, 2011; November 15, 2011; December 7, 2011