VERTEBRATE PALEONTOLOGY IN ROMANIA1

  • View
    216

  • Download
    2

Embed Size (px)

Transcript

  • VERTEBRATE PALEONTOLOGY IN ROMANIA1

    DAN GRIGORESCU1

    University of Bucharest, Faculty of Geology and Geophysics 1 Bd. N. Blcescu, Bucharest

    It is always difficult to date precisely the beginning of a new science in a country. If we consider the first written information on fossil vertebrates that were correctly interpreted as remains of animals from the past, then we should place the beginning of Vertebrate Paleontology on the present territory of Romania at the end of the 18th century. Representative for that period, when the description of fossils was included in the geographical notes is Johan Fichtels paper in 1780 (1). The paper was read by George Cuvier, the renowned French naturalist, the founder of Comparative Anatomy and of modern Vertebrate Paleontology, who corrected Fichtels misinterpretation of a tusk tip of Mammuthus primigenius as the horn of a unicorn. Such descriptions of fossil vertebrates, mostly represented by remains of large mammals from the Late Tertiary and Quaternary deposits of Transylvania, like elephants, mastodons, bisons and rhinos, written in German or French, became more frequent in the first half of the next century. But till the middle of the 19th century no detailed study on fossil bones from Romania was published. In the 19th century the center for searches in Natural Sciences among which fossil vertebrates constitute a distinct topic was the town of Sibiu, at that time one of the most flourishing cultural towns, not only for Transylvania but also for the entire Central Europe. To this town were linked the researches of Eduard Albert Bielz, Michael J. Ackner and Ludwig J. Neugeboren, promoters of the Society of Naturalists in Sibiu, established in 1849, all of them fossil collectors, researchers and authors of scientific notes, Bielz and Ackner on Late Cenozoic large land mammals, Neugeboren on Paleogene shark teeth.

    L.J. Neugeboren is the author of the first extended study on a group of fossil vertebrates from the Romanian territory, namely on the Eocene shark teeth found near Sibiu at Porcesti (Turnu Rou) (2). The work represents one of the first studies in the world dedicated to fossil fishes; it followed soon after Louis Agassizs paper of reference Recherches sur les poissons fossiles published in 18331834.

    The studies on fossil vertebrates turned from an occasional subject to a systematic approach during the second part of the 19th century, in close connection with the setting-up of the first modern universities in Romania, in a chronological order, the universities in Iai (1862), Bucharest (1864) and Cluj (1872). The

    1 An outline of this paper was presented as an introductory lecture in the opening session of the 7th European Workshop on Vertebrate Paleontology, Sibiu, 27 July 2002.

  • Noesis 2 98

    disciplines of Geology, Mineralogy and Paleontology were taught in all the three universities, within the Faculties of Natural Sciences. It should be mentioned that the first professors of Geology in these universities had Paleontology and especially the Vertebrate Paleontology as the main subject of scientific researches.

    Grigore Coblcescu (18311892) in Iai, the author of the first geological paper in Romanian: Calcarul de la Rpidea (The Limestone from Rpidea) did important researches on the Sarmatian and Pliocene mollusks, but he did not neglect fossil vertebrates when he found their remains. Thus, in the paper mentioned above he described a molar of a rhinoceros within the brackish Middle Miocene (Sarmatian) limestone with mollusks and gastropods, obviously the tooth being carried in the sea from the surrounding land.

    Much more devoted to the Paleontology of vertebrates were Gregoriu tefnescu (18361911) and Anton Koch (18431927), the first professors of Geology at the University of Bucharest and Cluj, respectively.

    Gregoriu tefnescus first paper in the field of Vertebrate Paleontology was published in 1872 in Revista tiinific (Scientific Magazine) under the title Oseminte fosile din Romnia (Fossil bones from Romania) (3). The paper refers to teeth and bones of some large Tertiary and Quaternary mammals, among which mastodons, elephants, deer, horses and rhinos found in the Subcarpathian region and the Romanian Plain. Later on this study was presented at the Geological Society of France where it enjoyed the interest and appreciation of the French paleontologist Albert Gaudry, at that time one of the greatest authorities in the field of Vertebrate Paleontology. But the name of Gregoriu tefnescu will always remain associated with the description of two mammals, the elephant-like Deinotherium gigantissimum from the Upper Miocene (Meotian) of Mnzai in southern Moldavia and of a new camel species, Camelus (Paracamelus) alutensis, from a Lower Pleistocene terrace of the Olt river, near the town of Slatina (4).

    The unearthing of the almost complete skeleton of Deinotherium that took three years, from the spring of 1890 till the fall of 1893, left interesting memories, significant for the popular beliefs at the end of the 19th century regarding the large fossils. It took time and the involvement of the local police to recover from the villagers the pieces of the skull, the first part of the skeleton that had been unearthed by a landslide. In the spirit of the common belief at that time, the huge bones that had appeared were interpreted as remains of a biblical giant. To have a piece from this holy relic, the villagers broke the skull in many fragments and hid them in their houses. After the recovery of the skull fragments and the end of the diggings of the site, the restoration of the complete skeleton of Deinotherium took 12 years, till it was installed in the Grigore Antipa Museum of Natural History in Bucharest, where Deinotherium gigantissimum continues to represent one of the most attractive exhibits.

  • 3 Histoire de la science et de la technique 99

    Fig. 1. Gregoriu tefnescu (18361911).

    To the restoration of the skeleton contributed Louis de Paw, the curator of the Royal Museum of Natural History in Brussels, the same person who, before coming to Bucharest, coordinated the unearthing of the numerous, almost complete skeletons of the ornithopod dinosaur Iguanodon from Bernissart, in south Belgium.

    Gregoriu tefnescu was more than an eminent teacher and an ardent researcher of fossil mammals. He was also the organizer of the first geological

  • Noesis 4 100

    institution in Romania, Biroul Geologic al Romniei, founded in 1882 whose main aim was to work out the geological map of the country, at that time without Transylvania. This first geological map of Romania was printed in 1898 at the scale 1:2,000,000, being included in the new edition of the geological map of Europe.

    Gregoriu tefnescu attended all the 10 International Geological Congresses that took place between 1879 and 1909, successively in Paris, Bologna, Berlin, London, Washington, Zurich, St. Petersburg, Vienna, Mexico and Stockholm. His participation in the International Congresses contributed to the opening of the Romanian geology and geologists to the world geological debates. An important follow-up of the personal contacts established on such occasions by Professor G. tefnescu was the increase of the paleontological collection of vertebrates at the Faculty in Bucharest, numerous valuable casts and replicas from the greatest museums in Europe and America being added to this collection. Among the obtained pieces there are the copy of the Berlin specimen of Archaeopteryx and the complete reconstruction of the North American Phenacodus (at that time considered to represent the stem of ungulates radiation) that was offered to him by the famous American paleontologist Edward D. Cope.

    The researches involved in field for the elaboration of the first geological map of Romania led to a substantial increase of the paleontological collections in universities and museums. This contributed very much to the rise of the public awareness on the fossils significance for the evolution of life, the fossil vertebrates offering the most convincing arguments in this evolution.

    As about two thirds of Romanias surface is covered by Neogene and Quaternary sediments, most of the vertebrates found were mammals, both in marine but especially in nonmarine facies. The largest quantity of bones was found in the Upper Pliocene (Romanian) and Lower PleistoceneVillafranchian deposits. The collections include mastodons, elephants, rhinos, horses, bovids and various fissiped carnivores. Particularly, the modernization of Bucharest as a country capital favored the discovery of a large number of such fossil mammals in the numerous quarries that were opened around the town in connection with the new buildings.

    After Gregoriu tefnescu, the studies of the Tertiary and Quaternary mammals from the former Kingdom of Romania, including Moldavia, Valachia and Oltenia were continued by Sava Athanasiu (18611946) and Sabba tefnescu (18571931).

    In 1892 Sava Athanasiu succeeded Grigore Coblcescu at the chair of Geology at the University of Iai and from 1910 till 1936 he was in charge of the chair of Geology at the University of Bucharest, succeeding to Gregoriu tefnescu. In 1899 Sava Athanasiu defeated his Doctoral thesis on the Geology of the Northern part of the Eastern Carpathians. The searches in field related to this study and especially the later ones, when he extended the area of investigations to

  • 5 Histoire de la science et de la technique 101

    the Subcarpathians of Moldavia and Valachia occasioned the discovery of numerous remains of large mammals which he described in several papers. In 1908 Sava Athanasiu published a large paper on proboscideans from the Tertiary deposits thus trying to correlate the Pliocene deposits from