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Re: St. Augustine a fossil hunter?



Yes! St Augustine (AD 354-430) was a fossil collector. He lived in Carthage (now Tunisia, North Africa) in the twilight of the pagan Roman Empire, the dawn of the Christian Byzantine era. In the "City of God" 15.9, Augustine discussed the existence of giants and giant creatures in the distant past. To confirm the historical reality of giant beings in the deep passt, he cited classical Greek and Roman authors and the long history of discoveries of giant bones around the Mediterranean since the time of Homer (8th century BC). He noted that Roman farmers in Italy often plowed up giant skeletons and he cited Pliny the Elder (1st century AD) on the widespread notion that the aging Earth produces ever-punier, smaller, and weaker life-forms.

Augustine wrote: "Some people refuse to believe that [in previous ages] men were of much larger size than they are now...but skeptics are generally persuaded by the evidence in the ground." He described the "frequent discovery of incredibly large bones revealed by the ravages of time, the violent action of streams, and other events...tangible proof" that ancient life-forms were enormous, and that "some of those [giant creatures of the past] even towered far above the rest."

He had collected such giant remains on the beach at Utica, on the Gulf of Tunis: He wrote, "I myself--not alone but with several other people--found a human molar so immense that we estimated that it was 100 times the dimension of our own teeth. I believe that molar belonged to some giant." Augustine went on to point out that bones and teeth of past creatures are very long-lasting, which allows rational people of much later ages the opportunity to visualize the giant beings from eons ago.

The area around ancient Utica (now 7 miles inland due to silting) contains abundant Pliocene large mammal fossils. Since the large tooth was taken as that of a giant human, it probably belonged to a mastodon (some scholars suggest it was a giant Hippopotamus amphibius molar).

Ironically, Augustine's own bones were kept on display in Italy, after his death during the Vandal invasion of North Africa.

For a full description of Augustine's fossil discovery and interpretation, see pp 154-56, 261-62 of Adrienne Mayor, "The First Fossil Hunters: Paleontology in Greek and Roman Times" (Princeton 2000).

On Nov 18, 2005, at 9:16 AM, Vladimír Socha wrote:

Good day,
some time ago, I've read an interview with Robert T. Bakker, where he states that the "Doctor of the Church" Aurelius Augustinus (St. Augustine of Hippo, 354 - 430 CE) collected fossils and also raised presumptions as of its origin. My question is: Does anyone knows how much is this true and what's the source of this? Did St. Augustine ever mentioned fossils (how would he call them?) in his works? Thanks for any info, Vlad