“The Human Witness of the Flood”, from Johann Jacob Scheuchzer, Homo diluvii testis, 1726.

39. Scheuchzer, Johann Jacob (1672-1733).
Homo diluvii testis.
Zurich: Typis Joh. Henrici Byrgklini, 1726.

Johann Scheuchzer was a Swiss naturalist who was one of the early proponents of the idea that fossils are the remains of former organisms.  He also believed that the best way to explain the presence of such fossils in rocks was to invoke the Great Flood of Noah.  He proposed that during the Flood, the surface of the earth was dissolved and re-deposited, along with animal and plant remains, which became fossilized.  If this were true, one ought to find human remains as well, since all of humankind perished during the flood, except for Noah’s family.  So Scheuchzer was quite relieved to discover, in 1726, what he considered to be a “Homo diluvii testis”, a human witness of the flood.  This fossil, consisting of a skull and a vertebral column, became quite famous for the next century (and indeed still survives, in the Teyler Museum in Haarlem).  In fact, it is not human at all, but a giant salamander, as Cuvier would demonstrate in 1808 (see item 42).

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