The Age of Reptiles

The Age of Reptiles
The Age of Reptiles, a mural by Rudolph F. Zallinger. Copyright 1966, 1975, 1985, 1989 Peabody Museum of Natural History, Yale University. All rights reserved.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Who gets credit?

As we begin to catalog our archives here at the Peabody Museum, those working on the project will occasionally post items of interest as they come across them. We are starting the cataloging process in the three divisions with the largest archive collections. So if Anthropology, Vertebrate Paleontology and Invertebrate Zoology interest you, check back often as we hope to post on a regular basis.

To start things off, I’ll be working through the Division of Invertebrate Zoology’s collections. I have worked in the division for the last 7 years and am looking forward to be able to put some order to the Division’s archives. Hopefully, going through the archives will add value to our more traditional collections and even answer some questions we have in regards to them.

Last week, I sorted some correspondence from Theodore Lyman to Addison Verrill. In one of those letters, Lyman was commenting on the then “American” way of attributing authors to taxonomic nomenclature. Verrill believed anyone could describe a species, but classifying that species correctly was more important. He would then attribute his name as author. This of course led to species being incorrectly attributed to Verrill, something we are still sorting out 130 years later. Lyman happened to agree with Verrill’s reasoning, and stated the “American” way would become dominant over the more traditional European method. The European method, which Lyman referred to as the “Scandinavian” method, retained the original author, even after the species was correctly classified; they simply made the author parenthetical. Thankfully the traditional method was retained, making taxonomists lives much easier than what Verrill was proposing.

I realize the preceding may not interest all of you, but as a zoologist, I enjoyed the insight it gave me into the evolving field of taxonomy in the mid-nineteenth century. It also gave me a more information on Addison Verrill, a very influential zoologist of the late 19th and early 20th century, someone who I’ll be writing more about in the future.