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Big Bone Lick: The Cradle of American Paleontology

by Stanley Hedeen foreword by John Mack Faragher

Availablepaperback$24.95s 978-0-8131-3386-7
Availablecloth$60.00x 978-0-8131-2485-8
204 pages  Pubdate: 02/04/2011  5.5 x 8.5 x .63  33

On March 7, 1808, President Thomas Jefferson received a long-awaited shipment of approximately 300 fossils from William Clark, who had just completed his westward expedition with Meriwether Lewis. The fossils were unearthed at Big Bone Lick in northern Kentucky, and over the years they had gained the interest of such prominent figures as Daniel Boone, George Washington, and Benjamin Franklin. Jefferson’s receipt of the fossils was the realization of more than twenty years of the philosopherstatesman’s interest in the site and its natural treasures. Big Bone Lick: The Cradle of American Paleontology recounts the rich history of the fossil site that gave the world the first evidence of the extinction of several mammalian species, including the American mastodon. Big Bone Lick has played many roles: nutrient source, hallowed ground, salt mine, health spa, and a trove of archaeological riches and paleontological wonders. Natural historian Stanley Hedeen presents a comprehensive and accessible narrative of Big Bone Lick from its geological formation forward, explaining why the site attracted first animals, then Native peoples of the region, European explorers and scientists, and eventually American pioneers and presidents. Big Bone Lick is a history of both a place and a scientific discipline: it explores the infancy and adolescence of paleontology from its humble and sometimes humorous beginnings. Hedeen combines elements of history, geology, politics, and biology to make Big Bone Lick an entertaining story as well as a valuable historical resource.

Stanley Hedeen is professor emeritus of biology and former dean of the College of Arts and Sciences at Xavier University. He has written several books on the natural and environmental history of the greater Cincinnati region.

“This excellent work by Stanley Hedeen is the most comprehensive account of Big Bone Lick that has yet been produced. The author has touched and expounded upon many facts that have sometimes been overlooked by others. I highly endorse it for those who cherish our heritage and this unique site.”—Bruce Ferguson, former Boone County Judge/Executive and former president, Big Bone Lick Park Association

Big Bone Lick: The Cradle of American Paleontology focuses on the century-long search for the true identity of the bones of various prehistoric animals found at this salt lick in northern Kentucky. In this ambitious chronicle, Hedeen incorporates a multitude of personalities and ideas that helped to shape the odyssey of the bones’ discovery—from Indian myths and religious beliefs to the first theories developed in the embryonic scientific fields of geology and paleontology.”—Paul Semonin, author of American Monster: How the Nation's First Prehistoric Creature Became a Symbol of National Identity

“This outstanding book provides new details and new perspective on one of the most extraordinary discoveries on the American frontier--the seemingly inexhaustible collection of huge animal fossils at Big Bone Lick. Hedeen explains why the bones, tusks, and teeth captured the attention of scientists and the public and shows how Thomas Jefferson used the Mammoth bones to refute the European idea that the New World environment was inferior and unable to grow large animals. The book gives us greater understanding of why frontier travelers turned aside to visit the site. Gradually unfolding the intriguing story of how anatomists identified the fossils, Hedeen demonstrates that Big Bone Lick was the birthplace of American paleontology.”—James A. Ramage, author of Gray Ghost: The Life of Col. John Singleton Mosby

"History and science come together in this fascinating story of a woodland salt lick and how the fossil bones found there influenced the beginnings of paleontology in America." --Publishers Weekly

“Sure to be in demand, this is recommended for most collections.”--Library Journal

“In his examination of Big Bone Lick, Hedeen is remarkably thorough: He provides maps of the area, as well as drawings and pictures of the various animals that eventually were discovered. More important, Hedeen is able to re-create the thought processes among top scientists in the world at the time. Following their collective confluences and deviations, Hedeen crafts a story of outlandish theories of existence, first vehemently denied, then gradually accepted, slowly chiseling away at the mountain of accepted science.” --Lexington Herald-Leader

“Hedeen includes ‘elements of history, geology, politics, and biology' to provide a thorough account of a famous deposit of vertebrate fossils. . . Recommended.” --Choice

“Hedeen has produced a most comprehensive study of the story of Big Bone and its significance. . . .Big Bone Lick is the story of both a place and a scientific discipline. It explores the infancy of paleontology and the author includes elements of history, geology, politics and biology to produce a valuable historical resource as well as a compelling tale of how this site captivated a young nation.” --Northern Kentucky Heritage

“This is a meaningful read as the world faces climate change and further extinctions.” --Bloomsbury Review

"While the author ably details the science of Big Bone Lick, it is his rich history of the people who collected there that makes this book the most fascinating."--Big Bone Journal

"Hedeen’s popular and well-researched account blends geology, history, exploration, biology, and politics, and is generally entertaining." --Science Books & Films

"History and science come together in this fascinating story of an enigmatic salt lick in a Kentucky forest and how the discoveries there influenced the rise of paleontology in America."--Kentucky Monthly

"Hedeen’s Big Bone Lick is recommended reading for those with an interest in evolution and the history of science. It also offers a look at several historical figures from an unusual angle – as science buffs, amateur naturalists and savvy debators."--SciFi Dimensions

"Although it is difficult to produce a book that will both interest a wide audience and maintain scholarly integrity, Stanley Hedeen has succeeded in doing so with this history of the fossil beds at Big Bone Lick."--Journal of Southern History

"Concerns a noted fossil site and its importance to the history of American paleontology." --Historical Studies in the Natural Sciences

"A valuable historical resource as well as the compelling tale of how a collection of fossilized bones captivated a young nation."--Machester Enterprise

“Hedeen tells the story of Big Bone Lick from all viewpoints: geological, paleontological, and human. . . . a wonderful summary of a complex site with a special place in American history.” --Indiana Magazine of History