+ ~ -
Please report pronunciation problems here. Select and sample other voices. Options Pause Play
Report an Error

at Valentia, in the church dedicated to the
saint, was certainly the molar tooth of a fossil
elephant; and in 1789, the canons of St.
Vincent carried through the streets in public
procession, to procure rain, the pretended arm of
a saint, which was nothing less than the femur
of an elephant.

These fossil bones of elephants are extensively
scattered, not in Europe only, but almost all
over the world; in Scandinavia, in Greece, in
Spain, in Italy, in Africa. In the New World,
too, we have found, and continue still to find,
tusks, molar teeth, and bones, of the mammoth.
What is most singular is, that these remains
exist more especially in great numbers in the
north of Europe, in the frozen regions of Siberia;
regions altogether uninhabitable for the elephant
in our days. Every year, in the season of thawing,
the vast rivers which descend to the Frozen
Ocean sweep down with their waters numerous
portions of the banks, and expose to view the
bones buried in the soil and in the excavations
left by the rushing waters.

New Siberia and the Isle of Lackon are, for
the most part, only an agglomeration of sand,
ice, and elephants' teeth. At every tempest the
sea casts ashore fresh heaps of mammoths'
tusks, and the inhabitants are able to drive a
profitable trade in the fossil ivory thrown up
by the waves. During summer, innumerable
fishermen's barks direct their course to this
isle of bones; and in winter, immense caravans
take the same route, all the convoys drawn by
dogs, returning charged with the tusks of the
mammoth, weighing each from a hundred and
fifty to two hundred pounds. The fossil ivory
thus obtained from the frozen north is imported
into China and Europe, where it is employed
for the same purposes as ordinary ivorywhich
is furnished, as we know, by the elephant and
hippopotamus of Africa and Asia. The isle of
bones has served as a quarry of this valuable
material for export to China for five hundred
years; and it has been exported to Europe for
upwards of a hundred. But the supply from
these strange mines remains undiminished.
What a number of accumulated generations
does not this profusion of bones and tusks

It was in Russia that the fossil elephant
received the name of mammoth, and its tusks
mammoth horns. Pallas asserts that the name
originates in the word "mamma," which in the
Tartar idiom signifies earth. The Russians of
the north believe that these bones proceed from
an enormous animal which lived, like the mole,
in holes which it dug in the earth. It could not
support the light, says the legend, but died when
exposed to it. According to other authors, the
name proceeds from the Arabic word
behemoth, which, in the Book of Job, designates
an unknown animal; or from the epithet mehemot,
which the Arabs have been accustomed to add to
the name of the elephant when of unusual size.

Of all parts of Europe, that in which they
are found in greatest numbers is the valley of
the Upper Arno. We find there, a perfect
cemetery of elephants. Their bones were at
one time so common in the valley, that the
peasantry employed them indiscriminately with
stones in constructing walls and houses. Since
they have learned their value, however, they
reserve them for sale to travellers. It is very
strange that the East Indies, one of the two
regions which is now the home of the elephant,
should be the only country in which its fossil
bones have not been discovered. But from
the circumstance that the gigantic mammoth
inhabited nearly every region of the globe,
we are drawn to the conclusion (to which
many other inferences lead) that, during the
geological period in which these animals lived,
the general temperature of the earth was much
higher than it is at present.

A noteworthy circumstance is that, in still
earlier times, an elevated temperature and a
constant humidity do not seem to have been
limited to any one part of the globe. The heat
seems to have been the same in all latitudes.
From the equatorial regions up to Melville
Island, in the Arctic Ocean, where, in our days,
the frosts are eternal, from Spitzbergen to the
centre of Africa, the carboniferous flora presents
an identity. When we find almost the same
fossils at Greenland and in Guinea, when the
same species, now extinct, are met with under
the same degree of development at the equator
and the pole, we cannot but admit that, at this
epoch, the temperature of the globe was alike
everywhere. What we now call climate was,
therefore, unknown in geological times. There
seems to have been but one climate over the
whole globe. It was only at a later period, that
is in the tertiary epoch, that, by the progressive
cooling of the globe, the cold began to make
itself felt at the polar extremities. What, then,
was the cause of that uniformity of temperature
which we now regard with so much surprise?
It proceeded from the excessive heat of the
terrestrial sphere. The earth was still so hot in
itself, that its innate temperature rendered
superfluous and inappreciable, the heat which
reached it from the sun. M. Figuier makes a
comparison between this state of things and the
climate of equatorial Africa; but no human
being, not the toughest negro, could support
such a course of stewing, steaming, and broiling.

Let us now, as a cooling contrast, glance
at what geologists call the glacial period, the
winter of the ancient world, and which we must
consider as the most curious episode, however
certain, in the history of the earth. For,
although the cold might be explained by plausible
hypotheses, the grand puzzle is to know how
the earth got warm again. M. Figuier has the
courage to admit that no explanation presents
itself which can be considered conclusive;
adding, that "in science its professors should never
be afraid to say, I do not know"

At this visitation, the vast countries which
extend from Scandinavia to the Mediterranean
and the Danube, were overtaken by a severe
and sudden loss of their usual genial warmth.
The temperature of the glacial regions seized