American Monster: How the Nation's First Prehistoric by Paul Semonin

By Paul Semonin

In 1801, the 1st entire mastodon skeleton was once excavated within the Hudson River Valley, marking the climax of a century-long debate in the US and Europe over the identification of a mysterious creature referred to as the yank Incognitum. lengthy earlier than the dinosaurs have been stumbled on and the inspiration of geological time bought forex, many voters of the recent republic believed this legendary beast to be a ferocious carnivore, in a position to crushing deer and elk in its ''monstrous grinders.'' throughout the American Revolution, George Washington and Thomas Jefferson avidly amassed its bones; for the founding fathers, its sizeable jaws symbolized the violence of the flora and fauna and the rising nation's personal desires of conquest.

Paul Semonin's vigorous heritage of this icon of yank nationalism makes a speciality of the hyperlink among patriotism and prehistoric nature. From the 1st fist-sized the teeth present in 1705, which Puritan clergyman claimed used to be proof of human giants, to the medical racialism linked to the invention of extinct species, Semonin strains the evangelical ideals, Enlightenment notion, and Indian myths which led the founding fathers to view this prehistoric monster as an emblem of nationhood.

Semonin additionally sees the secret of the mastodon in early the United States as a cautionary story in regards to the first flowering of our narcissistic fascination with a prehistoric nature governed by means of ferocious carnivores. As such, American Monster deals clean insights into the genesis of the continuing fascination with dinosaurs.

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Extra info for American Monster: How the Nation's First Prehistoric Creature Became a Symbol of National Identity

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By validating these folktales, he was embracing the pagan mythology that Cotton Mather had condemned only a few years earlier in his account of King Philip’s war. Full of aspersions on the “savages,” Mather’s Indian war narrative equated them with the evil giant King Og, an embodiment of the devil to be hunted down like the monsters depicted in classical mythology. Even 24 THE GIANT OF CLAVERACK IN PURITAN AMERICA though Taylor shared Mather’s Puritan belief that the pagan frontier was a fallen world and spoke of converting “the Wilderness to the promised land,” his praise of the Indian myths brought him dangerously close to views that would have been considered heretical had he completed his poem in the same sympathetic spirit.

In many respects, the bones’ symbolic significance went much deeper than the question of national pride underlying Jefferson’s quarrel with Buffon. For nearly a century, since the earliest speculations of Edward Taylor and Cotton Mather about the fossil teeth, the primary vehicle shaping both the learned and popular awareness of the giant bones was the creation narrative of Christianity and the story of Noah’s Ark and the Flood. In the eyes of many clergymen and their congregations, the sense of wonder inspired by the bones of the American incognitum did not issue from their vision of the beast in the prehistoric landscape, for they were only beginning to entertain the idea of extinction and the “primitive” world of the prehuman earth.

Neither Woodward nor Mather believed that the bones belonged to extinct creatures, although Mather suggested that the giants of Claverack had drowned during the Great Deluge. Throughout Mather’s letter is a triumphant tone in his description of the spectacular size of the giant of Claverack. His celebration of the monster’s dimensions foreshadowed Thomas Jefferson’s response decades later to European naturalists who maintained that the species of the New World were inferior in size. Mather’s opening remarks to Dr.

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