Journal of the History of Biology

, Volume 48, Issue 2, pp 237–278 | Cite as

Building Baluchitherium and Indricotherium: Imperial and International Networks in Early-Twentieth Century Paleontology

  • Chris ManiasEmail author


Over the first decades of the twentieth century, the fragmentary remains of a huge prehistoric ungulate were unearthed in scientific expeditions in India, Turkestan and Mongolia. Following channels of formal and informal empire, these were transported to collections in Britain, Russia and the United States. While striking and of immense size, the bones proved extremely difficult to interpret. Alternately naming the creature Paraceratherium, Baluchitherium and Indricotherium, paleontologists Clive Forster-Cooper, Alexei Borissiak and Henry Fairfield Osborn struggled over the reconstruction of this gigantic fossil mammal. However, despite these problems, shared work on the creature served as a focus for collaboration and exchange rather than rivalry between these three scientific communities. Not only did the initial interpretation and analysis depend on pre-existing connections between British and American paleontological institutions, but the need for comparative material, recognition and contacts brought British and American scholars into communication and exchange with their counterparts in the Soviet Union. This article examines these processes. It first uses these excavations as a comparative case-study of different manifestations of colonial science in this period, examining how scholars in the Britain, the Russian Empire and the United States used formal and informal colonial links to Asia to pursue new research. It then moves to examine how the common problem of reconstructing this giant animal drew metropolitan scientific communities together, at least for a time. The construction of the Baluchitherium and Indricotherium illustrates the drives to expand research both imperially and internationally in the early-twentieth century, but also the continual problems in resources, institutionalization, transport and communication that could run up against scientific work.


Paleontology Empire Evolution Museums Expeditions Colonialism 


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. Abel, Othenio. 1923. “Über die Entdeckung eines neuen riesigen Säugetiers im unteren Miozän Asiens.” Die Naturwissenschaften 11: 284–286.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Abel, Othenio. 1924. “Weitere Entdeckungen von Resten des Rhinocerotiden Baluchitherium im Tertiär Innerasiens.” Die Naturwissenschaften 12: 14–17.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Anderson, Thomas. 2013. “Aepyornis as Moa: Giant Birds and Global Connections in Nineteenth-Century Science.” The British Journal for the History of Science 46(4): 675–693.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Andrews, Charles William. 1906. A Descriptive Catalogue of the Tertiary Vertebrata of the Fayûm, Egypt. London: British Museum.Google Scholar
  5. Andrews, Roy Chapman. 1926. On the Trail of Ancient Man: A Narrative of the Field Work of the Central Asiatic Expeditions. New York: Putnam.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Andrews, Roy Chapman. 1945. Under a Lucky Star: A Lifetime of Adventure. London: John Long.Google Scholar
  7. Asia Magazine. 1923. “On the Long Trail with the Editor.” Asia 8: 545.Google Scholar
  8. Baughan, Emily. 2013. “‘Every Citizen of Empire Implored to Save the Children!’ Empire, Internationalism and the Save the Children Fund in Inter-War Britain.” Historical Research 86: 116–137.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Beers, Laura and Thomas, Geraint (eds.). 2011. Brave New World: Imperial and Democratic Nation Building in Britain Between the Wars. London: Institute of Historical Research.Google Scholar
  10. Benton, Michael, Shishkin, Mikhail, Unwin, David, and Kurochkin, Evgenii (eds.). 2000. The Age of Dinosaurs in Russia and Mongolia. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  11. Bodylevskaya, I.V. 2007. “The Paleontological Institute during World War II: Academician A.A. Borissiak and the Moscow Group.” Paleontological Journal 41(2): 212–221.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Bolotova, Alla. 2004. “Colonization of Nature in the Soviet Union. State Ideology, Public Discourse, and the Experience of Geologists.” Historical Social Research/Historische Sozialforschung 29: 104–123.Google Scholar
  13. Borissiak, Alexeii. 1916. “O zubnom apparat’ Indrikoteriya.” Bulletin de l’Académie Impériale des sciences: 343–348.Google Scholar
  14. Borissiak, Alexeii. 1923. “O rod’ Indricotherium n.g. (sem. Rhinocerotidae).” Mémoires de l’Académie des Sciences de Russie 8.Google Scholar
  15. Borissiak, Alexeii. 1927. “On the Paraceratherium.” Comptes rendus de l’académie des sciences de l’URSS: 1–2.Google Scholar
  16. Borissiak, Alexeii. 1929. “Einige Fortschritte der russischen Paläontologie auf dem Gebiete der Wirbeltiere.” Oskar Vogt (ed.), Die Naturwissenschaft in der Sowjet-Union: Vorträge über Vertreter während ‘Russischen Naturforscherwoche’ in Berlin 1927. Berlin: Ost-Europa Verlag, pp. 1–13.Google Scholar
  17. Bowler, Peter. 1996. Life’s Splendid Drama: Evolutionary Biology and the Reconstruction of Life’s Ancestry, 1860–1940. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.Google Scholar
  18. Bradley, Joseph. 2009. Voluntary Associations in Tsarist Russia: Science, Patriotism, and Civil Society. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.Google Scholar
  19. Brinkman, Paul. 2010. The Second Jurassic Dinosaur Rush Museums and Paleontology in America at the Turn of the Twentieth Century. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Buffetaut, Eric. 1987. A Short History of Vertebrate Paleontology. Beckenham: Croom Helm.Google Scholar
  21. Chow, Min-Chen and Xu, Yu-xuan. 1959. “Indricotherium from Hami Basin, Sinkiang.” Vertebrata Palasiatica 3(2): 93–96.Google Scholar
  22. Cohen, Claudine. 2004. Le Destin du Mammouth. Paris: Seuil.Google Scholar
  23. Cohen, Claudine. 2011. La Méthode du Zadig: La Trace, Le Fossile, La Preuve. Paris: Seuil.Google Scholar
  24. Desmond, Adrian. 1979. “Designing the Dinosaur: Richard Owen’s Response to Robert Edmond Grant.” Isis 70(2): 224–234.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Doel, Ronald, Hoffmann, Dieter, and Krementsov, Nikolai. 2005. “National States and International Science: A Comparative History of International Science Congresses in Hitler’s Germany, Stalin’s Russia, and Cold War United States.” Osiris 20: 49–76.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Endersby, Jim. 2008. Imperial Nature: Joseph Hooker and the Practices of Victorian Science. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.Google Scholar
  27. Fan, Fa-ti. 2013. “Circulating Material Objects: The International Controversy over Antiquities and Fossils in Twentieth-Century China.” B. Lightman, G. McOuat and L. Stewart (eds.), Circulation of Knowledge. pp. 209–236.Google Scholar
  28. Forman, Paul. 1973. “Scientific Internationalism and the Weimar Physicists: The Ideology and Its Manipulation in Germany after World War I.” Isis 64(2): 150–180.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Forster-Cooper, Clive. 1911. “Paraceratherium bugtiense, A New Genus of Rhinocerotidiae from the Bugti Hills of Baluchistan—Preliminary Notice.” The Annals and Magazine of Natural History 1911(8): 711–718.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Forster-Cooper, Clive. 1913a. “Thaumastotherium osborni, A New Genus of Perissodactyles from the Upper Oligocene Deposits of the Bugti Hills of Baluchistan—Preliminary Notice.” The Annals and Magazine of Natural History 8: 376–381.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Forster-Cooper, Clive. 1913b. “Correction of Generic Name.” The Annals and Magazine of Natural History 8: 504.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Forster-Cooper, Clive. 1923a. “Baluchitherium osborni (?syn. Indirochotherium turgaicum, Borissyak).” Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London, B 212: 35–66.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Forster-Cooper, Clive. 1923b. “On the Skull and Dentition of Paraceratherium bugtiense: A Genus of Aberrant Rhinoceroses from the Lower Miocene Deposits of Dera Bugti.” Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London B 212: 369–392.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Forster-Cooper, Clive. 1923c. “On the Skull and Dentition of Paraceratherium bugtiense’, and ‘Baluchitherium osborni and its relations.” Nature 2809(112): 369–394.Google Scholar
  35. Fortelius, Mikael and Kappelman, John. 1993. “The Largest Land Mammal Ever Imagined.” Zoological Journal of the Linnaean Society 108(1): 85–101.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Gallenkramp, Charles. 2001. Dragon Hunter: Roy Chapman Andrews and the Central Asiatic Expeditions. New York: Viking.Google Scholar
  37. Graham, Loren. 1975. “The Formation of Soviet Research Institutes: A Combination of Revolutionary Innovation and International Borrowing.” Social Studies of Science 5(3): 303–329.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Granger, Walter and Gregory, William King. 1935. “A Revised Restoration of the Skeleton of Baluchitherium, Gigantic Fossil Rhinoceros of Central Asia.” American Museum Novitates 787: 1–3.Google Scholar
  39. Gregory, William King. 1936. “Building a Super-Giant Rhinoceros.” Natural History 35: 340–343.Google Scholar
  40. Gromova, Vera. 1959. “Gigantskiye nosorogi.” Trudy paleontologicheskogo Instituta Akademiya Nauk SSSR. 71: 1–164.Google Scholar
  41. Jacobson, Matthew Frye. 2000. Barbarian Virtues: The United States Encounters Foreign Peoples at Home and Abroad, 1876–1917. New York: Hill and Wang.Google Scholar
  42. Josephson, Paul. 1991. Physics and Politics in Revolutionary Russia. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press.Google Scholar
  43. Kjærgaard, Peter. 2012. “The Missing Links Expeditions—or How the Peking Man was Not Found.” Endeavour 30(10): 1–9.Google Scholar
  44. Kojevnikov, Alexei. 2002. “The Great War, the Russian Civil War, and the Invention of Big Science.” Science in Context 15(2): 239–275.Google Scholar
  45. Kojevnikov, Alexei. 2008. “The Phenomenon of Soviet Science.” Osiris 23: 115–135.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  46. Krementsov, Nikolai. 1997. Stalinist Science. Princeton: Princeton University Press.Google Scholar
  47. Krementsov, Nikolai. 2005. International Science between the World Wars: The Case of Genetics. New York: Routledge.Google Scholar
  48. Laqua, Daniel (ed.). 2011. Internationalism Reconfigured: Transnational Ideas and Movements Between the World Wars. London: IBTauris.Google Scholar
  49. Lightman, Bernard, McOuat, Gordon, and Stewart, Larry (eds.). 2013. The Circulation of Knowledge Between Britain, India, and China: The Early-Modern World to the Twentieth Century. Leiden: Brill.Google Scholar
  50. Maier, Gerhard. 2003. African Dinosaurs Unearthed: The Tendaguru Expeditions. Bloomington, ID: Indiana University Press.Google Scholar
  51. Mayor, Adrienne. 2011. The First Fossil Hunters Dinosaurs, Mammoths, and Myth in Greek and Roman Times. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  52. Mcaleer, John. 2013. “‘Stargazers at the World’s End’: Telescopes, Observatories and ‘Views’ of Empire in the Nineteenth-Century British Empire.” The British Journal for the History of Science 46: 389–413.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  53. McCarthy, Helen. 2011. The British People and the League of Nations: Democracy, Citizenship and Internationalism c.1918–45. Manchester: Manchester University Press.Google Scholar
  54. Morgan, Vincent and Lucas, Spencer. 2002. “Notes From Diary—Fayum Trip 1907.” New Mexico Museum of Natural History and Science Bulletin 22.Google Scholar
  55. Nair, Savithri Preetha. 2005. “‘Eyes and No Eyes’: Siwalik Fossil Collecting and the Crafting of Indian Paleontology (1830–1847).” Science in Context 18(3): 359–392.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  56. Nieuwland, Ilja. 2010. “The Colossal Stranger: Andrew Carnegie and Diplodocus Intrude European Culture, 1904–1912.” Endeavour 34: 61–68.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  57. O’Connor, Ralph. 2007. The Earth on Show: Fossils and the Poetics of Popular Science, 1802–1856. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  58. Ochev, Vitalii and Surkov, Mikhail. 2000. “The History of Excavation of Permo-Triassic Vertebrates from Eastern Europe.” M.J. Benton, M.A. Shishkin, D.M. Unwin and E.N. Kurochkin (eds.), Age of Dinosaurs. pp. 1–16.Google Scholar
  59. Osborn, Henry Fairfield. 1923. “Baluchitherium grangeri: A Giant Hornless Rhinceros from Mongolia.” American Museum Novitates 78.Google Scholar
  60. Osborn, Henry Fairfield. 1926. “Why Central Asia?” Natural History 26: 263–269.Google Scholar
  61. Osborn, Henry Fairfield. 1929. The Titanotheres of Ancient Wyoming, Dakota, and Nebraska, Vol. 2. Washington: Department of the Interior, U.S. Geological Survey.Google Scholar
  62. Osborn, Henry Fairfield. 1931. “Arrest of Geologic, Archaeologic and Paleontologic Work in Central Asia.” Science 74: 139–142.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  63. Pietsch, Tamson. 2013. Empire of Scholars: Universities, Networks and the British Academic World, 1850–1939. Manchester: Manchester University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  64. Pilgrim, Guy. 1908. “The Tertiary and Post-tertiary Fresh-Water Deposits of Baluchistan and Sind, with Notices of New Vertebrates.” Records of the Geological Survey of India 37: 139–166.Google Scholar
  65. Pilgrim, Guy. 1910. “Notices of New Mammalian Genera and Species from the Tertiaries of India.” Records of the Geological Survey of India 40: 63–71.Google Scholar
  66. Pilgrim, Guy. 1912. “The Vertebrate Fauna of the Gaj Series in the Bugti Hills and the Punjab.” Paleontologia Indica 4: 1–83.Google Scholar
  67. Podgorny, Irina. 2013. “Fossil Dealers, the Practices of Comparative Anatomy and British Diplomacy in Latin America, 1820–40.” British Journal for the History of Science 46(4): 647–674.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  68. Rainger, Ronald. 1991. An Agenda for Antiquity: Henry Fairfield Osborn and Vertebrate Paleontology at the American Museum of Natural History, 1890–1935. Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press.Google Scholar
  69. Raj, Kapil. 2007. Relocating Modern Science: Circulation and the Construction of Knowledge in South Asia and Europe, 1650–1900. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  70. Regal, Brian. 2002. Henry Fairfield Osborn: Race, and the Search for the Origins of Man. Aldershot and Burlington, VT: Ashgate.Google Scholar
  71. Rieppel, Lukas. 2012. “Bringing Dinosaurs Back to Life: Exhibiting Prehistory at the American Museum of Natural History.” Isis 103: 460–490.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  72. Rietzler, Katharina. 2011. “Experts for Peace: Structures and Motivations of Philanthropic Internationalism in the Interwar Years.” D. Laqua (ed.), Internationalism Reconfigured. pp. 45–66.Google Scholar
  73. Rudwick, Martin. 2005. Bursting the Limits of Time: The Reconstruction of Geohistory in the Age of Revolution. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  74. Rudwick, Martin. 2008. Worlds Before Adam: The Reconstruction of Geohistory in the Age of Reform. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  75. Safier, Neil. 2010. “Global Knowledge on the Move: Itineraries, Amerindian Narratives, and Deep Histories of Science.” Isis 101: 133–145.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  76. Secord, James. 2004. “Knowledge in Transit.” Isis 95: 654–672.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  77. Shen, Grace Yen. 2013. “Going with the Flow: Chinese Geology, International Scientific Meetings and Knowledge Circulation.” B. Lightman, G. McOuat and L. Stewart (eds.), Circulation of Knowledge. pp. 237–260.Google Scholar
  78. Sommer, Marianne. 2007. “The Lost World as The Lost World as Laboratory: The Politics of Evolution between Science and Fiction in the Early Decades of Twentieth-Century America.” Configurations 15(3): 299–329.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  79. Sommer, Marianne. 2010. “Seriality in the Making: The Osborn–Knight Restorations of Evolutionary History.” History of Science 48(3–4): 461–482.Google Scholar
  80. Tolz, Vera. 2005. “Orientalism, Nationalism, and Ethnic Diversity in Late Imperial Russia.” The Historical Journal 48(1): 127–150.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  81. Updike, John. 1972. “The Baluchitherium (1971).” Museums and Women and Other Stories. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, pp. 202–206.Google Scholar
  82. van der Geer, Alexandra, Dermitzakis, Michael, and de Vos, John. 2008. “Fossil Folklore from India: The Siwalik Hills and the Mahâbhârata.” Folklore 119(1): 71–92.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  83. Vucinich, Alexander. 1970. Science in Russian Culture, 1861–1917. Stanford: Stanford University Press.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of HistoryUniversity of ManchesterManchesterUK

Personalised recommendations