Fossil European Sea Turtles: A Historical Perspective

  • Richard T. J. MoodyEmail author
  • Cyril A. Walker
  • Sandra D. Chapman
Part of the Vertebrate Paleobiology and Paleoanthropology book series (VERT)


This chapter presents a historic perspective on the study of marine turtles from the Cretaceous-Tertiary strata of Europe from the Sixteenth Century to the Present Day. It details the historic episodes that have occurred in terms of the first illustrations or the first scientific descriptions. It outlines the backgrounds and societal links of the individuals involved and throws light on the emergence of an intellectual elite in paleontology. The first natural scientists or philosophers came, almost inevitably from middle or upper middle class families, and their interests were those of histomaths or polymaths. Many initially trained as physicians or alchemists with interests in comparative anatomy, zoology and botany; some are famous for the recognition and treatment of ‘new’ diseases or the discovery of new medicines, others were immensely talented as illustrators; some were subsequently accused of conveying racial dogma or of being at best devious for their own gain. The history of fossil collecting and the acquisition of great personal collections or ‘cabinets’ is a significant component in the historic description of fossil turtles but the advent of regional and national museums and collections heralds an age when access did not depend on patronage or favour. Universal education, and the mesmeric advances in communication and modes of travel have resulted in a surge of new workers in the field of Testudine paleontology with the work of Gene Gaffney as focal point for a bright future.


Europe History Marine Testudines 



The extant authors would like to thank Cyril Walker for his companionship and dedication over several decades. His contribution to vertebrate research has been noted in several obituaries and by the organization of a symposium at the Bristol joint meeting of the SVP/SVPCA in 2009. He was always considerate and very helpful to visitors to the reptile collections in Store Room 41 in the old basement complex of the BMNH/NHM. He was a great friend and companion. Thanks also to Alan Seago for his contribution to this work and to Ross Sandman for his comments and suggestions that have helped improve this manuscript. We are indebted to Ren Hirayama, Benjamin Kear, and Andrew Milner for their review and constructive commentary on this chapter and the Permissions Section of the Yale/Peabody Museum for supplying the image of George Wieland and Archelon . Wendell Wilson of the Mineralogical Record provided valuable information on copyright related to the illustrations by Buc’hoz. Lastly we would like to thank Don Brinkman for his encouragement with this paper—especially as it presents a geohistory perspective on our research and thus differs markedly from the many papers written in honor of Gene Gaffney and a career devoted to our science.


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Copyright information

© NHM The Natural History Museum 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  • Richard T. J. Moody
    • 1
    Email author
  • Cyril A. Walker
    • 2
  • Sandra D. Chapman
    • 3
  1. 1.School of Geology and Earth SciencesKingston UniversityKingstonUK
  2. 2.
  3. 3.Department of PalaeontologyThe Natural History MuseumLondonUK

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