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Although the Dodo was the poster-boy of extinction, it took a hundred years before anyone realized that the Dodo had in fact gone extinct. Extinction as a concept made no sense to anyone. The reasons are twofold. First, it didn't make sense that God would let all his hard work go to waste and let creatures die out. And second, no one imagined the Earth was very old.
In the 1650s, an Irish bishop, James Ussher, looked at who begat whom in the Bible. Using this, he announced that the Earth was less than six thousand years old. Even more precisely, it was created on Sunday, the 23rd of October, 4004 B.C. Even though, technically, Sunday should have been his day off.
The first clue, maybe this was a tiny bit out, came from fossils. For years, people thought fossils had simply fallen from the sky, or were left by the devil. By the end of the 1700s, fossils had become something of an elephant in the room, quite literally when French naturalist Georges Cuvier presented the paper on fossilized elephant bones in the 1790s. He made a controversial claim that one was a jaw of the creature that no longer existed, an animal that was extinct. It turned out to be a mammoth.
While many scientists argued that the animals were still around, just they haven't been found alive yet. But Cuvier was adamant, suggesting this and other extinctions were caused by catastrophic events.
By the early 19th century, although extinction had been established, the Bible still held sway. And Noah's Flood was deemed responsible for both extinction and fossils. But again, the Earth suggested otherwise.
A Scottish physician James Hutton developed the concept of "deep time" and "geology." Now using the power of geology, the estimated age of the Earth spread from thousands, to millions...and finally, thanks to the advent of radioactive dating, we now know that the Earth is about four and a half billion years old.
Then, towards the end of the 20th century, as geologists looked more closely, periods of mass extinction were identified, times when species were dying out at, quite frankly, an alarming rate. It was one of these, however, that gave mammals that big break, and consigned dinosaurs to the Ancient Halls of Natural History Museums.
Ultimately, this paved the way for we humans to become the dominant animal on Earth. In the course of our ascendancy, we've been responsible for quite a few extinctions ourselves. Of course so was the Dodo. But there's also the Steller's sea cow, extinct within a mere twenty-seven years of its discovery; and the Tasmanian wolf, listed as an endangered species three years after the last one was seen in the wild.
Indeed, we are so good at killing animals. It's been suggested that we're actually in the middle of a great period of extinction right now, all of our own making.
As homo sapiens, we are, ourselves, the survivors of several extinctions. And of the last of entire human family, the last of our cousins, the Neanderthals, became extinct around twenty-five thousand years ago.
So if you have learned anything, it's that nothing lasts forever. For the Earth, extinction is a way of life. And there's this statistical certainty that humans too will be extinct one day. It's not a matter of if, just a question of when.
- 「被忽略的明顯事實」- An Elephant In The Room
By the end of the 1700s, fossils had become something of an elephant in the room...
- 「不再」- No Longer
He made a controversial claim that one was a jaw of the creature that no longer existed, an animal that was extinct.
- 「支配、統治、影響」- Hold Sway
By the early 19th century, although extinction had been established, the Bible still held sway.
- 「鋪路、作準備」- Pave The Way For
Ultimately, this paved the way for we humans to become the dominant animal on Earth.