Thomas Jefferson, an extraordinary communicator, is often considered to be among the most accomplished demonstrators of the American Enlightenment. Among the many subject areas of interest to Jeffers
Thomas Jefferson, an extraordinary communicator, is often considered to be among the most accomplished demonstrators of the American Enlightenment. Among the many subject areas of interest to Jefferson was natural history, and his writings in this subject area, although rare, were superlative demonstrations of the thoughts of the time and the direction in which the youthful science of natural history was moving. This book looks first and foremost at Jefferson's grasp and practice of science: it focuses in particular upon his efforts to document, describe, interpret and preserve the remains of parts of the skeleton of an extinct ground sloth from what is now West Virginia, the first extinct land mammal to be described from the continent; it reviews how his science has been viewed, overlooked, or criticized since he lived; and it expands upon the science of the ground sloth that has unfolded since he initially authored the first account of the existence of this form of life on the continent.
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The senior author of this work is Clayton E. Ray, Curator Emeritus of Vertebrate Paleontology at the Smithsonian Institution's National Museum of Natural History. His longstanding interest in Thomas Jefferson and Megalonyx dates from work he did in the mid-1960s at Saltville, Virginia, a site whose vertebrate fossil record was first reported in print by Jefferson in Notes on the State of Virginia. H. Gregory McDonald, now Senior Curator of Natural History with the National Park Service's Park Museum Management Program, wrote his Masters Thesis on the anatomy of Megalonyx and has continued his research on ground sloths since. Frederick v. Grady, now retired, was a preparator in vertebrate paleontology at the Smithsonian Institution's National Museum of Natural History. Jerry N. McDonald, a biogeographer, is a research associate at the Virginia Museum of Natural History who has focused on the paleobiology and extinction of large mammals of the late Quaternary. Jerry conducted extensive field work at Saltville between 1980 and 1997 under the auspices of the Smithsonian Institution's National Museum of Natural History and the Virginia Museum of Natural History.