Scientists have long used the skeletons of animals to study the relationships among different species. French naturalist Pierre Belon in 1555 included an engraving of a human skeleton beside a bird skeleton in his History of the Nature of Birds to emphasize similarities. Nearly 200 years later another French naturalist, George-Louis Leclerc, Comte de Buffon, compared the skeletons of humans and horses. He wrote in 1753:
Take the skeleton of a man. Tilt the pelvis, shorten the femur, legs, and arms, elongate the feet and hands, fuse the phalanges, elongate the jaws while shortening the frontal bone, and finally elongate the spine, and the skeleton will cease to represent the remains of a man and will be the skeleton of a horse.
Charles Darwin also used skeletons of living species–along with live and taxidermied specimens and fossils–as he developed his theory of natural selection.
It would appear that skeletons, then, would be a great tool for teaching evolutionary theory. But I wasn’t expecting them to be so beautiful.
The first thing you notice when you see a copy of Evolution by Jean-Baptiste de Panafieu are the photographs. One of my magazine colleagues called these stark black-and-white images of animal skeletons, by Patrick Gries, “science porn.” An artist friend drooled over the beauty in the imagery. (You can see four examples from the book in our photo gallery.) It could be incredibly easy to own this book and never read the text.