Dictionary of Human Evolution and Biology

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Geoffroy Saint-Hilaire, Étienne

French natural historian; he was a scientist on Bonaparte’s Egyptian campaign that resulted in Description de L’Egypte par la Commission des Sciences (1802). Geoffroy commenced comparative anatomical studies the following year and attempted to explain the organic unity he saw throughout the natural world in Philosophie anatomique (1818-22). He was convinced that transformism was a fact demonstrated by both fossils and living specimens. He attempted experimentally to arrest the development of a chick embryo at the fish stage in order to demonstrate the related concept of recapitulation. He was an early friend but (because of his belief in transformism) later was a rival of Cuvier, and corrected Cuvier’s crocodile, identifying it as a fossil Teleosaurus. Geoffroy was blind after 1840 from cataracts, but with Cuvier’s brother was able to produce the monumental Histoire naturelle des mammifères (1819-42). Geoffroy was convinced that humans and apes shared a common ancestor, published several papers on the orangutan in support of this thesis, and described several other primate species, e.g. Galago.

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