Peter Wilhelm Lund - Return To Brazil and Turn To Paleontology

Return To Brazil and Turn To Paleontology

In 1832 Lund returned to Brazil never to return to Europe. He spent the first two years collecting mainly botanical specimens in the provinces of Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo. Charles Darwin also passed through Rio in 1832 but it is unknown whether the two naturalists met.

Then in 1835, Lund traveling inland through the province of Minas Gerais, and in Lagoa, an area characterised by a peculiar Karst geology, discovered several caves full of fossilized bones from extinct Ice Age megafauna species. He eventually settled in the small town of Lagoa Santa, and dedicated the next eight years to excavating, collecting, classifying and studying more than 20,000 bones of extinct species, including mastodons and ground sloths. With him was the Norwegian painter Peter Andreas Brandt who assisted him throughout his work as an illustrator. He was also assisted by the Danish botanist Eugen Warming from 1839 to 1859.

Lund was the first to describe dozens of species, among them the world-famous Saber-toothed cat Smilodon populator. His exploration took place mainly in the region of Lagoa Santa, which is rich in caves and karst formations and nowadays comprises the northern part of Greater Belo Horizonte. He was also one of the first to recognize, appreciate and record prehistoric rock and cave paintings in South America.

Then in 1843, Lund made a remarkable discovery. During a severe drought, he discovered, deep in a flooded cave, fossilized skulls and bones of 30 human beings. Since these individuals were found among the remains of long-extinct species. This finding led him to realize that humans and the prehistoric animals had co-existed, something which was in frontal opposition to Cuvier's catastrophic theory.

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