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History of evolutionary thought

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A timeline of important events in evolutionary biology:

610-546 BCE: Greek philosopher, astronomer and biologist Anaximander argues that all lifeforms evolved from fish in the seas and underwent modification once it established itself on land. Anaximander also believed in an early concept of abiogenesis which stated that primitive life on earth formed from mist.

570–480 BCE: The Greek philosopher and student of Anaximander Xenophanes developed Anaximander's theories further. Xenophanes was one of the first people in history to observe the fossil record and he concluded that most of the world was covered by water in the past by observing the fossil record.

fl. 450 BCE: Greek philosopher Empedocles proposes that chance combinations of organs once arose, but died out due to lack of adaptive function.

fl. 99-55 BCE: Lucretius argues that life postdates the formation of the earth, and changes according to random variation.

800s Ad: The medieval Muslim scientist and philosopher Al-Jahiz first describes the struggle for existence which was similar to natural selection.

1000s Ad: The Muslim scholar Ibn al-Haitham elaborates Al-Jahiz's theories and writes a book that explicitly argued for biological evolution (although not by natural selection).

1735: Linnaeus publishes the first edition of his Systema Naturae, the primary antecedent of the modern science of taxonomy. Linnaeus believed in an early concept of common descent, with all plants having evolved from a common ancestor but humans and animals having been directly created by God.

1770: Baron d'Holbach one of the first atheists in the Western world publishes The System of Nature which contains early evolutionary concepts such as the idea that humans evolved over the course of time and that every living thing changes in response to its environment.

1800: William Smith developed the principle of faunal succession from his studies of stratigraphy in England.

1800: Georges Cuvier argues that fossils represent extinct species of living things.

1809: Jean-Baptiste Lamarck publishes his Philosophie Zoologique, one of the first systematic attempts at a theory of evolution. Although he did not believe all living things shared a common ancestor, he did believe they formed evolutionary gradients.

1813: Cuvier publishes An Essay on the Theory of the Earth, considered the first major breakthrough in biostratigraphy.

1818: The first material attributed formally to a dinosaur is recovered from near Oxfordshire, England by William Buckland.

1824: The first dinosaur taxon, "Megalosaurus", is described, by William Buckland.

1830: Charles Lyell publishes his Principles of Geology, wherein he formulates uniformitarianism.

1831: Charles Darwin departs on his voyage on the Beagle.

1838: Charles Darwin formulates the theory of natural selection.

1842: Richard Owen applies the name Dinosauria to a group of extinct Mesozoic reptiles.

1844: Charles Darwin writes his unpublished Essay on evolution by natural selection.

1851: Carl Jacob Sundevall is among the first to propose that myology might be useful in understanding avian relationships.

1854: Alfred Russel Wallace departs for the Malay Archipelago.

1856: Homo sapiens neanderthalensis holotype discovered by Johann Fuhlrott in the Neander Valley, Germany.

1858: Charles Darwin and Alfred Russel Wallace publish a joint paper on natural selection.

1859: Charles Darwin publishes On the Origin of Species. The printing sells out on the first day.

1861: The London Archaeopteryx specimen is discovered in Germany.

1862: Henry Bates describes Batesian mimicry using coloring on butterflies.

1865: Gregor Mendel publishes his primary research on inheritance.

1867: Thomas H. Huxley publishes the first major classification of the class Aves since the work of Spencer Fullerton Baird (1858), using the morphology of the sternum and palatal configuration as key characters for understanding avian relationships.

1868: Thomas H. Huxley proposes the theropod ancestry of birds.

1874: Alfred Henry Garrod publishes an extensive classification of birds using myology as his principal criterion for determining avian relationships.

Elliot B. Coues, one of the most influential of the early American ornithologists, publishes the classification of Aves which was to form the basis of the first checklist of the American Ornithologists' Union.

Richard Bowdler Sharpe begins work on his classic Catalogue of Birds in the British Museum, of which he ultimately authored 11 of its 27 volumes.

1877: The Berlin Archaeopteryx is described.

1879: Samuel Wendell Williston proposes the first explicit hypothesis for the terrestrial origin of flight in birds.

1880: O. C. Marsh publishes Odontornithes, one of the most gorgeous paleornithological monographs ever published, and a crucial work which forcibly argued for evolution in birds, by describing the discovery of taxa intermediate between the urvogel and modern birds.

1888: Furbinger publishes an extensive classification of extant Aves, setting the stage for the later work of Gadow and other ornithologists.

1891: Eugene Dubois discovers the first Homo erectus specimen on the Indonesian island of Java ("Java Man").

1893: Hans Friedrich Gadow proposes the most thorough classification and phylogeny of birds since the work of Huxley in the 1860s and 1870s.

1900: Hugo De Vries and Carl Correns rediscover the work of Gregor Mendel, and publish papers the same year.

1907: Baron Franz von Nopsca refines earlier arguments for a terrestrial origin of bird flight in an incisive review of avian origins.

1908: Godfrey H. Hardy & Wilhelm Weinberg formulate Hardy-Weinberg principle, mathematically relating the frequencies of genotypes and alleles in randomly mating populations.

1909: William Bateson coins the term "genetics".

Charles Walcott discovers the Burgess Shale, in the Canadian Rockies.

1912: Alfred Wegener publishes his theory of continental drift.

Arthur Smith Woodward describes "Piltdown man".

1913: Robert Broom describes Euparkeria capensis fom the Upper Triassic redbeds of South Africa, and formulates for the first time, a "thecodont" hypothesis for the origin of birds.

1922: The Third AMNH Asiatic Expedition sets out from Beijing.

1924: The first hominid fossil from Africa, Australopithecus africanus, is discovered by Raymond Dart. It is described the following year.

1926: Gerhard Heilmann publishes his immortal classic, The Origin of Birds, arguing for the "thecodont" ancestry of birds. His work becomes canon for decades.

1928: Fredrick Griffith discovers genetic transformation of a bacterium, names agent responsible the "transforming principle" which is later shown to be DNA.

1930: Alexander Wetmore publishes the first edition of his classication of Aves, soon to become canon in ornithological systematics for much of the 20th Century.

Ronald Fisher publishes Genetical Theory of Natural Selection, the first major work in what would become the Modern Synthesis.

1931: Curt Stern shows recombination in Drosophila is due to an exchange of chromosomes.

1932: The first remains of Ichthyostega stensioei, a stem-tetrapod from Greenland, are described by Save-Soderbergh.

1937: The Russian evolutionary biologist Theodosius Dobzhansky publishes Genetics and the Origin of Species, the work that gave rise to the Modern Synthesis.

1938: A South African schoolboy discovers Australopithecus robustus.

1942: Ernst Mayr publishes Systematics and the Origin of Species, the work which arguably secured the primacy of the Modern Synthesis, and restored the validity of allopatry as a mechanism of speciation.

1946: The first Soviet-Mongolian Paleontological Expedition begins.

1948: The second Soviet-Mongolian Paleontological Expedition begins.

1949: The third and final Soviet-Mongolian Paleontological Expedition concludes. All told, the three expeditions recovered some of the most crucial fossils of Dinosauria yet recovered.

1950: Barbara McClintock publishes evidence of movable genes called transposable elements.

1951: Ernst Mayr and Dean Amadon publish a major classification of the class Aves which departed from that of Wetmore (1930) in several key points.

1953: Francis Crick and James Watson publish a paper describing the structure of DNA, creating the field of molecular biology.

1954: A. S. Romer publishes his legendary work, Osteology of the Reptiles, a book whose masterly scholarship future students of the subject are forever indebted to.

The legendary Gavin de Beer, Curator of the British Museum of Natural History, publishes an magisterial monographic treatment of BMNH 37001, the London Archaeopteryx.

1956: de Beer presents compelling evidence for the neotenic status of the paleognathous palate in a monographic treatment of ratite evolution.

1959: Mary Leakey discovers "Nutcracker Man", Australopithecus boisei.

1960: Homo habilis is discovered in Tanzania by the Leakeys. Initially, four specimens are recovered.

1964: William D. Hamilton formulates inclusive fitness and kin selection.

John H. Ostrom discovers Deinonychus antirrhopus from late Lower Cretaceous sediments of the Cloverly Formation, in Montana.

1966: George C. Williams publishes his Adpation and Natural Selection, effectivly putting to rest the ostensible role of group selection in evolutionary history.

Cladistic methodology for phylogenetic reconstruction gains popularity following the translation of German entomologist Willi Hennig's tome, Phylogenetic Systematics.

1969: Ostrom describes Deinonychus antirrhopus, sparking a revolution in dinosaur paleontology and single-handedly resurrecting the theropod origin of birds.

1970: Ostrom rediscovers the lost Haarlem urvogel.

1972: Stephen Jay Gould and Niles Eldredge first argue for a drastically modified concept of punctuated equilibrium, in which bradytely is discounted.

Alick Walker of Newcastle University posits a radical new hypothesis in which birds and crocodiles are derived from a common ancestor.

1974: Bakker and Galton propose holophyly of Dinosauria, rekindling a notion discredited in the modernist consensus on archosaur phylogeny.

John Ostrom publishes the first of his magisterial reviews of the osteology and phylogeny of Archaeopteryx.

1975: Allan Wilson and Marie-Claire King discover the astonishing similarity between human and chimp DNA.

John Ostrom formulates the first coherent, post-modernist hypothesis for modeling the origin of birds, in a set of two publications.

1976: John Ostrom publishes yet another review of urvogel osteology and phylogeny, once more arguing the case for a theropod origin of birds. The 1974-76 papers form the basis for the rebirth of the theropod origin hypothesis.

1977: Walter Gilbert & Frederick Sanger devise methods for sequencing DNA.

1978: Repetski describes phosphatic fragments from Upper Cambrian strata, and attributes them to the ostracoderms, arguing that this lineage appeared in the late Cambrian, and not the Ordovician as previously thought.

1981: Cyril Walker of the British Museum of Natural History describes the Enantiornithes based on fossils from the Cretaceous of South America, spurring a renaissance in paleornithology.

Joel Cracraft presents the first major cladistic analysis of avian phylogeny.

1982: Storrs Olson, Curator of Birds at the Smithsonian Institute, sharply criticizes Cracraft's proposed phylogeny and urges caution in the use of cladistic methodology in analyzing avian relationships.

1983: Phil Gingerich discovers the oldest known whale, Pakicetus.

1984: The International Archaeopteryx Conference convenes in Eichstatt, Germany.

1986: Holophyly of Dinosauria becomes widely accepted following the work of Jacques Gauthier.

The Phylogenetic Species Concept is first elaborated.

1990: Coates and Clack describe Acanthostega gunnari, the most basal stem-tetrapod.

Walker publishes a masterful tome on Sphenosuchus and renews support for his 1972 hypothesis on a crocodile/bird nexus.

1992: Iberomesornis romerali, the celebrated enantiornithine from Las Hoyas, Spain, is described by Sanz & Bonaparte.

A seventh articulated skeleton of the urvogel, BSP 1999, is discovered, and subsequently attributed to a new species, Archaeopteryx bavarica.

1994: The discovery of Ambulocetus natans, the walking whale, is announced by Hans Thewissen.

1995: The Confuciusornithidae is described by Hou et al, marking the discovery of the most basal avian, besides the urvogel.

1996: Alan Feduccia publishes the first edition of his tome, The Origin and Evolution of Birds, a vitriolic attack the theropod hypothesis which ignited a new wave of opposition thereto.

1997: The first "downy-dino", Sinosauropteryx prima is described.

See Also

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