Constantine Samuel Rafinesque-Schmaltz, as he is known in Europe (22 October 1783 – 18 September 1840), was a nineteenth-century polymath born near Constantinople in the Ottoman Empire and self-educated in France. He traveled as a young man in the United States, ultimately settling in Ohio in 1815, where he made notable contributions to botany, zoology, and the study of prehistoric earthworks in North America. He also contributed to the study of ancient Mesoamerican linguistics, in addition to work he had already completed in Europe.
Rafinesque was eccentric, and is often portrayed as an erratic genius. He was an autodidact who excelled in various fields of knowledge, as a zoologist, botanist, writer and polyglot. He wrote prolifically on such diverse topics as anthropology, biology, geology, and linguistics, but was honored in none of these fields during his lifetime. Among his theories were that ancestors of Native Americans had migrated by the Bering Sea from Asia to North America, and that the Americas were populated by numerous black indigenous peoples at the time of European contact.
Constantine Samuel Rafinesque
|Born||22 October 1783|
|Died||18 September 1840 (aged 56)|
|Author abbrev. (botany)||Raf.|
Rafinesque was born on October 22, 1783 in Galata, a suburb of Constantinople. His father F. G. Rafinesque was a French merchant from Marseilles; his mother M. Schmaltz was of German descent and born in Constantinople. His father died in Philadelphia about 1793. Rafinesque spent his youth in Marseilles, and was mostly self-educated; he never attended university. By the age of twelve, he had begun collecting plants for a herbarium. By fourteen, he taught himself perfect Greek and Latin because he needed to follow footnotes in the books he was reading in his paternal grandmother's libraries. In 1802, at the age of nineteen, Rafinesque sailed to Philadelphia in the United States with his younger brother. They traveled through Pennsylvania and Delaware, where he made the acquaintance of most of the young nation's few botanists.
In 1805 Rafinesque returned to Europe with his collection of botanical specimens, and settled in Palermo, Sicily, where he learned Italian. He became so successful in trade that he retired by age twenty-five and devoted his time entirely to natural history. For a time Rafinesque also worked as secretary to the American consul. During his stay in Sicily, he studied plants and fishes, naming many new discovered species of each. He was elected a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1808.
Rafinesque had a common-law wife. After their son died in 1815, he left her and returned to the United States. When his ship Union foundered near the coast of Connecticut, he lost all his books (50 boxes) and all his specimens (including more than 60,000 shells). Settling in New York, Rafinesque became a founding member of the newly established "Lyceum of Natural History." In 1817 his book Florula Ludoviciana or A Flora of the State of Louisiana was strongly criticized by fellow botanists, which caused his writings to be ignored. By 1818, he had collected and named more than 250 new species of plants and animals. Slowly he was rebuilding his collection of objects from nature.
In the summer of 1818, in Henderson, Kentucky, Rafinesque made the acquaintance of fellow naturalist John James Audubon, and in fact stayed in Audubon's home for some three weeks. Audubon, although enjoying Rafinesque's company, took advantage of him in practical jokes involving fantastic, made-up species.
In 1819 Rafinesque became professor of botany at Transylvania University in Lexington, Kentucky, where he also gave private lessons in French, Italian and Spanish. He was loosely associated with John D. Clifford, a merchant who was also interested in the ancient earthworks which remained throughout the Ohio Valley. Clifford conducted archival research, seeking the origins of these mounds, and Rafinesque measured and mapped them. Some had already been lost to American development.
Rafinesque started recording all the new species of plants and animals he encountered in travels throughout the state. He was considered an erratic student of higher plants. In the spring of 1826, he left the university after quarreling with its president.
He traveled and lectured in various places, and endeavored to establish a magazine and a botanic garden, but without success. He moved to Philadelphia, a center of publishing and research, without employment. He published The Atlantic Journal and Friend of Knowledge, a Cyclopædic Journal and Review, of which only eight issues were printed (1832–1833). He also gave public lectures and continued publishing, mostly at his own expense.
Rafinesque died of stomach and liver cancer in Philadelphia on September 18, 1840. It has been speculated that the cancer may have been induced by Rafinesque's self-medication years before with a mixture containing maidenhair fern. He was buried in a plot in what is now Ronaldson's Cemetery. In March 1924 what were thought to be his remains were transported to Transylvania University and reinterred in a tomb under a stone inscribed, "Honor to whom honor is overdue."
Rafinesque published 6,700 binomial names of plants, many of which have priority over more familiar names. The quantity of new taxa he produced, both plants and animals, has made Rafinesque memorable or even notorious among biologists.,
Rafinesque applied to join the Lewis and Clark Expedition, but was twice turned down by Thomas Jefferson. After studying the specimens collected by the expedition, he assigned scientific names to the black-tailed prairie dog (Cynomys ludovicianus), the white-footed mouse (Peromyscus leucopus) and the mule deer (Odocoileus hemionus).
The truth is that Species and perhaps Genera also, are forming in organized beings by gradual deviations of shapes, forms and organs, taking place in the lapse of time. There is a tendency to deviations and mutations through plants and animals by gradual steps at remote irregular periods. This is a part of the great universal law of perpetual mutability in everything. Thus it is needless to dispute and differ about new genera, species and varieties. Every variety is a deviation which becomes a species as soon as it is permanent by reproduction. Deviations in essential organs may thus gradually become new genera.
Rafinesque's evolutionary theory appears in a two-page article in the 1833 spring issue of the Atlantic Journal and Friend of Knowledge (a journal founded by himself). Rafinesque held that species are not fixed, they gradually change through time. He used the term "mutations". He also held the view that evolution had occurred "by gradual steps at remote irregular periods." This has been compared to the concept of punctuated equilibrium.
In 1836 Rafinesque published his first volume of The American Nations. This included Walam Olum, a purported migration and creation narrative of the Lenape (also known by English speakers as the Delaware Indians). It told of their migration to the lands around the Delaware River. Rafinesque claimed he had obtained wooden tablets engraved and painted with indigenous pictographs, together with a transcription in the Lenape language. Based on this, he produced an English translation of the tablets' contents. Rafinesque claimed the original tablets and transcription were later lost, leaving his notes and transcribed copy as the only record of evidence. (In this period in New York, Joseph Smith claimed he had found golden tablets and had a vision that gave him the Book of Mormon, which he transcribed from the vision.)
For over a century after Rafinesque's publication, the Walam Olum was widely accepted by ethnohistorians as authentically Native American in origin. But, as early as 1849, when the document was republished by Ephraim G. Squier, Henry Rowe Schoolcraft, an ethnologist who had worked extensively in Michigan and related territories, wrote to Squier saying that he believed the document might be fraudulent. In the 1950s the Indiana Historical Society published a "re-translation" of the Walam Olum, as "a worthy subject for students of aboriginal culture".
Since the late 20th century, studies especially since the 1980s in linguistic, ethnohistorical, archaeological and textual analyses, suggest that the Walam Olum account was largely or entirely a fabrication. Scholars have described its record of "authentic Lenape traditional migration stories" as spurious. After the publication in 1995 of David Oestreicher's thesis, The Anatomy of the Walam Olum: A 19th Century Anthropological Hoax, many scholars concurred with his analysis. They concluded that Rafinesque had been either the perpetrator, or perhaps the victim, of a hoax. Other scholars, writers, and some among the Lenape continue to find the account plausible and support its authenticity.
Rafinesque made a notable contribution to North American prehistory with his studies of ancient earthworks of the Adena and Hopewell cultures, especially in the Ohio Valley. He was the first to identify these as the "Ancient Monuments of America." He listed more than 500 such archaeological sites in Ohio and Kentucky. Rafinesque never excavated; rather, he recorded the sites visited by careful measurements, sketches, and written descriptions. Only a few of his descriptions were published, with his friend John D. Clifford's series "Indian Antiquities," eight long letters in Lexington's short-lived Western Review and Miscellaneous Magazine (1819-1820). Clifford died suddenly in 1820, ending his contributions.
Rafinesque's work was used by others. For instance, he identified 148 ancient earthworks sites in Kentucky. All sites in Kentucky which were included by E. G. Squier and Davis in their notable Ancient Monuments of the Mississippi Valley (1848), completed for the Smithsonian Institution, were first identified by Rafinesque in his manuscripts.
Rafinesque also made contributions to Mesoamerican studies. The latter were based on linguistic data which he extracted from printed sources, mostly those of travelers. He designated as Taino, the ancient language of the Caribbean island of Hispaniola. Others later also used the term to identify the ethnicity of indigenous Caribbean peoples.
Although mistaken in his presumption that the ancient Maya script was alphabetical in nature, Rafinesque was probably first to insist that studying modern Mayan languages could lead to deciphering the ancient script. In 1832 he was the first to partly decipher ancient Maya. He explained that its bar-and-dot symbols represent fives and ones, respectively.
Apalone is a genus of turtles in the family Trionychidae. Species of Apalone are native to North America.Buccinoidea
Buccinoidea is a taxonomic superfamily of very small to large predatory sea snails, marine gastropod mollusks.
This superfamily is in the clade Neogastropoda according to the taxonomy of the Gastropoda (Bouchet & Rocroi, 2005). It had been placed within the infraorder Neogastropoda according to the taxonomy of the Gastropoda (Ponder & Lindberg, 1997).Carangidae
The Carangidae are a family of fish which includes the jacks, pompanos, jack mackerels, runners, and scads.
They are marine fishes found in the Atlantic, Indian and Pacific Oceans. Most species are fast-swimming predatory fishes that hunt in the waters above reefs and in the open sea; some dig in the sea floor for invertebrates.
The largest fish in the family, the greater amberjack, Seriola dumerili, grows up to 2 m in length; most fish in the family reach a maximum length of 25–100 cm.
The family contains many important commercial and game fish, notably the Pacific jack mackerel, Trachurus symmetricus, and the other jack mackerels in the genus Trachurus.
Many genera have fairly extensive fossil records, particularly Caranx and Seriola, which extend into the early Paleogene (late Thanetian), and are known from whole and incomplete specimens, skeletal fragments, and otoliths. The several extinct genera include Archaeus, Pseudovomer, and Eastmanalepes.Carcharias
Carcharias is a genus of sand tiger sharks belonging to the family Odontaspididae.Dasyatis
Dasyatis (Greek δασύς dasýs meaning rough or dense and βατίς batís meaning skate) is a genus of stingray in the family Dasyatidae that is native to the Atlantic, including the Mediterranean. In a 2016 taxonomic revision, many of the species formerly assigned to Dasyatis were reassigned to other genera (Bathytoshia, Fontitrygon, Hemitrygon, Hypanus, Megatrygon and Telatrygon).Gymnophiona
Gymnophiona is the group of amphibians that includes the legless caecilians and all amphibians more closely related to them than to frogs or salamanders (the "stem-caecilians"). The name derives from the Greek words γυμνος (gymnos, naked) and οφις (ophis, snake), as the caecilians were originally thought to be related to snakes. The body is cylindrical dark brown or bluish black in colour. The skin is slimy and bears grooves or ringlike markings; there are minute dermal scales.Hylidae
The Hylidae are a wide-ranging family of frogs commonly referred to as "tree frogs and their allies". However, the hylids include a diversity of frog species, many of which do not live in trees, but are terrestrial or semiaquatic.Hylinae
The Hylinae are the largest of three subfamilies of Hylidae, the "tree frogs". It contains nearly 700 species in 41 genera. They are generally found in North and South America, Europe, temperate Asia, and Africa north of the Sahara.Isurus
Isurus is a genus of mackerel sharks in the family Lamnidae, commonly known as the mako sharks.Laridae
Laridae is a family of seabirds in the order Charadriiformes that includes the gulls, terns and skimmers. It includes around 100 species arranged into 22 genera. They are an adaptable group of mostly aerial birds found worldwide.Marlin
A marlin is a fish from the family Istiophoridae, which includes about 10 species. It has an elongated body, a spear-like snout or bill, and a long, rigid dorsal fin which extends forward to form a crest. Its common name is thought to derive from its resemblance to a sailor's marlinspike. Even more so than their close relatives, the scombrids, marlins are fast swimmers, reaching speeds of about 80 km/h (50 mph).The larger species include the Atlantic blue marlin, Makaira nigricans, which can reach 5 m (16.4 ft) in length and 818 kg (1,803 lb) in weight and the black marlin, Istiompax indica, which can reach in excess of 5 m (16.4 ft) in length and 670 kg (1,480 lb) in weight. They are popular sporting fish in tropical areas. The Atlantic blue marlin and the White marlin are endangered owing to overfishing.Mynomes
Mynomes is a North American subgenus of voles in the genus Microtus. Species in this subgenus are:
Beach vole, M. breweri
Gray-tailed vole, M. canicaudus
Montane vole, M. montanus
Creeping vole, M. oregoni
Meadow vole, M. pennsylvanicus
Townsend's vole, M. townsendiiMytilidae
Mytilidae are a family of small to large saltwater mussels, marine bivalve molluscs in the order Mytilida. One of the genera, Limnoperna, inhabits brackish or freshwater environments. The order has only this one family which contains some 52 genera.Species in the family Mytilidae are found worldwide, but they are more abundant in colder seas, where they often form uninterrupted beds on rocky shores in the intertidal zone and the shallow subtidal. The subfamily Bathymodiolinae is found in deep-sea habitats.
Mytilids include the well-known edible sea mussels.
A common feature of the shells of mussels is an asymmetrical shell which has a thick, adherent periostracum. The animals attach themselves to a solid substrate using a byssus.Necturus
Necturus is a genus of aquatic salamanders endemic to the eastern United States and Canada. They are commonly known as waterdogs and mudpuppies. The common mudpuppy (N. maculosus) is probably the best-known species – as an amphibian with gill slits, it is often dissected in comparative anatomy classes.Neritoidea
Neritoidea is a taxonomic superfamily of mostly sea snails, nerites and their allies, marine gastropod mollusks in the clade Cycloneritimorpha (according to the taxonomy of the Gastropoda by Bouchet & Rocroi, 2005).Previously this superfamily was in the order Neritoida in the superorder Neritopsina.Ostraciidae
Ostraciidae is a family of squared, bony fish belonging to the order Tetraodontiformes, closely related to the pufferfishes and filefishes. Fish in the family are known variously as boxfishes, cofferfishes, cowfishes and trunkfishes. It contains about 23 extant species in 6 extant genera.Rutilus
Rutilus is a genus of fish in the family Cyprinidae found in Eurasia. This genus is a widely distributed lineage of cyprinids and ranges from West Europe to East Siberia.Trachurus
Jack mackerels or saurels are marine fish in the genus Trachurus of the family Carangidae. The name of the genus derives from the Greek words trachys ("rough") and oura ("tail"). Some species, such as T. murphyi, are harvested in purse seine nets, and overfishing (harvesting beyond sustainable levels) has sometimes occurred.It is often used in Japanese cuisine, where it is called aji, and in Turkish cuisine, where it is called istavrit.Volutidae
Volutidae, common name volutes, are a taxonomic family of predatory sea snails that range in size from 9 mm to over 500 mm, marine gastropod mollusks. Most of the species have no operculum.