Skip to main page content
Access keys NCBI Homepage MyNCBI Homepage Main Content Main Navigation
, 16 (9), e2005558
eCollection

The Sacred Ibis Debate: The First Test of Evolution

Affiliations

The Sacred Ibis Debate: The First Test of Evolution

Caitlin Curtis et al. PLoS Biol.

Erratum in

Abstract

In 1798, Napoleon Bonaparte's army invaded Egypt, returning with many treasures including large numbers of Sacred Ibis mummies. The ancient Egyptians revered the ibis and mummified literally millions of them. The French naturalist Georges Cuvier used these mummies to challenge an emerging idea of the time, namely Jean-Baptiste Lamarck's theory of evolution. Cuvier detected no measurable differences between mummified Sacred Ibis and contemporary specimens of the same species. Consequently, he argued that this was evidence for the "fixity of species." The "Sacred Ibis debate" predates the so-called "Great Debate" between Cuvier and Geoffroy Saint-Hilaire and the publication of Darwin's On the Origin of Species five decades later. Cuvier's views and his study had a profound influence on the scientific and public perception of evolution, setting back the acceptance of evolutionary theory in Europe for decades.

Conflict of interest statement

The authors have declared that no competing interests exist.

Figures

Fig 1
Fig 1. The two central figures in the first test of evolution.
(A) Georges Cuvier (1769–1832) and (B) Jean-Baptiste Lamarck (1744–1829).
Fig 2
Fig 2. Mummified Sacred Ibis.
(A) Empty and full pottery vessels from catacombs from Saqqara, Egypt (photo credit Sally Wasef), (B) mummified Sacred Ibis wrapped in cloth (photo credit Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York), (C) a well-preserved example of an unwrapped Sacred Ibis mummy (the head and wings of the bird are clearly visible), and (D) a mummified Sacred Ibis dipped in resin.
Fig 3
Fig 3. Stork and ibis.
(A) Yellow-billed stork (photo credit Becky Matsubara) and (B) Sacred Ibis (photo credit Christiaan Kooyman).
Fig 4
Fig 4. A timeline showing some of the major events in the history of the first test of evolution.

Similar articles

See all similar articles

Cited by 1 PubMed Central articles

References

    1. Ray J. The Rosetta Stone and the rebirth of Ancient Egypt. London: Profile Books; 1996.
    1. Taylor JH. The collection of Egyptian mummies in the British Museum: Overview and potential for study In: Fletcher A, Antoine D, Hill JD, editors. Regarding the Dead: Human Remains in the British Museum. London: British Museum Press; 2014. pp. 103–114.
    1. Pearson J. Some account of two mummies of the Egyptian Ibis, one of which was in remarkably perfect state. J Philos Trans R Soc Lond. 1805; 95: 264–271.
    1. Ikram S. Divine creatures: Animal mummies in ancient Egypt Cairo: American; University in Cairo Press; 2005.
    1. El Mahdy C. Mummies, myth and magic in ancient Egypt London: Thames and Hudson;1989.

Publication types

Grant support

Human Frontier Science Program http://www.hfsp.org/ (grant number RGP0036/2011). The funding was received by DML. The funder had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript. Royal Society of New Zealand https://royalsociety.org.nz/. The funding was received by DML. The funder had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.
Feedback