Rebecca Woods

Assistant Professor, Institute for the History and Philosophy of Science and Technology, University of Toronto

2019 to 2020
Keith S. Thomson Research Fellow

Body of Animal, Body of Evidence: Paleolithic Remains and the History of Science

When a nearly complete woolly mammoth melted out of the permafrost in the Siberian Arctic at the turn of the 19th century, it was the first such soft tissue Paleolithic specimen. Collected by a Russian naturalist named Mikhail Adams, for whom it was named, the mammoth and its remains--hair, skin, flesh, bones--became critical sources of scientific theory and fact-making as naturalists like Georges Cuvier debated the histories of evolution and speciation in the early 19th century. The Adams mammoth remained a singular specimen for almost one hundred years, but since the mid-20th century, the rate at which Pleistocene creatures emerge from a rapidly-warming circumpolar Arctic is accelerating. My project traces the history of these frozen creatures from the Adams mammoth to the present, examining how, and with what political, cultural, and epistemological consequences, these Pleistocene animals have gone from extremely rare to bellwethers of climate change.