Leonardo Da Vinci’s whale was a true fossil, not a monster of fantasy

When around 1480, the young Leonardo Da Vinci wrote about a “powerful and already animated instrument of the factitious nature” capable of causing “frightened armies of dolphins and tunas to flee“, which now laid with its “gnawed spoils and naked bones“, was not fantasizing about a sea monster. Nor, as many scholars speculated, was he composing a poem or reworking readings of classical mythology. The Tuscan genius was instead challenging himself with a description of the fossil remains of a whale emerging from a wall, almost as if it were a retaining wall, an “armor and support for the mountain placed above“. In fact, and for the first time in history, Leonardo was observing and reporting on paper the features of a fossil cetacean, giving an important contribution to the birth of the paleontology of the vertebrates a good three hundred years before the one who is considered the father of this science: the Frenchman Georges Cuvier.

To these conclusions came a team of scientists composed of researchers from the University of Pisa and the University of San Diego in California (USA) by analyzing it from both the literary and paleontological points view some excerpts from the Arundel Codex, a collection of Leonardo’s autograph manuscripts preserved at the British Library in London that can be freely consulted online. The study, “On Leonardo and a fossil whale: a reappraisal with implications for the early history of paleontology“, published in the Historical Biology review, has sifted through every reference to the alleged sea monster reported on the sheets 155r and 156r.

La balena di Leonardo da Vinci era un fossile vero, non un mostro di fantasiaThe pages of the Arundel Codex, with the analyzed text

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