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Did Nineteenth Century marine vertebrate fossil discoveries influence sea serpent reports?

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Abstract

Here we test the hypothesis, first suggested by L. Sprague De Camp in 1968, that “After Mesozoic reptiles became well-known, reports of sea serpents, which until then had tended towards the serpentine, began to describe the monster as more and more resembling a Mesozoic marine reptile like a plesiosaur or a mosasaur.” This statement generates a number of testable specific hypotheses, namely: 1) there was a decline in reports where the body was described as serpent or eel-like; 2) there was an increase in reports with necks (a feature of plesiosaurs) or reports that mentioned plesiosaurs; and 3) there was an increase in mosasaur-like reports. Over the last 200 years, there is indeed evidence of a decline in serpentiform sea serpent reports and an increase in the proportion of reports with necks but there is no evidence for an increase in the proportion of mosasaur-like reports. However, witnesses only began to unequivocally compare sea serpents to prehistoric reptiles in the late nineteenth century, some fifty years after the suggestion was first made by naturalists.
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Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)16-27
JournalEarth Sciences History
Volume38
Issue number1
Early online date10 Apr 2019
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - Apr 2019

    Research areas

  • Sea monster, Ichthyosaurs, Ichthyopterygia, Cryptozoology, Saurian

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