From giant birds to X-rays: Victor Lemoine (1837–97), physician and palaeontologist
Eric Buffetaut, 2017. "From giant birds to X-rays: Victor Lemoine (1837–97), physician and palaeontologist", Geology and Medicine: Historical Connections, C.J. Duffin, C. Gardner-Thorpe, R. T. J. Moody
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After studying at medical schools in Reims and Paris, Victor Lemoine (1837–97) practised and taught medicine in his native city of Reims in eastern France before moving to Paris in 1889. However, his main interest was vertebrate palaeontology. He is particularly remembered for his work on the Paleocene vertebrate fauna from the Cernay Conglomerate, a fossiliferous formation that crops out at Berru hill, a short distance from Reims. From the 1870s to his death in 1897, Lemoine published a large number of papers on this fossil assemblage, which at that time was the oldest-known Tertiary vertebrate fauna in Europe, concentrating on choristoderes, giant birds and mammals. Diverging interpretations of the choristodere material resulted in conflict with the Belgian palaeontologist Louis Dollo. Lemoine’s work on Gastornis was marred by the erroneous inclusion of non-avian elements into his skeletal reconstruction of that giant bird; the flawed reconstruction hindered for many years the recognition of the real affinities of Gastornis. Lemoine devoted particular attention to the diverse archaic mammals from Cernay. He emphasized their primitive and generalized characters, which made it difficult to refer them to modern orders. His medical background led him to apply innovative approaches, such as palaeohistology and palaeoneurology, to his studies on the fossils from Cernay. Lemoine’s discoveries soon attracted the attention of American palaeontologists working on fossil vertebrates of similar geological age, and both E.D. Cope and H.F. Osborn visited him in Reims to examine his collections. In 1889, Lemoine moved to Paris to be closer to major scientific institutions and to devote himself exclusively to palaeontology. After Röntgen’s discovery of X-rays in 1895 he quickly realized their potential for palaeontological investigations, but his untimely death at the age of 60 prevented him from developing this new approach more fully. Despite the fact that he never held an official position in a palaeontological institution, Lemoine’s medical background certainly helped him to tackle interesting palaeobiological questions and his contribution to that field of research was significant.