CONRAD GESSNER'S FOSSIL BOOK
Conrad Gessner was the most prominent naturalist of the 16th century. Amongst others, he published a book on fossils with numerous drawings of belemnites and ammonites and fossilized sea urchins, starfish and fish teeth. Most of these were from his own collection and, almost miraculously, some of these fossils are still with us, housed at the Natural History Museum Basel.
The Zurich scientist and naturalist published a small volume on fossils in 1565, which is of particular significance for the history of palaeontology because it was the first fully illustrated published work on the topic – despite the term 'fossil' being used in a broader sense at the time. Following Gessner's death, the fossil collection was purchased by a Basel doctor, Felix Platter. Some of its objects survived up to now: a fossilized crab, the spine from a sea urchin, a 'star stone' (ground coral) and a piece of terra sigillata ('sealed earth').
Gessner's views on the fossils are not immediately accessible, since the text is written in Early Modern Latin. A translation is currently being worked on at the University of Basel in cooperation with the Natural History Museum Basel and Zentralbibliothek Zürich.