Today William Hunter is remembered mainly for his pioneering work in obstetrics and for our understanding of the lymphatic system, but his interests were wide-ranging, encompassing artworks (the first to collect Chardin), archaeological, numismatic and bibliographical items. As a key figure in the Enlightenment, he was one of the few in the mid-eighteenth century to advocate the concept of extinction as recorded in the fossil record. Of some 400 fossil specimens, written records attest to the presence of over 50 fossil vertebrates in his collection, including fish from ‘Monte’ Bolca as well as specimens reflecting his comparative anatomical writings on the mastodon and ‘Irish elk’. This paper will explore the significance of the presence of these specimens in this particular eighteenth century collector’s collection, using his writings and library as tools to shed light on the mind of this classic Scottish Enlightenment figure.
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