Palaeontology and the Photographic Trace

Justin E. H. Smith at his own blog:

Some time back I took a group of students to the Galerie d’Anatomie Comparée at the Jardin des Plantes. This is the famous collection of skeletons laid out according to one version of the order of nature by Georges Cuvier at the turn of the 19th century. We were looking at a display case (added long after Cuvier’s death) that consisted in four rows, one above the other, with five skulls in each row representing five developmental stages of three species of great ape –gorillas, chimpanzees, and orangutans–, plus Homo sapiens. 

I had asked the students to pay attention to the way in which the different species, particularly the human species, seem to develop away from each other as they move from their more or less similar infant stage through adolescence to adulthood, and how the gorilla in particular develops a huge cranial crest, while the human simply develops a freakishly huge cranium (at least by comparison).

At this point a student interrupted to ask me whether each skull of the same species was from the same individual.

Pardon? I said. The student explained again that she wanted to know whether the baby gorilla skull, for example, was from the same animal as the adolescent gorilla skull and the gorilla skulls at the other three stages of development. How on earth would that be possible? I asked, still confused as to whether I had understood.

Yet, intuitively, I understood, and what she was asking was not at all strange.

More here.