Nero and the last stalk of Silphion: collecting extinct nature in early modern Europe



Keller V.


Early Sci Med. 2014;19(5):424-47. doi: 10.1163/15733823-00195p03.


Many studies of early modern natural history focus upon observational, empirical techniques. Early moderns also contended with entities which could no longer be observed because they no longer existed. Although it is often assumed that extinction only emerged as a concept in the eighteenth century, the concept of natural loss appeared, often unproblematically, in areas outside natural philosophy. A survey of discussions of the extinct plant silphion across Europe in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries shows that the possibility of natural loss was well aired. Paper technologies for collecting extinct nature ran parallel to investigations of newly found nature, and thus can place the latter in a new light. Although ideas of natural mutability often drew on ideas of historical or political change rather than philosophical concepts of natural constancy, techniques developed for extinct nature, such as the list of lost things, remained influential for the research agendas of naturalists.

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Link/DOI: 10.1163/15733823-00195p03