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Yet despite the overwhelming evidence, Dawson continued to press his case for the rest of his life, spurred by his deeply held belief that discovery of his “dawn animal” had exposed the greatest missing link in the entire fossil record, a gap so enormous that it served to unmask the myth of evolution's claimed continuity and left Biblical creation as the only answer: “There is no link whatever in geological fact to connect Eozoon with the Mollusks, Radiates, or Crustaceans of the succeeding [rock record] . . . these stand before us as distinct creations. [A] gap . . . yawns in our imperfect geological record. Of actual facts [with which to fill this gap], therefore, we have none; and those evolutionists who have regarded the dawn-animal as an evidence in their favour, have been obliged to have recourse to supposition and assumption” (Dawson, 1875, p. 227). (In part, Dawson was right. In the fourth and all later editions of The Origin, Darwin cited the great age and primitive protozoal relations of Eozoon as consistent with his theory of evolution, just the sort of “supposition and assumption” that Dawson found so distressing.)

C. D. Walcott: Founder of Precambrian Paleobiology

Fortunately, Dawson's debacle would ultimately prove to be little more than a distracting detour on the path to progress, a redirection spurred initially by the prescient contributions of the American paleontologist Charles Doolittle Walcott (1850–1927).

Like Dawson before him, Walcott was enormously energetic and highly influential (Yochelson, 1967, 1997). He spent most of his adult life in Washington, DC, where he served as the CEO of powerful scientific organizations—first, as Director of the U.S. Geological Survey (1894 –1907), then Secretary of the Smithsonian Institution (1907–1927) and President of the National Academy of Sciences (1917–1923). Surprisingly, however, Walcott had little formal education. As a youth in northern New York State he received but 10 years of schooling, first in public schools and, later, at Utica Academy (from which he did not graduate). He never attended college and had no formally earned advanced degrees (a deficiency more than made up for in later life when he was awarded honorary doctorates by a dozen academic institutions).

In 1878, as a 28-year-old apprentice to James Hall, Chief Geologist of the state of New York and acknowledged dean of American paleontology, Walcott was first introduced to stromatolites—wavy layered moundshaped rock masses laid down by ancient communities of mat-building microbes —Cambrian-age structures near the town of Saratoga in eastern New York State. Named Cryptozoon (meaning “hidden life”), these cabbagelike structures (Fig. 2) would in later years form the basis of Walcott's side of a nasty argument known as the “Cryptozoon controversy.”



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