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Journal Articles Arts et sciences Year : 2020

"After Haeckel": An Exhibition of Microscopic Primitive Life Forms

« L’après Haeckel » : une exposition de formes de vie primitives microscopiques

John R. Dolan


Ernst Haeckel, the German naturalist, in 1868 depicted amoeboid microorganisms as primordial life forms. He claimed they were without nuclei or cell membranes but capable of feeding and reproducing. He called such organisms Moners. His remarkable illustrations of the presumably primordial life forms were very widely reproduced in both the scientific and popular press. By 1915 the primitive nature of the organisms and even their existence were in disrepute as no such organisms were found by anyone else. Today, they are largely forgotten. Here the remarkable variety of images of Haeckel’s primordial Protomyxa, published from 1868 to 1913, are presented. Examination of Haeckel’s original illustrations and the subsequent adaptations by others, provide insights into what was, and might still be, thought to be primitive. In the adaptations, the primordial life forms were most commonly shown with the remains of prey inside them and capturing a prey organism. The portrayals of primitive microorganisms as predatory and aggressive, mirrors portrayals of dinosaurs and primitive humans.
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hal-02567238 , version 1 (07-05-2020)



John R. Dolan. "After Haeckel": An Exhibition of Microscopic Primitive Life Forms. Arts et sciences , 2020, 4 (3), ⟨10.21494/ISTE.OP.2020.0507⟩. ⟨hal-02567238⟩
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