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Nebraska Man

QUESTION: What was the Nebraska Man?


The Nebraska Man was the popular name given to the long deceased, peccary-like owner of a fossilized tooth found in Nebraska by Dr. Harold J. Cook in 1917. It was known to scientists by its binomial nomenclatural classification Hesperopithecus haroldcookii (“hesperopithecus” meaning “western ape” and “haroldcookii” signifying the discoverer, Dr. Harold Cook). It was named the Nebraska man rather than the Nebraska peccary due to initial speculation by some that it belonged to an extinct evolutionary ancestor to modern man. It never gained wide acceptance by evolutionary scientists although it was vigorously debated and enjoyed coverage in the Illustrated London News where it was accompanied by a fanciful drawing by Amadee Forestier who found inspiration in the reconstruction of another alleged ape-man, the Java Man.

Dr. Cook sent the specimen to Dr. Henry Fairfield Osborne of the American Museum of Natural History in 1922 who introduced the specimen to his paleoanthropologic colleagues. Nebraska Man was debated among evolutionary paleoanthropologists for five years until finally Dr. Gregory King Williams, a colleague of Dr. Osborne’s at the AMNH, published a refutation in the Journal Science in 1927 thereby ending the debate. The tooth was shown to belong to an extinct species of peccary, a type of wild pig found throughout the Americas. The Nebraska Man was a bit of a scientific blunder.

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