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A reptilian mystery

Updated: Apr 12, 2019


Crocodile? Alligator? Caiman?

In the 1930s, archaeologist Dr. Walde-Waldegg brought a collection of archaeological, ethnographic, and natural history artifacts to Boston College to start a museum on the BC campus. Waldegg traveled to Columbia to excavate a pre-Columbian site, and published an article on contemporary indigenous groups in the area. The Waldegg collection was donated by Boston College to Temple University in the 1960s, and the specimen pictured above was among the many artifacts received. From the little we know about Waldegg, we inferred that the specimen was collected from his time in Columbia. However, without clear documentation for the Waldegg artifacts, we could not be completely certain of its origin. Up until this week we did not have a species identification for the animal and were left wondering: did we have an alligator, a crocodile, or a caiman in our museum? A specialist in reptiles came to our museum and identified our mysterious friend as Paleosuchus palpebrosus , a Cuvier Dwarf Caiman. Paleosuchus palpebrosus is found in Columbia which supports our speculation that some, if not all, of the Waldegg collection comes from his time in Columbia. Still, many question remains unanswered. For example, why is the Caiman on a stick? Was it a natural history item that was prepared this way for Waldegg to keep in a museum? Or is it an ethnographic item that can tell us about the people Waldegg encountered in the field?

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Temple Anthropology Laboratory and Museum 

Gladfelter Hall- Lower Level, Temple University

1115 Polett Walk, Philadelphia, PA 19122

anthlab@temple.edu

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