10 November 2007

The Disappointments of Prehistory

The prehistoric rodent, in comparison
with his largest modern-day South American cousin

A report last week in The New York Times announced the discovery, in Uruguay, of fossil remains of a prehistoric rodent as big as a bull, roughly eight feet long and weighing about a ton. The leading theory at the moment proposes that despite its monumental size, Josephoartigasia monesi was beautifully proportioned: very small at one end, much bigger in the middle, and small again at the far end.

However, as a quasi-Frenchman, I am principally concerned with whether he would taste better stewed with carrots than with tomatoes, and what wine would accompany the dish.

Josephoartigasia monesi is extinct, yet I confess I’m not sorry a bit. I am not sure that the death of Mickey Mouse or Thumper would upset me much, after all the rat trouble I had in my last New York apartment … and this frisky critter was bigger than that the kitchen and bedroom combined. Either I’d have had to sleep in the bath, or one of us would have been obliged to leave.

Scientists believe that Josephoartigasia, or Jo-Jums, as I call him, was likely more similar to a giant nutria or beaver in his appearance and in some of his habits, as a river-dwelling herbivore. The artist’s rendering depicts a placid, rather stupid and uninteresting animal. I confess that I was rather hoping that Jo-Jums, or any Rodent of Unusual Size, might look more like this: