Richard Harlan

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Richard Harlan.

Richard Harlan (September 19, 1796 – September 30, 1843) was an American naturalist, zoologist, herpetologist, physicist, and paleontologist. He was the author of Fauna Americana, published in 1825,[1] and American Herpetology.[2]

Harlan was born in Philadelphia, to Joshua Harlan, a wealthy Quaker merchant, and his wife Sarah, one of their ten children. He was three years older than his brother Josiah Harlan, who would become the first American to visit Afghanistan and who was the presumed inspiration for Rudyard Kipling's story The Man Who Would Be King. He graduated in medicine from the University of Pennsylvania taking time off during his studies to spend a year at sea as a ship's surgeon for the British East India Company. In 1821 he was elected professor of comparative anatomy in the Philadelphia museum. One of his passions was the collection and study of human skulls. At its peak, his collection contained 275 skulls, the largest such collection in America.[3] He died of apoplexy in New Orleans, Louisiana.[2]

In 1834, Harlan described and named Basilosaurus ("king lizard"), a genus of early whale, erroneously assuming he had found a Plesiosaurus-like dinosaur.[4]


See also


  1. ^ "Harlan's Fauna Americana". The North American Review. Frederick T. Gray. XXII (L): 120–136. January 1826 – via Google Books.
  2. ^ a b Howard Atwood Kelly (1920). A Cyclopedia of American Medical Biography: Comprising the Lives of Eminent Deceased Physicians and Surgeons from 1610 to 1910. W.B. Saunders Company. p. 492. Retrieved 6 May 2012.
  3. ^ Ben MacIntyre (2004). The Man Who Would Be King: The First American in Afghanistan. Farrar, Straus and Giroux.
  4. ^ Harlan, R. (1834). "Notice of fossil bones found in the Tertiary formation of the State of Louisiana". Transactions of the American Philosophical Society. 4: 397–403. JSTOR 1004838. OCLC 63356837.

Further reading