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Darwin Correspondence Project

From George Robert Waterhouse   [February 1860]1

les sinus qui se trouvent 〈sur le〉 trajet de l’air, et, dès lors, les frontaux sont dans ce cas aussi bien que tous ceux qui entourent les fosses nasales; dès lors aussi, par l’écartement des deux lames de l’os, le gonflement des bosses frontales, indépendantes et séparées par un silon—“—2

I suppose you have Owen’s British Fossil Mammalia—look to pp 88 & 89 & you will find one or two remarks having reference to DeBlainvilles conclusions—3 It is true what DeB. states—that the frontal sinuses & the facial part of the skull is particularly prone to vary

section missing

Geo R Waterhouse

It is not true, in my opinion, that all these Fossil Cave Bears are of one & the same species— there are certainly two very distinct species— The one with the enormous frontal sinuses (U. spelæus) varies much in the development of the part in question, but there are characters in the teeth & form of the lower jaw (especially in the condyle) of U. priscus which make it easy of separation—

CD annotations

1.1 les sinus … to vary 2.4] crossed pencil
4.1 It is … separation— 4.5] ‘Ch. 7’4 brown crayon, underl brown crayon; ‘Feb. 1860’ added pencil
4.2 The one … in question, 4.4] double scored pencil


The date is given by CD’s annotation.
The passage quoted by Waterhouse comes from Blainville 1841–55, 1: 56, and forms part of a larger discussion by Henri Marie Ducrotay de Blainville on variation in fossil bears. Blainville criticised the distinction that had been drawn between two alleged species of fossil bears, pointing out that variations occurred between young and old, male and female, and even between individuals of the same sex. He thought the shape and size of the frontal sinuses were not sufficiently constant to be used as taxonomic characters.
Owen 1846b, p. 99. Richard Owen disputed Blainville’s conclusion that there was no distinction between Ursus spelaeus and other species of fossil cave bears. CD’s annotated copy of Owen 1846b is in the Darwin Library–CUL.
CD’s annotation refers to chapter 7 of his species book, ‘Laws of variation: varieties & species compared’ (see Natural selection). CD intended to revise and publish this larger work.


It is not true that all the fossil cave bears are of the same species.

Letter details

Letter no.
George Robert Waterhouse
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
Source of text
DAR 47: 152
Physical description

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 2674,” accessed on 22 March 2019,

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 8