That the bone didn't attract greater interest is more than a little puzzling, for its appearance came at a time when America was in a froth of excitement about the remains of large, ancient animals. The cause of this froth was a strange assertion by the great French naturalist the Comte de Buffon—he of the heated spheres from the previous chapter—that living things in the New World were inferior in nearly every way to those of the Old World.
America, Buffon wrote in his vast and much-esteemed Histoire Naturelle, was a land where the water was stagnant, the soil unproductive, and the animals without size or vigor, their constitutions weakened by the "noxious vapors" that rose from its rotting swamps and sunless forests. In such an environment even the native Indians lacked virility. "They have no beard or body hair," Buffon sagely confided, "and no ardor for the female." Their reproductive organs were "small and feeble."
Buffon's observations found surprisingly eager support among other writers, especially those whose conclusions were not complicated by actual familiarity with the country. A Dutchman named Comeille de Pauw announced in a popular work called Recherches Philosophiques sur les Americains that native American males were not only reproductively unimposing, but "so lacking in virility that they had milk in their breasts." Such views enjoyed an improbable durability and could be found repeated or echoed in European texts till near the end of the nineteenth century.