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Aristotle’s lantern in echinoderms: an ancient riddle
Voultsiadou, E.; Chariton, C. (2008). Aristotle’s lantern in echinoderms: an ancient riddle. Cah. Biol. Mar. 49(3): 299-302
In: Cahiers de Biologie Marine. Station Biologique de Roscoff: Paris. ISSN 0007-9723, more
Peer reviewed article  

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Keywords
    Sea urchins; Echinodermata [WoRMS]; Marine
Author keywords
    Aristotle's lantern, History of zoology

Authors  Top 
  • Voultsiadou, E., more
  • Chariton, C.

Abstract
    The body structure, life habit and diversity of the sea-urchins were first described by Aristotle in the 4th century BC. Early zoologists, having studied his zoological works, introduced the name “Aristotle’s lantern” for the jaw apparatus of echinoids. The term has become fully accepted in the vocabulary of modern invertebrate zoology, but it has been disputed by scholars claiming that the original description actually addressed the test and not the mouth of the sea urchin. The problem remained long unsolved due to lack of evidence. The combined investigation conducted in the classical literature and the archaeological findings from the area and the period Aristotle lived, unravelled the riddle. Bronze, perforated lanterns diffusing and protecting the lamp light inside were found during excavations in Northern Greece localities, confirming the relevant descriptions given by classical authors. These lanterns with their lamp proved to be the model for Aristotle’s description, corresponding to the test and the jaw apparatus respectively. Thus, it is suggested that the term “Aristotle’s lantern” should be correctly used for the test of the sea urchin and not for its jaw apparatus traditionally referred to as such. These results demonstrate how tracing back to the historical roots of the science of zoology and combining data from different disciplines can help in redefining scientific terms and concepts.

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