Kovalevsky, Vladimir Onufrievich

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Kovalevsky, Vladimir Onufrievich

(b.Dünaberg, Vitebsk region, Russia [now Daugavpils, Latvian S.S.R.], 14 August 1842; d. Moscow, Russia, 28 April 1883)


One of the founders of evolutionary paleontology, Kovalevsky graduated in 1861 from the School of Jurisprudence. Thereafter he was engaged in publish. ing, doing translations and editing books of Alfred Braem, Darwin, Lyell, L. Agassiz, and many others. In 1869 he married Sonya (Sofya) Korvin-Krukovsky (see article above). From 1869 to 1874 he attended lectures on various aspects of natural science in Heidelberg, Munich, Würzburg, and Berlin; made geological observations and collected fossils in northern Italy and southern France; and studied paleontological collections in the museums of Ger. many, France, Holland, and Great Britain.

In 1872 Kovalevsky passed his doctoral examina. tions in Jena and submitted a thesis on the paleonto. logical history of horses; this was later the subject of his master’s degree (1875). He was associate professor at Moscow University from 1880 to 1883.

The paleontological researches of Kovalevsky deal with the evolution of morphological characteristics of the teeth apparatus and skull of mammals as related to change of plant food composition; and with the phylogeny of ungulates, particularly of horses and pigs. Basing his evolutionary argumentation on Darwin’s theory, Kovalevsky established the con. ception of inadaptive and adaptive evolution in the special case of the extremities of the ungulates. He suggested that adaptive reduction ensured survival, but that nonadaptive reduction—of the fingers of the Entelodon giant pig, for example—could not save a species from extinction. Kovalevsky was the first to attempt to construct the genealogy of hoofed animals, in particular the horses. Developing Darwin’s views on divergency, he advanced the idea of adaptive radiation as a means of evolutionary transformation.

The opinion put forward (by E. Koken, R. Hoernes, C. Diener, and O. Abel) that Kovalevsky is a fore. runner of E. Cope and H. Osborn, the founders of Neo-Lamarckism in paleontology, is groundless. Kovalevsky was a consistent Darwinist and attributed evolutionary changes in fossil forms not to auto. genesis, nor to use or disuse of parts, but to natural selection.


I. Original Works. Kovalevsky’s works include “Sur l’Anchitherium aurelianense Cuv. et sur l’histoire paléon. tologique des chevaux,” in Zapiski Imperatorskoi akademii mink, 7th ser., 20 , no. 5 (1873), 1-73; “On (he Osteology of the Hyopotamidae,” in Philosophical Transactions of tin. Royal Society, 163 (1873), 19-94; “Monographic der Gattung Antracotherium Cuv. und Versuch einer natür. lichen Classification der fossilen Hufttier,” in Paleonto. graphica, no. 3 (1873), 131-210, no. 4 (1874), 211-290;and “Ostéologie des Genus Gelocus Aym., in Paleonto. graphica (1876), 415-450,(1877).145-162.

II. Secondary Literature. See A. A. Borisiak.V. O. Kovalevsky, His Life and Scientific Works (Moscow, 1928); L. Sh. Davitashvili, V. O. Kovalevsky (Moscow, 1946).

L. J. Blacher

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