Born in 1828 in Switzerland, Boll was the first to discover vertebrate fossils in the Permian red beds along the drainages of the Wichita and Red rivers and their tributaries.
"The discoveries opened up an entirely new chapter in vertebrate evolution some 280 million years old," Jacobs said. "Boll's finds include some of the oldest close relatives of mammals whose evolution eventually led to humans."
Boll belonged to one of the Swiss families that founded the mid-19th century utopian society La Reunion in Dallas, Jacobs said. Boll made Dallas his home sometime after 1874. He died in the field in the Permian red beds in 1880 from a snake bite.
At least one scholar has asserted that Cope to keep the identity of his collectors secret from Marsh never credited Boll for the Texan's many fossil discoveries. Jacobs, however, found evidence that in 1878 Cope, in fact, did acknowledge Boll's contribution, at least for the big-headed, semi-acquatic amphibian Eryops. Cope wrote that the fossil was "found by my friend Jacob Boll."
Boll's fossil fascination erupted into a poem for Eryops
During a break in his field labors, Boll's fascination with ancient bones prompted him to write in his native German an ode to fossils. Jacobs came across the poem in the American Museum of Natural History on a label on the back of Eryops specimen No. AMNH 4183.
SMU biology professor Pia Vogel translated the poem. Vogel and Jacobs worked with SMU English professor John M. Lewis to capture in English the ode's original poetry.
"Now you will with some few others
Trek to the professor's seat.
Awakened through his careful thought,
Be reassembled from your fragments,
To tell to others yet to come
From the sculpting of your teeth
How you lived and disappeared,
Name you he will, an
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Southern Methodist University