Giant Ground Sloths: America Had Them

The fossil Eremotherium was from south Georgia. And it was an important one, since it firmly establish the presence of the giant ground sloth, which had previously been unknown in the United States. (NMNH)

A Giant Sloth Mystery Brought Me Home to Georgia

By G. Wayne Clough

When I came up with the notion for my new book, Things New & Strange, of connecting my south Georgia home to the Smithsonian collections, I had no idea it would lead me to giant ground sloths. But I would learn that connections, no matter how arcane, demanded to be followed, and the learning that resulted was part of the process. I was on a journey during which a fossilized giant ground sloth would lead me to a new understanding of myself and our world.

It turns out that nobody even knew giant ground sloths existed until a fellow named Manuel Torres found one in 1788 in Argentina. Its fossilized bones were sent to the Natural History Museum of Madrid where they were assembled to show what the creature might have looked like. It was big, as big as a grown elephant, and no one, including scientists, had ever seen anything like it before. In fact, there had been nothing like it in Europe or Asia because these unusual animals were native to the Americas. It would take a contrarian to sort out the new creature, and he was a French scientist named Georges Cuvier.

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