The Megatherium Society was created to bring scientists, entrepreneurs, and researchers in the humanities together to explore the most urgent problems we face. The society supports researchers in a number of disciplines, promotes collaboration across fields and continents, and believes that a better understanding of the natural world and human history can lead to a safer future for all.
The Megatherium Society History
The Megatherium Society began as an informal gathering, founded on the grounds of one of the world’s great institutions of learning: the Smithsonian. In 1857, the leader of the institution invited a number of bachelor scientists to live in the Castle, an impressive Norman-style building of red sandstone built along the National Mall in Washington, DC. Among the naturalists who came to live there were explorer-scientists Robert Kennicott, Henry Ulke, William Stimpson and Henry Bryant.
What the group discussed during their evening encounters, over ale and eggnog, remains unknown to this day. The records were long ago lost. But we do know how they happened upon their name. The Megatherium was a recently discovered species of extinct giant ground sloth that once roamed the Americas. The size of modern-day elephants, the ground sloth walked on the sides of its clawed feet and stood on its hind limbs to reach the very highest parts of trees. That animal was only one of a multitude of megafauna that once inhabited our continents. For early paleontologists, its remains suggested a fantastic world that once stood where our cities are now built.
In 1982, a new group of researchers once more took up the mantle of the Megatherium. Now including scientists from countries across the globe, the group began a new interdisciplinary project. They wanted to unravel the mysteries of the human evolutionary past to better understand how we might respond to the challenges of our present—including widescale ecological devastation and climate change.
As the organization grew, we partnered with more research institutions and supported some of the world’s most brilliant and enterprising scientists. Our Emerging Explorers program helps early-career researchers connect with laboratories and field programs to increase their expertise, and we’re able to offer annual fellowships in the areas of environmental chemistry, geology, oceanography, archaeology, and paleoanthropology. The Megatherium Society also hosts the annual Alive in the Anthropocene Festival, bringing together leading scientists, artists, historians, and members of the media.
Our most daring undertaking to date is the Origins Missions. Two researchers, chosen from nearly 1,000 applicants, will spend 16 months doing some of the most extreme and dangerous field work ever attempted. These travelers will be exploring the world as it existed throughout time. Learn more about the work of our intrepid achroniologists here.