Vladimir Onufrievich Kovalevskii

The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Kovalevskii, Vladimir Onufrievich


Born Aug. 2 (14), 1842, in Varkava Volost, now Preiji Raion, Latvian SSR; died Apr. 16 (28), 1883, in Moscow. Russian paleontologist. Brother of A. O. Kovalevskii.

A follower of C. Darwin, V. O. Kovalevskii promoted Darwinism and translated into Russian several books of Darwin, T. Huxley, and C. Lyell. At the University of Jena in 1872, he defended a dissertation on the paleontological history of the horse, and at the University of St. Petersburg in 1875, he defended his master’s thesis on anchitheres. He was appointed a docent at Moscow University in 1880.

Kovalevskii’s works on the historical development of ungulates formed the basis of a new science—evolutionary paleontology. He demonstrated that morphological transformations depend on the development of certain functions. He related the development of functions to changes in environmental conditions. For example, he related the development of ungulates with high-crown teeth and reduced leg skeleton to the development of grasses and other angiosperms in the middle of the Cenozoic era. Kovalevskii was the first paleontologist to make extensive use of the theory of evolution to solve problems connected with the phylogenesis of vertebrates. His studies on the paleontological history of mammals led him to conclude that there were “critical turning points” in their development, that is, the rapid growth of relatively highly organized groups and sudden disappearance of less perfect ones (the notion of adaptive and inadaptive paths of evolution of a group). Kovalevskii also did research on the Jurassic and Cretaceous periods and the Cenozoic era. He was the first to elucidate the zoogeographic provinces of the late Jurassic and early Cretaceous periods and compiled the first paleographic maps of these provinces. He was right in believing that the ancestors of the Cenozoic mammals should be sought in continental Cretaceous deposits.


Sobranie nauchnykh trudov, vols. 1–2. Moscow, 1950–56. (Bibliography in vol. 1.)


Borisiak, A. A. V. O. Kovalevskii. Ego zhizn’i nauchnye trudy. Leningrad, 1928.
Davitashvili, L. Sh. V. O. Kovalevskii. Moscow-Leningrad, 1946. [12–1056–1 ]
The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.