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A Brief History of the Ova Prima Foundation

The Shippen-Willard Expedition

On behalf of the Royal Geographical Society, Craigorn Shippen and Edmund Willard, both naturalists and archaeologists, set out for South American in September of 1864.1  Their destination was the Illampi badlands, a region of rocky hills east of the Andes that was originally uplifted in the Cretaceous and Tertiary periods.  This area was rumored to be particularly rich in fossil remains.  Indeed, Shippen and Willard determined that the Illampi badlands had been at one time a huge nesting area for what originally appeared to be several species of small theropods.  The expedition explored the area, mapping and plotting several mound colonies of Protoarchaeopteryx modesta, a small, light-boned theropod from the Early Cretaceous period.2

Although the expedition seemed to be going well, tension had sprung up between Willard and Shippen.  Shippen was clearly the more talented archaeologist and was officially the leader of the expedition.  Jealousy, resentment, and frustration between the two men were exacerbated by illness and harsh living conditions.  By the end of the two years, both men were considerably broken in health and their relationship was not a cordial one.3

It was Shippen who uncovered the nest of eggs that came to be known as the Illampi Clutch.  This astounding specimen offered evidence that the Protoarchaeopteryx modesta colony was undergoing a genetic mutation.  Three of the eggs contained normal Protoarchaeopteryx modesta embryos.  The remaining two embryos, however, displayed some unusual characteristics, including the only known instance of a furcula or fused clavicle in a theropod.  Additionally, all five of these exquisitely preserved fossils revealed the unmistakable traces of feathers spreading out from the forearms and tail.  For Shippen, this new evidence gave support to his theory that the egg came first.4  It appeared, he theorized, that the Protoarchaeopteryx modesta colony was experiencing a population-wide genetic mutation, resulting in eggs containing individuals that exhibited marked genotypical and phenotypical differences.

Willard and Shippen argued bitterly over this new theory.  Willard was convinced that the mound colony was home to several different species of theropods and he explained away the odd eggs in the Illampi Clutch as an instance of brood parasitism.


In March of 1866, the two archaeologists returned to the Chilean coast and made arrangements to return home.  They booked passage on two separate boats - standard practice for explorers returning with precious scientific cargo.  Willard took the first ship out of Iquique back to England, carrying with him half of the team's specimens, including the remarkable Illampi Clutch.  The Illampi Clutch provided the strongest evidence for Shippen's nascent theories of ovaprimation.  Exactly why he allowed it to go with Willard is unknown.  In light of recent discoveries, it seems clear that Willard carried off the Illampi Clutch without Shippen's knowledge, as part of his plan to discredit Shippen and his theories.

Arriving in London, Willard lost no time assembling a coalition of RGS Fellows to support his anti-ovaprimationist views.  The patronage of  Lord St. John de Bungay, a close family connection, did much to win Willard the favor of the leading scientists of the day.   Willard then set a date to speak at the Royal Geographical Society about the Willard-Shippen Expedition a full week before Shippen would even arrive in England.

Willard's speech was a great success.  He  presented a persuasive case for his theory that the Illampi Mound Colony provided new evidence for mixed species nesting among theropods and that these early bird-dinosaurs returned year after year to the same nesting ground.   He also argued that these new discoveries, though exciting, had no bearing on the great "Which came first?" controversy  which the RGS had been debating so enthusiastically.  During his presentation, Willard also thoroughly succeeded in discrediting Shippen's theory that the mound colony consisted of only one species (Protoarchaeopteryx modesta) undergoing a genetic mutation, resulting in a new species.  Willard portrayed Shippen as a sick man suffering from fevered delusions and obsessed with a crackpot theory.5  He cleverly disguised the bitterness and resentment he had nurtured during those difficult months in the Illampi badlands as the intellectual outrage of a scholar. 

Willard's presentation before the Royal Geographical Society was the contemptible revenge of a weak, but cunning man against one of the century's greatest scientists, but the damage was done.  When Shippen delivered his speech on the Illampi Mound Colony of Protoarchaeopteryx modesta, he was greeted with the jeers and whistles of his fellows.  Shippen's arguments were greatly weakened by his inability to produce the Illampi Clutch.  It could not be found amongst his own specimens and Willard denied all knowledge of it.  This most remarkable archaeological find of the century had vanished from sight.6

Shippen was stunned by Willard's betrayal.  Ill and disillusioned, the laughingstock of the scientific community, Shippen resigned from the Royal Geographical Society and withdrew from public life altogether.

After resigning from the Royal Geographical Society, Shippen was a broken man - both in spirit and in health.  His collection of specimens gathered dust in the cellar at his house in Wakefield.  Shippen revived briefly in 1867 and wrote a series of letters to the London Times on the subject of ovaprimationism.  These letters, though bitter and angry, are an important part of the ovaprimationist canon and are considered today to be a cornerstone of ovaprimatological studies.   The letters are currently on display in the Shippen Library at the Ova Prima Foundation headquarters.

Ovaprimationalism is reborn in the New World

Shippen died a disappointed man in 1869.  But Shippen's son, Craigorn Shippen, Jr. still carried the ovaprimationist banner.  Emigrating to the United States in 1874, Craigorn Shippen settled in Nevada and proceeded to dig a fortune in silver out of the canyons around Virginia City.  With his vast wealth, Mr. Shippen founded the Ova Prima Foundation in 1887 and thus began the good work of restoring ovaprimatology to its rightful place in the scientific forum.

Excerpted from an address given by Dr. Susan MacGillman at the 
Annual Ova Prima Foundation Awards Banquet, May 25, 2000 


1.  Transactions of the Royal Geographical Society 32: 469.  London: Royal Geographical Society, 1864.

2.  Willard, Edmund, "The Illampi Mound Colonies of Protoarchaeopteryx modesta: Discoveries of the Willard-Shippen Expedition", Journal of the Royal Geographical Society (1867); 15(7):214-219. 

3.  Shippen, Craigorn.  From his unpublished diaries, Journey to Illampi 1864 - 1866.  These diaries detail the primitive conditions under which Shippen and Willard lived for two years in the Illampi badlands.   They also chronicle the deteriorating relationship between the two men.  Throughout the diaries, Shippen struggles to be fair and to remain objective, but he is unable to hide his distaste for Willard.  Shippen was particularly critical of Willard's archaeological technique and his arrogance in dealings with the Illampi people. 

4.  Shippen, Craigorn.  "The egg came first", London Times ( January 4, 1867).

5.  Willard, Edmund, "The Illampi Mound Colonies of Protoarchaeopteryx modesta: A Case for Multiple Species Nesting Habits Amongst the Theropods of the Early Cretacean Period", a lecture given before the assembled membership of the Royal Geographical Society, August 27, 1866.

6.  And as we now know, Willard had smuggled the Illampi Clutch down to Willthorpe, his house in the country, where it remained undiscovered in a lumber-room until 1997.  (MacGillman, Susan.  "The Villainy of Edmund Willard and the Rediscovery of the Illampi Clutch", Annals of the History of Science (1998); 213(3):1132-1140.)

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