You’d think that Darwin’s Beagle collections had been pretty well worked over, but it turns out that we didn’t even know everything that Darwin collected. According to the Associated Press, Howard Falcon-Lang, a paleobotanist at the University of London, found a cache of 314 slides of specimens collected not only by Charles Darwin, but by his colleague Joseph Hooker and by John Henslow, Darwin’s college mentor. The specimens were apparently misplaced because Hooker forgot to catalog them before he took off on a field trip to Asia. They appear to all be thin sections of fossil plants.
Imagine opening a dusty old cabinet and finding something like this:
That’s one of the specimens, and yes, that’s CD’s signature. What is it?:
This image made available by the Royal Holloway, University of London on Tuesday Jan. 17, 2012 shows a polished section of a 40-million-year-old fossil wood collected by Charles Darwin in 1834 on Chiloe Island, South America in the course of his famous “Voyage of the Beagle.” British scientists have found scores of fossils the great evolutionary theorist Charles Darwin and his peers collected but that had been lost for more than 150 years. Dr. Howard Falcon-Lang, a paleontologist at Royal Holloway, University of London, said Tuesday that he stumbled upon the glass slides containing the fossils in an old wooden cabinet that had been shoved in a “gloomy corner” of the massive, drafty British Geological Survey. (AP Photo/Royal Holloway, University of London, Kevin D’Souza Ho)
“It took me a while just to convince myself that it was Darwin’s signature on the slide,” the paleontologist said, adding he soon realized it was a “quite important and overlooked” specimen.
He described the feeling of seeing that famous signature as “a heart in your mouth situation,” saying he wondering “Goodness, what have I discovered!” . .
(I wouldn’t have used the word “Goodness!”)
“To find a treasure trove of lost Darwin specimens from the Beagle voyage is just extraordinary,” Falcon-Lang added. “We can see there’s more to learn. There are a lot of very, very significant fossils in there that we didn’t know existed.”
Falcon-Lang expects great scientific papers to emerge from the discovery.
“There are some real gems in this collection that are going to contribute to ongoing science.”
Well, maybe, though my guess would be that they’d contribute more to the history of science than to ongoing research. We shall see.