Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Rediscovery of a Lifetime

According to a story in Planet Earth Online, a large cache of fossils has been rediscovered at the British Geological Survey, some of which produced quite a surprise. Adele Rackley writes:
Dr. Howard Falcon-Lang, a palaeontologist at Royal Holloway, University of London was in the BGS archive looking for carboniferous fossil-wood specimens when he made the discovery.

"I spotted some drawers marked "unregistered fossil plants", he recalls. "I can't resist a mystery, so I pulled one open. What I found inside made my jaw drop!"Inside were hundreds of fossil plants, polished into thin translucent sheets known as 'thin sections' and captured in glass slides so they could be studied under a microscope.

Falcon-Lang's jaw dropped even further when he began to take out the slides. One of the first he looked at was labelled 'C. Darwin Esq.'
These were, in fact, some of the fossils that Charles Darwin had brought back from the trip aboard the Beagle. They had been given for safe keeping to Joseph Hooker and, somehow, just slipped through the cracks. It does give one a picture of the enormity of how much was being discovered even at that time. There is, in fact, a dirty secret in that most museums display only a fraction of what they actually have in their vaults, much of which is uncatalogued. Remember that the next time that someone tells you that the fossil record has gaps in it.

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