Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Darwin's lost fossils found by British scientists

The fossils, lost for some 165 years, including some collected by Charles Darwin, has been re-discovered in an old dusty cabinet, found by chance in the vaults of the British Geological Survey HQ near Keyworth, UK. They were collected in the 1830s in South America during his five-year voyage on HMS Beagle.
The find was made by the palaeontologist Dr Howard Falcon-Lang. He spotted some drawers in a cabinet marked "unregistered fossil plants". Using a flashlight to peer into the drawers and hold up a slide, Falcon-Lang saw one of the first specimens he had picked up was labeled "C. Darwin Esq." "Inside the drawer were hundreds of beautiful glass slides made by polishing fossil plants into thin translucent sheets," Dr Falcon-Lang explained.
Experts say the find sheds new light on this formative period for Darwin, then in his 20s, whose study of tropical plants and wildlife set the stage for his ground-breaking theory of evolution.
Falcon-Lang's find was a collection of 314 slides of specimens gathered by Darwin and other members of his inner circle, including John Hooker, a botanist and dear friend of Darwin, and Rev. John Henslow, Darwin's mentor at Cambridge, whose daughter later married Hooker, include 40million-year-old plants from a remote island off the coast of Chile. Another shows a towering tree-sized fungus which covered the Earth 400million years ago when the climate was so hot there was no ice even at the Poles.
Dr John Ludden, executive director of the Geological Survey said: "This is quite a remarkable discovery. It really makes one wonder what else might be hiding in our collections." "It really makes one wonder what else might be hiding in our collections," he said.

The fossils have now been photographed and are available to the public through a new online museum exhibit released today.

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