British scientists say they have found new fossils Charles Darwin and his colleagues collected more than 150 years ago. The slides containing the fossils were found in a wooden cabinet kept in a "gloomy" corner of the British Geological Survey.
According to Daily Mail, Dr. Howard Falcon-Lang, a paleontologist at the Royal Holloway, University of London, found an old cabinet with drawers labelled "unregistered fossil plants," and decided to take a look. He said: "I can’t resist a mystery so I pulled one open. What I found inside made my jaw drop! Inside were hundreds of beautiful glass slides. Almost the first I picked up was labelled 'C. Darwin Esq.' This is an amazing snapshot into Darwin’s working life. This was one of the most exciting periods in the history of science, forming the mind of the man who would develop the theory of evolution, which would change the world."
Falcon-Lang, according to AP, said when he found one of the slides labelled "C. Darwin Esq," It took him a while "just to convince myself that it was Darwin's signature on the slide."
What Falcon-Lang found, while looking through the old drawers with a flash light, was a collection of 314 slides of specimens by Charles Darwin and his close professional colleagues, including the famous botanist Joseph Hooker and Rev. John Henslow.
Falcon-Lang said he was very surprised and excited to find "quite important and overlooked specimens." AP reports Falcon-Lang described the moment of seeing Darwin's signature on the first slide he examined as "a heart in your mouth situation." The first glass slide was a specimen Darwin acquired during his voyage on the HMS Beagle. Falcon-Lang commented: "To find a treasure trove of lost Darwin specimens from the Beagle voyage is just extraordinary...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."
According to the Paleontologist, some of the significant finds come from the slides Hooker collected in 1846 while working at the British Geological Survey. One was a specimen of prototaxites, a 400 million-year-old tree-sized fungus that grew at a "time the Earth was so hot that not even the Poles had ice." Other finds, according to Daily Mail, include 40 million-year-old plants from a remote Island off the coast of Chile. Falcon-Lang said,"There are 100 million-year-old fossil trees from the latter age of the dinosaurs. It’s real Jules Verne stuff, and scientists are only now starting to study it and understand its scientific importance."
According to the scientist, "How these things got overlooked for so long is a bit of a mystery itself." He said that the specimens might not have been given "the proper curatorial care," because Charles Darwin was not yet a public figure in 1846.
AP reports, however, that the Royal Holloway, University of London explained that the specimens were "lost" because Hooker did not include them in the "specimen register" before he left London for Himalayas. The "unregistered fossils" were moved to the Museum of Practical Geology in Piccadilly and then later transferred to the South Kensington's Geological Museum in 1935, and finally to the British Geological Survey headquarters near Nottingham 50 years later.
The slides have been photographed and will be made available to the public on a new online museum exhibit opening Tuesday. Falcon-Lang enthused on the new finds, saying: "There are some real gems in this collection that are going to contribute to ongoing science."
According to The Register, over three million fossils are included in the British Geological Survey's collection. A report on the latest finding has been published in Geology Today.