Oh, So That’s Where Those Were

Don’t you love it when you finally get around to cleaning out an old closet, and you find all sorts of stuff you forgot you had? Apparently that happens to museum curators, too, as the BBC reports:

Dr Falcon-Lang, who is based in the department of earth sciences at Royal Holloway, University of London, spotted some drawers in a cabinet marked “unregistered fossil plants”.

“Inside the drawer were hundreds of beautiful glass slides made by polishing fossil plants into thin translucent sheets,” Dr Falcon-Lang explained. “This process allows them to be studied under the microscope. Almost the first slide I picked up was labelled ‘C. Darwin Esq’.”

The item turned out to be a piece of fossil wood collected by Darwin during his famous Voyage of the Beagle in 1834. This was the expedition on which he first started to develop his theory of evolution.

JD Hooker

J.D. Hooker: great botanist, not-so-great closet organizer. Image courtesy BGS.

It seems that J.D. Hooker, a botanist and Darwin’s collaborator, received a bunch of fossilized plant specimens from his friend during the historic voyage. Hooker cut thin sections of the fossils and stored them carefully in drawers, but then forgot to record them in the British Geological Survey’s index. So there they sat, unnoticed, for over 170 years.

Fortunately, the specimens have now been found, and Falcon-Lang and his colleagues have documented and digitized the whole collection. You can see all of the material online at the BGS’s site.

Now I’m going to go tidy up a bit in the basement.