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UK scientists find lost Darwin fossils

LONDON (AP) — 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.

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."

"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!"

Falcon-Lang's find was a collection of 314 slides of specimens collected by Darwin and other members of his inner circle, including John Hooker — a botanist and dear friend of Darwin — and the Rev. John Henslow, Darwin's mentor at Cambridge, whose daughter later married Hooker.

The first slide pulled out of the dusty corner at the British Geological Survey turned out to be one of the specimens collected by Darwin during his famous expedition on the HMS Beagle, which changed the young Cambridge graduate's career and laid the foundation for his subsequent work on evolution.

Falcon-Lang said the unearthed fossils — lost for 165 years — show there is more to learn from a period of history scientists thought they knew well.

"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."

He said one of the most "bizarre" slides came from Hooker's collection — a specimen of prototaxites, a 400 million-year-old tree-sized fungi.

Hooker had assembled the collection of slides while briefly working for the British Geological Survey in 1846, according to Royal Holloway, University of London.

The slides — "stunning works of art," according to Falcon-Lang — contain bits of fossil wood and plants ground into thin sheets and affixed to glass in order to be studied under microscopes. Some of the slides are half a foot long (15 centimeters), "great big chunks of glass," Falcon-Lang said.

"How these things got overlooked for so long is a bit of a mystery itself," he mused, speculating that perhaps it was because Darwin was not widely known in 1846 so the collection might not have been given "the proper curatorial care."

Royal Holloway, University of London said the fossils were 'lost' because Hooker failed to number them in the formal "specimen register" before setting out on an expedition to the Himalayas. In 1851, the "unregistered" fossils were moved to the Museum of Practical Geology in Piccadilly before being transferred to the South Kensington's Geological Museum in 1935 and then to the British Geological Survey's headquarters near Nottingham 50 years later, the university said.

The discovery was made in April, but it has taken "a long time" to figure out the provenance of the slides and photograph all of them, Falcon-Lang said. The slides have now been photographed and will be made available to the public through a new online museum exhibit opening Tuesday.

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."

Dr. John Ludden, executive director of the Geological Survey, called the find a "remarkable" discovery.

"It really makes one wonder what else might be hiding in our collections," he said.



다윈의 사라진 표본 발견..'심장이 멎는듯'

진화론의 창시자인 찰스 다윈의 사라졌던 생물연구 표본들 이 150년여 만에 발견됐다.

영국 런던 로열홀로웨이 대학의 고생물학교수인 하워드 팰콘-랭 박사는 지난해 영국지질연구소의 오래된 목재 캐비닛 안에서 다윈의 생물표본이 담긴 유리슬라이드 들을 발견했다고 17일(현지시간) 밝혔다.

팰콘-랭 박사는 캐비닛 내부에 손전등을 비추며 찾아낸 첫 번째 표본 슬라이드 에서 'C.Darwin Esq'라는 라벨을 확인함으로써 150년 이상 잠자고 있던 유물들을 찾아냈다.

그는 "표본의 라벨이 다윈의 서명임을 깨닫는 순간 심장이 멎는 느낌이었다"며 "역사적으로나 학술적으로 중요한 성과가 그 동안 간과돼 왔다"고 말했다.

이번에 발견된 다윈의 생물표본은 슬라이드 314장 분량으로 다윈이 식물학자 존 후커, 케임브리지 대학의 멘토인 존 헨슬로경 등과 함께 연구 여행 등을 통해 채집한 것으로 알려졌다.

특히 가장 먼저 햇빛을 본 첫 번째 슬라이드는 인류 역사상 가장 위대한 과학 항해로 기록된 '비글호 항해’에서 수집된 화석표본으로 확인됐다. 이는 165년 전에 수집된 것이다.

또 후커의 표본 수집품 가운데는 4억년 된 나무크기의 곰팡이 표본도 포함돼 눈길을 끌었다.

로열홀로웨이 대학은 이번 발견에 대해 후커의 연구실에 있던 미등록 표본들이 1851년 런던 지질학박물관으로 옮겨졌다가 켄싱턴 지질학박물관을 거쳐 1985년부터 영국지질연구소에 보관됐다고 밝혔다.

다윈의 표본은 지난해 4월에 처음 발견됐지만 표본에 대한 정밀 검증 및 디지털화 작업을 거친 끝에 이날 공식적으로 발표됐다.

이번에 발견된 다윈의 표본은 온라인 전시회를 통해 일반에 공개될 예정이다. 

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