The British Geological Survey is home to more than three million fossils collected over two centuries and catalogued with enormous precision.
However, as generations of curators have come and gone, a few collections have lain forgotten and their significance has gradually passed out of memory.
Recently, a collection of ‘unregistered fossil plants’ was found in one of the Survey’s windowless vaults in Keyworth, in central England.
These comprise hundreds of beautiful thin sections of fossil wood dating from the early nineteenth century.
The collection was assembled by botanist Joseph Hooker (Darwin’s best friend) while he was briefly employed by the Survey in 1846.
The material includes some of the first thin sections ever made by William Nicol, the pioneer of petrography, in the late 1820s, as well as specimens picked up by Darwin and Hooker on their round the world voyages in the 1830s and 1840s.
The collection is particularly interesting in the way it sheds light on the vibrant and sometimes murky world of early nineteenth century science. This is the story of these fascinating fossils:
This is part of an edited transcript of the following article:
FALCON-LANG, H J. 2012. Fossil 'treasure trove' found in British Geological Survey vaults Geology Today 28 (1), 32–36. Reprinted by permission of Wiley-Blackwell
Kevin D’Souza of Royal Holloway, University of London kindly photographed all of the specimens in this online collection.