27TH DECEMBER 2019
Dear Friend of Darwin,
On this day in 1831, Charles Darwin set sail aboard HMS Beagle on what turned out to be a five-year voyage of discovery and adventure. The opening sentences of his account of the voyage read like something out of Robert Louis Stevenson:
After having been twice driven back by heavy south-western gales, Her Majesty’s ship Beagle, a ten-gun brig, under the command of Captain Fitz Roy, R.N., sailed from Devonport on the 27th of December, 1831. The object of the expedition was to complete the survey of Patagonia and Tierra del Fuego, commenced under Captain King in 1826 to 1830—to survey the shores of Chile, Peru, and of some islands in the Pacific—and to carry a chain of chronometrical measurements round the World.
Darwin would later describe the voyage as by far the most important event in his life, and one that determined his whole career.
If you haven’t yet read Darwin’s classic Voyage of the Beagle, perhaps 2020 might be the year to finally getting round to it. I provide links to this and a few other Beagle-voyage-related books below. But first…
Some Darwin- and evolution-related stories that caught my eye recently:
The ambitious plans to transform Shrewsbury’s Mount House
A cyber security entrepreneur has stepped in to save and re-purpose Charles Darwin’s birthplace and childhood home in Shrewsbury.
Darwin at the Zoo (video)
A trip to the archives of the Zoological Society of London to look at various Darwin-related treasures.
Humboldt, Darwin and the importance of little things
How Alexander von Humboldt’s holistic description of nature was a great source of guidance and inspiration for the young Charles Darwin when travelling aboard HMS Beagle.
Babies in the womb have lizard-like hand muscles
A relic from when reptiles transitioned to mammals, these muscles are probably one of the oldest, albeit fleeting, human evolutionary remnants.
Extraordinary skull fossil reveals secrets of snake evolution
The discovery of a perfectly preserved snake skull fossil answers many questions about the evolution of snakes from lizards.
Secrets of the largest ape that ever lived
The fossilised tooth of a mysterious extinct ape is shedding new light on the evolution of great apes.
Seven-million years of human evolution (video)
The evolutionary history of hominins—the group that includes modern humans, our immediate ancestors, and other extinct relatives.
Neanderthal footprints found in France offer snapshot of their lives
Scientists have found 257 prints that were preserved in wind-driven sand 80,000 years ago.
Ancient humans survived longer than we thought
An ancient ancestor of modern humans, Homo erectus, survived into comparatively recent times in South East Asia, a new study has revealed.
Earliest known cave art by modern humans found in Indonesia
Images depicting human-animal hybrid figures have been dated to nearly 44,000 years old, making them the oldest known cave art by our species.
18,000-year-old puppy found frozen in ice
A wonderfully preserved ancient puppy discovered frozen in ice dates from around the time wolves were becoming domesticated.
For regular links like these, please like and follow the Friends of Charles Darwin Facebook page.
Some Beagle-voyage-related book recommendations for you:
Journal of Researches
The highlight of my 50th-birthday treat of a behind-the-scenes tour of London’s Natural History Museum was getting to handle an important fossil collected by Darwin in the Falkland Islands during the Beagle voyage. I wouldn’t be at all surprised if an account of my tour somehow sneaks its way into my as-yet-untitled ‘Darwin book’.
In the meantime, I’ve just completed the first draft of a chapter about autumn leaves and one of my top-ten birds, the dipper—or, as Darwin referred to it, the water ouzel. It shouldn’t come as any surprise that my New Year’s resolution will be to crack on with the book.
Expression of Emotions
Very special thanks to any of you who heeded my plea in the previous newsletter to pledge to help save Sir Charles Lyell’s notebooks for historical research. As you will have heard, the campaign was successful, and the collection has been acquired by the University of Edinburgh.
Thanks to everyone for taking time to read this newsletter. Please feel free to forward it to any friends you think might like to subscribe.
See you next time!