8TH APRIL 2022
Dear Friend of Darwin,
Finally, some excellent news… Those of you who read newsletter no. 9 just over a year ago might remember that it had recently been announced that two of Charles Darwin’s notebooks were missing, presumed stolen, from Cambridge University Library. They had last been seen two decades earlier, and for a long time had, rather wishfully, been thought of as mis-filed. One of the books contained Darwin’s iconic ‘Tree of Life’ diagram in which he first sketched branching evolutionary lineages, adding the momentous yet modest caption ‘I think’. This week, it was announced that the notebooks had been returned to the library anonymously in a pink gift bag. They are reported to be in excellent condition.
Writing as a Darwin nerd currently working on a book about my hero, I have to say we are extremely fortunate in how much of Darwin’s original documentation still exists, and is readily accessible online. The magnificent Darwin Correspondence Project, based at the aforementioned Cambridge University Library, recently published its 28th volume, and is finally nearing completion. I am privileged to own a full set of the series, but the project is also making freely available online the many thousands of surviving letters to and from Darwin, complete with the project’s meticulously researched footnotes. It is a continuing source of irritation to me that factual writing is often overlooked in discussions about ‘literature’, but if this project doesn’t receive a Nobel Prize for Literature on its completion, there really is no justice in this world.
Other online resources, without which I could not have begun to work on my book, include the wonderful Darwin Online, which has made all of Darwin’s publications and many of his manuscripts accessible to everyone; and the Darwin Manuscripts Project, based at the American Museum of Natural History. I should also not neglect to mention the great service done to us all by many academic publications and individual authors who have provided open access to scholarly papers on science, the history of science, and related topics.
Thank you all. You are wonderful examples of how the internet is supposed to work.
Some other Darwin- and evolution-related stories that caught my eye recently:
- Springtime asteroid hit ramped up extinction rates, say scientists
Scientists have found evidence that the devastating asteroid impact 66 million years ago that saw off most of the dinosaurs happened in the spring in the northern hemisphere.
- Galápagos tortoises belong to new species
Scientists have discovered that a type of giant tortoise present on one of the Galápagos Islands is not from the species it was previously thought to be.
- Monkey teeth are shedding new light on how early humans used tools
Macaque monkeys’ tooth wear identical to our ancestors’ is throwing into question the long-held belief that tool-use caused the markings on hominin tooth fossils.
- What explains our lower back pain? Anthropologists turn to Neanderthals for answers
Examining the spines of Neanderthals, an extinct human relative, may explain back-related ailments experienced by humans today, a team of anthropologists has concluded in a new comparative study.
- New insight into the possible origins of life
Researchers have for the first time been able to create an RNA molecule that replicates, diversifies and develops complexity, following Darwinian evolution.
- First fossil of a daytime active owl found at the edge of the Tibetan Plateau
Researchers have discovered the amazingly well-preserved fossil skeleton of an extinct owl that lived more than six million years ago in what is now China.
For regular links like these, please like and follow the Friends of Charles Darwin Facebook page.
Some book recommendations for you:
Journal of Researches
Darwin’s life is so well documented that we even know how many games of backgammon he had won and lost at one point against his wife, Emma: 2,795 to 2,490. I recently made use of this anecdote as an example of Darwin’s own nerdishness: what was the point of playing backgammon unless you kept score? Darwin’s mock-triumphant boastfulness to his American friend Asa Gray on the backgammon tally is also a lovely example among many of Darwin’s gentle humour. The more I find out about the man, the more I like him.
Expression of Emotions
See you next time!
Richard Carter, FCD