Charles Darwin’s lost fossils found in old drawer

Long-forgotten fossils collected by Charles Darwin have been found in an old drawer, deep in the archives of the British Geological Survey.

The find was made by chance, according to paleontologist Howard Falcon-Lang, who told the BBC his curiosity was aroused by an old chest of drawers marked simply "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 labeled 'C. Darwin Esq'."

"It took me a while just to convince myself that it was Darwin's signature on the slide," Falcon-Lang told the Associated Press.

Closer examination revealed that he had stumbled upon fossils collected by Darwin on his 1834 voyage aboard the HMS Beagle, the expedition that provided much of the inspiration and evidence for his theory of evolution.

The fragments of fossilized wood and plants were shipped back to England, cut into thin sheets and mounted on glass to allow them to be studied. There are a total of 314 slides in the collection, not all of which were collected by Darwin; some bear the names of his associates, others of explorers from across the British Empire.

They came to the Geological Survey in 1846 under the care of Joseph Hooker, a botanist and close friend of Darwin who worked at the Survey.

It is still unclear how the entire collection came to be lost for the next 165 years. Falcon-Lang believes Hooker did not have a chance to enter them in the Geological Survey's formal records before leaving for an expedition to the Himalayas – and so the unregistered specimens were forgotten, and eventually ended up in the vaults after the Survey changed home several times.

"It really makes one wonder what else might be hiding in our collections," said the executive director of the Geological Survey, John Ludden.

The fossils have since been cataloged and are available to view online on the Geological Survey's website.

More from GlobalPost: World's oldest fossils found in Western Australia

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