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Father of evolution donated 77 species of barnacle in a box to colleague in Copenhagen. Barnacles turn up after clues found in correspondence
They have stumbled across a unique present from one of the greatest scientists of all time. Charles Darwin donated in 1854 a set of barnacles to his Danish colleague Japetus Steenstrup, the former director of the then Royal Natural History Museum.
Until recently, no-one at the University of Copenhagen’s Museum of Natural History knew that they were sitting on a piece of scientific history. But a few weeks ago, the museum’s head of exhibits studied the correspondance between Darwin and his Danish colleague.
Following a clue in a letter, the hunt began, and the barnacles were found. A barnacle is a creature related to crabs that has been crucial in the development of evolutionary theory.
Head of exhibits Hanne Strager had been looking for something special before a grand opening of an exhibit that will include a dinosaur in a few months time.
“The relation between Steenstrup and Darwin is well known. They corresponded, and we know that Steenstrup lent out barnacles to Darwin. We had therefore a dream that we could find an object that Darwin had borrowed from Steenstrup, that had subsequently been returned. But we found something that was much better. ”
Darwin returned what he had borrowed – plus a box with a further 77 selected species of barnacle to Steenstrup – as a gift of thanks.
Steenstrup received the gift before the book the ‘Origin of Species’ was published and the significance of the little creature for the theory of evolution became apparent.
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