The Natural History Museum of Denmark has found a unique gift from one of the world’s most legendary scientists in history, the father of the theory of evolution, Charles Darwin.
After studying some correspondence between Darwin and a Danish colleague – the then head of the since-closed Royal Natural History Museum, Japetus Steenstrup – the museum realised that Darwin had gifted the Dane 77 different species of acorn barnacles back in 1854.
“The relationship between Steenstrup and Darwin is well known,” Hanne Strager, the head of exhibitions at the museum, said in a press release.
“We had a little dream that we could find an item that Darwin had borrowed from Steenstrup – one we could positively say that Darwin had studied. But we ended up finding something much better.”
Darwin didn’t just return the acorn barnacles he borrowed, but also sent a box with an additional 77 barnacles to the Dane as appreciation for his help – something that Strager uncovered by coincidence when she was taking a look at the correspondence between the two scientists.
In a letter, Darwin mentioned the list of 77 barnacles – a list that was then found in Steenstrup’s papers in the museum archives – and now most of the barnacles have been found.
Next month, the museum will open the largest exhibition in its history, featuring Denmark’s new dinosaur ‘Misty’, and Darwin’s gift will be included.
“To be able to display a gift from one of the world’s greatest scientists is unique for a museum,” Stager said.
“Here we have a personal connection to the man responsible for what is probably biology’s greatest ever scientific breakthrough: the Theory of Evolution.”
Unfortunately, only 55 of the 77 species have been found. Most of the samples of one genus in particular are missing as a result, it is believed, of being lent out over the past 160 years.