What Was Significant About the Fossils Darwin Found?

February 15, 2024

The fossil record is incomplete, and the preservation biases that make some species harder to find than others can be frustrating. But with patience, luck and good geological conditions, paleontologists can unlock some of the hidden secrets of the past.

When Darwin returned to England after his voyage aboard the Beagle, he took his collection of fossils to the Natural History Museum, where the specimens played a central role in shaping his revolutionary ideas. This article outlines how the fossils he collected helped him realize that living things are continually changing to fit their environments, and those changes can occur over time through genetic mutation.

Fossils of Glyptodonts

Darwin collected a number of skeletons and bones from eccentric mammals, such as the glyptodonts—an extinct relative of today's armadillos that was covered in a shell of bony armor. These animals puzzle evolutionary biologists, as they seem to have ballooned in size over the course of their extinction and their skeletons differ significantly from other members of their order.

Marine Shells

Darwin also collected a number of marine shells along the coast of Patagonia, and he noticed that some had been found at higher elevations than others. This suggested that the localities in which these shells had been deposited had shifted up and down over time, an idea that was later confirmed by geological research. For example, during glacial periods sea level fell and areas became dry land; while during warmer times, these same areas rose and flooded again.


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