Richard Fortey

Richard Fortey was senior palaeontologist at the Natural History Museum and is an expert on trilobites. His books include Life: An Unauthorised Biography and A Curious Boy: The Making of a Scientist, a memoir.

An expedition to a hidden valley in Papua New Guinea in 2009 discovered a habitat whose living creatures had never been catalogued, a place so remote that even the people who live in the local highlands had never penetrated its rainforest. The explorers came across an unnamed species of woolly rat that was not afraid of human beings, probably because it had never seen any before: the wariness...

Tasty Butterflies: Entomologists

Richard Fortey, 24 September 2009

John Lubbock, Liberal MP and social reformer (he introduced the bank holiday into law in 1871), was also the founding father of scientific anthropology and an obsessive entomologist. Of his many books, the most successful, Ants, Bees and Wasps, ran to 18 editions. In 1872, he presented a wasp that he had tamed (allegedly) to the annual meeting of the British Association for the Advancement of...

Hammers for Pipes: The Beginnings of Geology

Richard Fortey, 9 February 2006

On his release from jail, Gordon Liddy, the Watergate conspirator, set up as a radio guru, with a nationally syndicated show dispensing cracker barrel philosophy and a folksy view of the world. A few years ago, I found myself a guest on the show as part of a tour to promote a book I had written on the long history of life on Earth. Liddy’s avuncular manner belied his previous history,...

Archaeology is Rubbish: The Last 20,000 Years

Richard Fortey, 18 December 2003

An excavation made in 1975, behind the town of Vedbaek in Denmark, revealed the body of a tiny child laid to rest in the embrace of a swan’s wing. Next to the skeleton was the grave of the child’s young mother, dead in childbirth, her remains decorated with snail-shell beads and pendants; her face had been dusted with red ochre, the better to seem alive. Mother and child had been...

Published anonymously in 1844, Vestiges of the Natural History of Creation was a history of everything, from the beginning of the Universe and the solar system to the spiritual destiny of mankind. It purported to include all the latest scientific discoveries. The story was conceived in a progressive mode, and written to be inspirational: the progression from first things to the advent of man...

70 Centimetres and Rising: plate tectonics

John Whitfield, 3 February 2005

Alfred Wegener, born in 1880, pioneered the use of balloons in meteorology, and in 1906 broke the endurance record by staying up in the air for 52 hours. He spent several years studying the...

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