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Darwin Correspondence Project

From F. B. Zincke   1 November 1881

Wherstead Vicarage. Ipswich.

1 Nov. 1881

Dear Sir

Will you allow me to send you—which, however, you cannot need—something in confirmation of what you say of the depth to which objects, once on the surface of the earth, may in the course of ages be buried by the accumulation of worm casts?1 I am now engaged in quadruple digging an orchard, I mean to the depth of 4 feet. The upper 18 inches are of black garden mould. The next 18 of sandy loam. These 3 feet I reverse. The lower or fourth foot is of a hard ferruginous yellow clay. This I have to break up with a mattock. Last week on the surface of this indurated ‘pan’, as it is locally called, 3 feet from the surface, I found lying side by side, two singularly perfect celts: one of black, the other of gray flint.2 These probably had by some accident been dropped in prehistoric times on the surface of the soil, & had gradually, & before the soil came to be cultivated, been lowered beneath the reach of ploughs & spades by the worms that excavated the earth under them, & deposited it on the surface in the form of their casts. These two celts are not worn out tools which might have been thrown away as no longer of any use, but are as perfect as the day they were made, & might still be used for excavating a canoe. There are some ferruginous stains on the one of grey flint.

Will you also excuse my presuming to offer what seems to an ignorant person like myself to support another point, which, too, is one that needs no support. If the climate of the earth had gone through no changes, we cd. hardly imagine such bulky forms as the polar bear, the reindeer, & the musk ox originating, or obtaining a footing in the polar regions. There seems, however, to be no difficulty in believing that they are modified & adapted survivals of forms which a temperate epoch had developed; & which have survived because their habits & constitution enabled them to find food under the lowered temperature to which they were afterwards, & have since been exposed.

Pray, Sir, excuse this note, & believe me to be your most insignificant, but not least faithful disciple | F. Barham Zincke.

CD annotations

2.1 Will … disciple 3.2] crossed pencil
End of letter: ‘*Has the [above del ‘Does’] carbonaceous matter been oxidised & disappeared from the lower 18 inches’3 pencil


CD had discussed the burial of objects on the surface of pasture-land in Earthworms, pp. 146–7; he included the information from Zincke in the printing of the fifth thousand of the first edition, pp. 146–8.
Celts: flint implements with chisel-shaped edges.
CD’s annotation is a note for his reply; see letter to F. B. Zincke, 3 November 1881.


Earthworms: The formation of vegetable mould through the action of worms: with observations on their habits. By Charles Darwin. London: John Murray. 1881.


Has found prehistoric tools in his orchard that he believes have been buried by the action of earthworms.

Letter details

Letter no.
Foster Barham Zincke
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
Source of text
DAR 184: 12
Physical description
ALS 3pp †

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 13448,” accessed on 28 May 2023,