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Darwin Correspondence Project

From Charles Lyell   [16 January 1857]1


in the whole world2

Eocene Thanet Sands 0

hiatus 0 Secondary Maestricht beds 0

White Chalk 0

Chalk Marl 0

Upp. G.S 0

Gault 0

Lower G.S 0

Weald Clay ————————— 0

Hastings beds ———————— 0

Upper Purbeck 0

Middle do. ———————— 12

Lower do. ————————– 0

Portland Ool. 0

Kimmeridge 0

Calc. Grit 0

Oxfd. Clay. 0

Lower Ool. (Stonesfield) 4

Lias. 0

Trias (upper) Stuttgardt. 1

I have casts & beautiful drawings made at my expence when last at Stuttgard of the Microlestes & am much pleased at knowing what that oldest of yet found mammals was.3

So the “Nochnichtgefundenseyn” (a capital specimen of a German substantive) of the angiospermous plants in rocks older than the chalk offers no reason to anticipate the rarity of warm blooded quadrupeds—4

I hope you are all well— Your brother gives us news now &

CD annotations

Top of first page: ‘Jan 16/57/’ ink; ‘22’5 brown crayon


Dated by CD’s annotation.
This list of fossil mammals probably resulted from Lyell’s interest in the fossils recently discovered by Samuel Beckles. Lyell encouraged Beckles to excavate the Purbeck beds in a quarry in Swanage, Dorset, and had passed the specimens on to Hugh Falconer and Richard Owen. They were identified as new species of insectivorous mammals. Lyell announced the discovery at a meeting of the Philosophical Club of the Royal Society on 18 January 1857 (Bonney 1919, p. 134). He also mentioned the significance of these fossils for his views in a letter to Charles James Fox Bunbury, 13 January 1857 (K. M. Lyell ed. 1881, 2: 238–9). See also letter to J. D. Hooker, 17 January [1857].
The fossil molar teeth of this insectivorous mammal had been found in 1847 by Wilhelm Plieninger in a bed of Triassic rock at Württemberg (Wilson ed. 1970, p. xxxv). Lyell regarded the appearance of mammals in such early strata as powerful evidence against the theory of progressive development of living forms.
Lyell’s point was that the scarcity of advanced plants in geological formations older than the Chalk did not necessarily mean that mammals would also be scarce. He believed that mammals existed elsewhere during these periods and that fossil remains would be found as more formations were explored, although they would be rare because of the special conditions required for their preservation. See Wilson ed. 1970, pp. xxxi–xxxvii.
The number of CD’s portfolio of notes on palaeontology and extinction.


Bonney, T. G. 1919. Annals of the Philosophical Club of the Royal Society written from its minute books. London: Macmillan.


Enumerates fossil mammals known in Secondary strata.

Lack of angiosperm plants in rocks older than Chalk is no reason to anticipate rarity of warm-blooded quadrupeds.

Letter details

Letter no.
Charles Lyell, 1st baronet
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
Source of text
DAR 205.9: 394
Physical description

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 2039,” accessed on 1 December 2021,

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 6