William Stukely was a scholar and antiquarian
best known for his studies of Stonehenge and other stone circles
and earthworks in the British landscape. He published several
books, including one on Avebury, the great neolithic collection of
stone circles, avenues and earthworks a few miles to the north of
Stonehenge. By modern standards his work is steeped in mysticism.
He attributed the construction of these monuments to the cult of
the Druids. More recent archaeological research has shown them to
be far older than any records of the Druidic cult. In his
perception the ancient landscape was populated with great
earthworks representing mythical dragons and serpents.
This account of a fossil animal, one of the
first descriptions of any vertebrate fossil, was published in
'Philosophical Transactions' in 1719. Seen with the benefit of
hindsight it shows how the development of theories of evolution
arose from questioning the evidence of geology. How did the bones
of an unfamiliar animal come to be turned to stone? How does this
tie in with the Biblical account of the flood?
Also of interest is 'my Friend, Robert Darwin'.
This is Charles Darwin's great-grandfather, and the father of Erasmus
Darwin. He is mentioned in Desmond King-Helle's 'Erasmus Darwin, a life of unequalled achievement' (Giles de la Mere, London 1999). From a review of that book:
"Robert Darwin, was a barrister who had discovered the first-known Jurassic fossil reptile. The
specimen was of a Plesiosaur and was presented to The Royal Society on 11 December 1718. It is currently on display at Ihe Natural History Museum in South Kensington. The discovery stimulated considerable interest, and Robert Darwin was a guest at The Royal Society when Isaac Newton, F.R.S., chaired a meeting to discuss the find early in 1719. The Fellows concluded that these were the remains of a sea fish or amphibious creature and not of any known terrestrial animal. We should recall that this was over a century prior to Mary Arming's discovery of a Plesiosaur skeleton at Lyme Regis (in 1823).
Robert Darwin was clearly something of an independent-minded individual; shortly after his visit to The Royal Society he took a pet dog into Hall at
rules. When the head porter ordered its removal, Robert Darwin threatened to knock him down with a pot aimed at his head. For this he had to give a sincere apology—but, as King-Hele emphasizes,
considerable power of his father."
The specimen itself made its way over the years
into the collection of the British Museum. It is on display
opposite the museum shop with other fine and historically
significant marine reptiles.
The original text uses an archaic font including
the 'extended s', which looks like an 'f'. I have reproduced it
using a font called 'JSL Ancient', which can be downloaded from
If you don't have it on your computer it will look a bit odd.
Alternately, you can view the document using Adobe Acrobat Reader.
It you don't have Acrobat reader on your computer, you can
download it from