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Courtyard Lates talks and further resources

Compare and Contrast : exploring the earliest geological maps of our nation, John Henry, FGS, & Duncan Hawley, FGS

William Smith published his map ‘A delineation of the strata…’ in 1815.  Five years later George Greenough’s geological map was issued, accompanied by controversy and cries of ‘plagiarism’. Both maps now hang side by side in the stairwell of the Geological Society allowing direct viewing of how closely Smith’s and Greenough’s maps compare.  Duncan Hawley and John Henry pointed to questions about style, substance, approach and accuracy,  and considered the impact these two maps made on the development of early geological science.

View our online exhibition William 'Strata' Smith (1769-1839), the Father of English Geology

Mary Anning and the first Ichthyosaurs, Tom Sharpe, FGS, Lyme Regis Museum

At the start of the 19th century some extraordinary fossil remains of long extinct reptiles were being discovered in the Jurassic rocks of Lyme Regis, Dorset, by a remarkable collector, Mary Anning. One of the first geologists to illustrate and describe these fossils was Mary’s friend Henry De la Beche, a member of the Geological Society, who also lived in Lyme. This talk looked at some of the earliest illustrations of these creatures and discussed Mary’s relationship with Henry and other members of the Geological Society.

Find out more about Mary Anning in our online exhibition

The Men Who Made Piltdown, David Bate, British Geological Survey

One of the Society’s most popular paintings, ‘Discussion on the Piltdown skull’ by John Cooke (1915), is a memento of an event which began with the proud declaration of England’s pre-eminence as the cradle of world civilisation, but ended as one of the most infamous and frequently cited cases of scientific fraud.  It was claimed that Piltdown Man was not merely the ‘Earliest Englishman’ but the long predicted and sought after ‘missing link’ between man and the apes. The human-like skull and ape-like jaw had been discovered in a Sussex gravel pit a few years earlier and first exhibited at the Geological Society in 1912.  The curious human/ape combination fitted a number of preconceptions held by such eminent anatomists as Arthur Keith and Grafton Elliot Smith, who appear as central figures (and unwitting accomplices) in the portrait alongside the person who executed the forgery - Charles Dawson.

View the British Geological Survey's interactive Piltdown Man timeline.

Find out about the Society's painting, 'Discussion on the Piltdown skull'

Meteorites - "Stones said to have fallen from the clouds”, Professor Paul Henderson, FGS, University College London

Farmworkers knew from bitter experience that stones came from the heavens, sometimes with dramatic sounds and sights, but they were not believed by the savants. Prejudice and disbelief were finally overcome through unusual ‘rock hard evidence’ at the end of the eighteenth century.  But do we really now know all the answers?

Read an article by Professor Paul Henderson about James Sowerby and his meteoritic sword

Find out about 'Meteorolites', specimens or fragments of eight 'meteorolites' which fell in Great Britain, by James Sowerby (1757-1822)

View Meteorite that fell in County Limerick by Etheldred Benett (1775-1845)


Find out about the Geological Society's important historical collections

Library Exhibitions

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Explore the Library's historical collections with our online exhibitions