Russell Coope: the beauty of beetle fossils

Russell Coope explains that is was the beauty of beetle fossils discovered at Upton Warren in Worcestershire in 1954, rather than their scientific value, that sparked a career in palaeoclimatology.

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There was one layer which was in fact half a metre thick at most, which was loaded with molluscs, insects, plant remains, bits of vertebrate, fish for instance, and another one much thinner which had a rather different fauna. And it was quite clear from looking at the molluscs in particular that these were deposits that accumulated in the bottom of a pond. So that much was obvious and therefore we looked at it from the point of view of the ecology of a pond. And very very quickly it started to take off in that the most diverse and well – best preserved of the fossil remains were – were insects, particularly beetles. They’re very robust you know, they make very very good fossils because they’re so sound and strong and they resist decomposition in a big way. So they were the most spectacular. Also the colours, some of them are absolutely stunningly beautifully coloured, so I was tempted in gradually by the attractiveness. Not I hasten to say by the science, what attracted me initially was – was the appearance, the unusualness, the sort of other things other than the scientific sort of aspect. At no time did I ever think in those early days this might come in handy one day to unravel climatic change or environmental change, it was all because it was so exciting, because it was something beautiful. Did you in that case take any photographs, make any drawings or collection any specimens for a kind of aesthetic reason almost – almost like a kind of souvenir or something attractive to display? Very much so, initially very much so, we even got so far as making Christmas cards out of them because they were so beautiful. So yes absolutely. That’s the reason for doing it, in fact a justification for doing it comes later than the reason for doing it in the first place. The justification is saying what can we do with this other than saying wow isn’t that beautiful. The reason for doing it is wow isn’t that beautiful type of thing [laughs].
  • Interviewee Russell Coope
  • Duration 00:02:18
  • Copyright British Library Board
  • Interviewer Paul Merchant
  • Date of interview 11/24/2011
  • Shelfmark C1379/63
  • Keywords

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