Arthur Raistrick: Britain’s premier palynologist
Arthur Raistrick was a dedicated socialist and pacifist. Following imprisonment as a conscientious objector in World War I, he changed direction from engineering to applied geology. He spent the 1920s largely self-employed and working on geological problems in coal mines, but researching on Quaternary geology and archaeology. Following appointment to Newcastle University, he undertook pioneering work on the pollen analysis of peat. He then used this knowledge to successfully correlate Carboniferous coal seams using quantitative spore profiles. To achieve this, he experimented extensively on spore extraction from coals and devised a spore classification system. Raistrick made rapid progress on applying microspores for seam correlation and established an extensive database that proved that the same seam had a very similar spore content, but different seams had different spore contents. Ultimately, his prodigious output led to overwork and severe eye strain. He then completely stopped palynological studies to concentrate on industrial history and archaeology, to which he also made a seminal and lasting contribution. Raistrick’s methods for coal seam correlation were widely adopted by many coal laboratories both in the UK and overseas, and formed the starting point for the modern development of the subject.
Figures & Tables
Often regarded as the ‘Cinderella’ of palaeontological studies, palaeobotany has a history that contains some fascinating insights into scientific endeavour, especially by palaeontologists who were perusing a personal interest rather than a career. The problems of maintaining research facilities in universities, especially in the modern era, are described and reveal a noticeable absence of a national UK strategy to preserve centres of excellence in an avowedly specialist area. Accounts of some of the pioneers demonstrate the importance of collaboration between taxonomists and illustrators. The importance of palaeobotany in the rise of geoconservation is outlined, as well as the significant and influential role of women in the discipline. Although this volume has a predominantly UK focus, two very interesting studies outline the history of palaeobotanical work in Argentina and China.