Mike Smith, 2016. "The Natural History Museum Fossil Fish Collection: Smith Woodward’s role in the development and use of this priceless resource", Arthur Smith Woodward: His Life and Influence on Modern Vertebrate Palaeontology, Z. Johanson, P. M. Barrett, M. Richter, M. Smith
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When an 18-year-old Arthur Smith Woodward arrived at the new home of the natural history collections of the British Museum on Cromwell Road, South Kensington in August 1882, he could not have envisaged the treasure trove of vertebrate fossils that awaited him. Even before the move to South Kensington, the collections already contained many fossil fish specimens first described and figured by the famous Swiss zoologist and geologist Louis Agassiz in his monumental work Recherches sur les Poissons Fossiles. The fabulous fossil fish collections of Lord Egerton and the Earl of Enniskillen arrived shortly after, including many more of Agassiz’s type specimens. However, Agassiz had left much work undone and ideas on fossil fish systematics had changed in the 50 years since he had started publishing his research. Making full use of the collection, and adding to it, Smith Woodward embarked on a scientific career that was to see him become the world’s leading authority on fossil fishes. When he retired from the Museum at the age of 60, his successors inherited the most extensive and well-documented collection of fossil fishes in the world.
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Arthur Smith Woodward was the Natural History Museum’s longest-serving Keeper of Geology and the world’s leading expert on fossil fish. He was also an unwitting victim of the Piltdown fraud, which overshadowed his important scientific contributions. The aim of this book is to honour Smith Woodward’s contributions to vertebrate palaeontology, discuss their relevance today and provide insights into the factors that made him such an eminent scientist. The last few years have seen a resurgence in fossil vertebrate (particularly fish) palaeontology, including new techniques for the ‘virtual’ study of fossils (synchrotron and micro CT-scanning) and new research foci, such as ‘Evo-Devo’ – combining fossils with the development of living animals. This new research is built on a strong foundation, like that provided by Smith Woodward’s work. This collection of papers, authored by some of the leading experts in their fields, covers the many facets of Smith Woodward’s life, legacy and career. It will be a benchmark for studies on one of the leading vertebrate palaeontologists of his generation.