Smith Woodward’s scientific legacy
Smith Woodward embarked on the production of a catalogue of fossil fishes half a century after Louis Agassiz began a similar exercise. These two palaeontological goliaths remain the only authorities who saw all relevant fossil fish material in all important collections. Between their works there was a substantial increase in the number of species recognized, reflecting the nineteenth-century passion for collecting, the rise of museums, as well as an acceptance that species change through time. Agassiz was working in pre-evolutionary days but Smith Woodward’s view on fish diversity was strongly influenced by the theory of evolution and specifically the writings of Thomas Henry Huxley as well as those of Edward Drinker Cope and Ramsay Heatley Traquair and their ideas of grades of evolution. Many of Smith Woodward’s generic and species descriptions survive today as his lasting legacy. Higher classification has changed considerably with new discoveries and differing methods of classification.
Figures & Tables
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.