Thursday, February 12, 2015

Riding on Galápagos: In Which Charles Darwin Sneaks Up on and Surfs Tortoises for Science

Darwin on Galapagos
Darwin on Galapagos, linocut 17.8 cm x 26.7 cm, 2nd ed., 2012 by Ele Willoughby

"The inhabitants believe that these animals are absolutely deaf; certainly they do not overhear a person walking closely behind them. I was always amused, when overtaking one of these great monsters as it was quietly pacing along, to see how suddenly, the instant I passed, it would draw in its head and legs, and uttering a deep hiss fall to the ground with a heavy sound, as if struck dead. I frequently got on their backs, and then, upon giving a few raps on the hinder part of the shell, they would rise up and walk away; but I found it very difficult to keep my balance."

-Charles Darwin, 1835, Galápagos Islands

I initially carved this block to honour the 200th birthday of Charles Darwin. Today he would be celebrating his 206th. I depicted Darwin as a young man, during his famous voyage on the HMS Beagle and its stay in the Galápagos Islands. The giant tortoises which thrived on the islands, and the variations in species from island to island were instrumental to his thinking, when he later wrote "On the origin of species" which divulged his understanding of biological evolution. The cultural impact of "On the origin of species" is immense. Darwin built on the growing understanding that not only did life evolve, but that this could occur without some sort of supernatural control; he made the intellectual leap to argue that natural selection was all that was needed to explain the evolution of life on Earth. Yet somehow, Darwin failed to mention tortoise surfing in this great work.

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