Paleobotany of Madeira Island
What is the origin of the flora of Madeira? This simple question leads us to the study of Paleobotany (the study of fossil plants) - plants that have been preserved by geological processes, giving us clues about the past.
On the island of Madeira the report of these types of fossils leads us back to the first half of the nineteenth century, when science was undergoing major paradigm shift and when many pioneering studies in the field of geology and biology were performed.
Among these scientists was Sir. Charles Lyell (1797-1875), the famous British geologist. He traveled to Madeira Island to perform field work in search of proofs to how oceanic islands were formed.
In 1854 he finds, along with George Hartung (a German naturalist then living on the island) a leaf-bed full of fossils of laurels and ferns at S. Jorge. They collected several specimens at the time, and some of them were studied by some of the greatest authorities on paleobotany of the nineteenth century.
In the same trip, Lyell also described sedimentary from Porto da Cruz, which five years later would also produce macrofossil plants. Today, despite these studies having almost 160 years, they continue to be the main references on the Paleobotany of Madeira Island.
My current MSc. Thesis research is, with the aid of the XIX century literature (biographic papers, letters and manuscripts), to rewrite the history of these collections and review them into the light of actual paleobotany and geology of Madeira island.
The quests for finding these fossils, have lead me into some UK museums (like the Sedgwick Museum of Earth Sciences, at Cambridge and the Natural History Museum, London), into field work to re-locate the leaf-beds and collect more fossils and study living specimens for comparisons with fossil material.
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