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Cambridge reports, 20 years after losing it, the theft of Darwin’s tree of life

NewsCambridge reports, 20 years after losing it, the theft of Darwin's tree of life

A fundamental testimony to the genius of one of the greatest scientists in history has gone from being lost to being considered stolen. Cambridge University has reported to the police the disappearance of two of Charles Darwin’s journals, one of which includes the famous “tree of life” sketch. It is a representation of his theory of evolution dating from 1837 and shows the relationship between living beings, the result of the observations of the researcher born in Downe, near London in 1809.

But the university does not know how the two bibliographical jewels came to be from its walls, whose price is unknown but is estimated at several million pounds. Nor does it know exactly when it happened: the last time someone admitted seeing them was in the year 2000. The workers in the huge library, with its 210 kilometers of shelves and some 10 million books, maps, manuscripts and other documents, thought for years that they had been misplaced, and no complaint was filed.

The conclusion that the texts are no longer on the premises was reached this year, after a thorough review of the contents of the 189 boxes that make up the Darwin Archive. The two diaries had vanished.

With so much time having passed without the documents or any clues as to his whereabouts, his disappearance is now being investigated as a matter of theft, and the library has notified the Cabridgeshire police accordingly. The specialized unit for art and antiques of the Metropolitan Police and Interpol have also been informed. They are now listed as lost and found in the UK’s Lost Art Register and Interpol’s Psyche database.

However, the police do not have any threads to pull to solve the case. The last reference to the location of the notebooks dates back to November 2000. That month the work, which lasted a couple of months, was completed to photograph the pages in the library department, where the notebooks had been moved from their shelves, in a specially protected area of the facility. But in an ordinary review, in January of the following year, it was found that the documents and the small blue box containing them were no longer there. The two lost and perhaps stolen copies had been digitized and can be consulted on the Internet, although this does not compensate for the loss of the original document in which Darwin recorded his observations on board the Beagle ship with which he sailed halfway around the world.


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