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Recovery of Missing Explanatory Notes of the First Geological Map of Funafuti Atoll, 1904

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posted on 12.09.2019, 13:54 by Roger F. McLean

Funafuti atoll in the central Pacific was the site of the first deep drilling into a coral atoll. Drilling was carried out during three expeditions in 1896–98, sponsored by the Royal Society, London. Its purpose was purely scientific: to test Charles Darwin’s theory of coral atoll formation. Surface geological investigations were also undertaken during the second expedition in 1897, and detailed maps, descriptions and explanatory notes on the 32 islands located on the atoll rim were prepared for publication in the Royal Society’s report on The Atoll of Funafuti, published in 1904. However, not all of the island descriptions and explanatory notes that accompanied the final 63 page text and 14 map sheets on the geology of Funafuti Atoll were included in the published work, although this appears not to have been noticed by the volume’s editor, Professor T.G. Bonney in London, or by the authors T.W. Edgeworth David and George Sweet in Australia. Lacking are descriptions of the islands on Funafuti’s northern and northwestern rim as well as the explanatory notes to accompany five of the 14 map sheets. Searches were undertaken through archives of the expedition in the United Kingdom and Australia in an attempt to uncover the ‘missing’ material. This archival search met with partial success in the Sir Edgeworth David Papers at Sydney University where a draft manuscript containing ‘explanatory notes’ on seven islands and five of the 14 map sheets was uncovered. These notes are transcribed in an annex to the present report. The reasons behind the omission of this material in the final publication are not clear, though the archival documentation does provide a fascinating insight into the difficulties associated with scientific expedition publications at the end of the nineteenth century, when editors and authors were separated by large time and space differences, several contributors were involved in map, note and text preparation, and drafts of chapters and illustrations were transported in hard-copy over long distances, such as from Australia to the United Kingdom, as was the case of the Funafuti report.



  • Atoll Research Bulletin

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Smithsonian Institution Scholarly Press