Cyril Walker – 8th February 1939 to 6th May 2009
The Natural History Museum in London is a remarkable institution. Visitors to the museum marvel at the wonderful exhibits on display in the galleries, but in reality they only see a fraction of the collection. Indeed, most members of the public are not exposed to the immense amount of academic work carried out by the dedicated scientists, researchers and curators. The Museum is a bit like an iceberg, only a small portion of the vast body is visible, for example, much of the collection is stored away from the South Kensington location, it is simply too big to store at one location.
It was sad to hear of the passing away of Cyril Walker, a palaeontologist and scientist, a dedicated bird watcher and someone who had spent his entire working career at the Natural History Museum. Cyril Walker joined the museum in 1958 (called in those days, the British Museum), as a scientific assistant. Through a series of promotions he rose to the position of a senior scientific officer and was appointed curator of fossil birds at the museum. He retired in 1999.
He is perhaps best known for his seminal work on late Mesozoic and early Cenozoic birds. He is credited with the discovery and classification of a subclass of primitive birds called the Enantiornithes from fragmentary fossil material excavated in South America. The Enantiornithes were a part of the ancient bird group the Ornithothoraces, it is believed the Enantiornithines were a Cretaceous radiation of this large group. Cyril Walker was one of the co-authors who refuted claims made regarding the authenticity of the Archaeopteryx fossils when the fossil evidence of link between dinosaurs and birds was challenged. Indeed, he had a number of taxa named after him, several birds of course, reflecting his great knowledge in this area but also other animals including a species of Mosasaur.