He began to ask himself how these creatures and plants had got there - especially as they were unknown to the area and not adapted to survive there. He eventually hypothesized - not unreasonably - that perhaps they had lived in a distant age, when the land and weather were completely different…
Not only was Shen Kuo correct, but he was way ahead of his time – and not just in the field of climate change.
In addition to being arguably China’s greatest scientist of the modern age, Shen Kuo was also a mathematician (inventing spherical trigonometry); an anatomist (creating the earliest magnetic compass); an anatomist (dispelleding the long-held Chinese theory that the human throat contained three valves instead of two); a meteorologist (providing the earliest explanation for how and why rainbows were formed); and a geologist (proposing that petroleum existed in vast quantities deep beneath the earth).
He was also a noted astronomer, zoologist, botanist, pharmacologist, agronomist, ethnographer, cartographer, hydraulic engineer, art critic…and finance minister.
In fact all these topics and more - including a potential UFO sighting - were covered in Shen Kuo’s masterwork The Dream Pool Essays, a collection of some 507 essays spread across 30 chapters. Heavily re-edited in 1166, just one copy survives to this day (residing in Japan).
He lived in tumultuous times, frequently finding favor with the ruling Song dynasty…but also falling foul of it. As a result, many of his original works were almost certainly purged. Nevertheless, Shen Kuo lived out his final years in comfortable seclusion in his own private gardens until his death in 1095.
Then, in 1983 his long-lost tomb was discovered at the foot of the Taiping Hill and eventually restored.
A fitting tribute to a genuine scientific visionary.