Notebooks containing some of Charles Darwin’s seminal thoughts on evolution are to go on display after going missing for 20 years.

There were two manuscripts anonymously returned in March this year to the Cambridge University Library was kidnapped in 2001.

Among the pages of the previously missing booklets is a prominent sketch of the tree of life from 1837, which looks similar to modern evolutionary trees.

Darwin’s On the Origin of Species, published in 1859, is said to be based on ideas first recorded on the pads.

The exhibition runs from July 9 to December 3 at the University of Cambridge’s Milstein Exhibition Centre.

The police investigation into the disappearance of the notebooks is still ongoing.

Professor Jim Secord, director of the Darwin Correspondence Project, said the pages show “the place where Darwin developed his theory of evolution”.

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“When we think of Darwin and how he discovered evolution, we often think only of the trip to the Beagle and the Galapagos Islands, but in fact the main work of creating the theory was done in London after he returned,” he said.

“Darwin lived in a bachelor’s house, and he kept these notebooks, which were pretty much secret, and he carried them around, and whenever he had a good idea or an observation, he would write it down.”

He added: “When we see the notebooks, we really see one of the great moments of the process of scientific discovery and, in fact, of world history.”

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Dr Alison Pearne, deputy director of the Darwin Correspondence Project, said: ‘We want people to take away that he was human.

“Once he was a very young man.

“I think we forget that he was only 22 when he went on the HMS Beagle.”

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