I tracked down the author of The Prospect of Astro-Palaeontology, John Armitage, who is Director of the South Staffordshire Observatory to ask some questions his paper inspired:
Could you tell me something about your background? I gather from scattered sources on the internet that you have a background in astronomy, but do you have any archaeological training as well?
I have always been interested in astronomy. I have been a member of the British Astronomical Association for 50 years and a Fellow of the Royal Astronomical Society for over 36 years. My first degree was in Earth and Planetary Science, and my subsequent research was in Micropalaeontology, thus my interest in microfossils in meteorites, etc.
Have you written any other papers on the subject of asto-palaeontology? A list of your works on any topic would be of interest, in fact.
No, not as such, although I have made tangential comments on various occasions. I did however give a lot of lectures in this field for the British Association for the Advancement of Science during the late 1970’s, 1980’s and 1990’s which sparked comment and debate, and for many other bodies around Britain.
How was your paper received when it was published? I have only found one citation to it … it seems to be unknown even to the small but growing number of space archaeology enthusiasts.
There was a good deal of initial interest, but as your own comment implies, it was not properly followed through, though I believe that much of what I said in that paper was prophetic of much that was to come (for example suggestions of microfossil content in Antarctic meteorite ALH84001 20 years later in 1996).
You wrote in 1976 that ‘before the end of this century’ evidence of an extraterrestrial civilisation or fossil record might be discovered. How confident are you today that we will discover traces of extraterrestrial life?
Investigations of various meteorites have led to the suggestion of fossil content to be found in meteorites, as I suggested. Also Lewis, an experimenter on the Viking missions to Mars believes that he did identify signs of life on Mars back then though this is much disputed. R[ichard] Hoagland claims to have evidence of ancient archaeological structures present on both Mars and the Moon, though these are even more strongly disputed by most, though I believe that these should be rigorously investigated rather than just rejected out of hand. I don’t know what to think on this issue personally.
In Table 1 of your paper you list various kinds of extraterrestrial remains. Are there any modifications you’d like to make to the table? Which category do you think we’re most likely to find first?
To me, the answer is clear, microbial life or microfossils. Meteorite evidence is of course disputed but I feel sure that there is reason to expect at least microbial life extant on Mars.
In passing, you wrote that extinct extraterrestrials might have left behind ‘robot civilisations’. Can you tell me whether this meant intelligent machines, or simply automatons?
To which I answer, either or both are possibilities but we await the evidence.
Do you have any further thoughts on the subject you’d like to share?
In the short term our best bets seem to be investigation of meteorites and Mars samples.
My more recent work has concentrated on aspects of historical astronomy, building of modern and vintage style observatories and restoration of vintage instruments.
In a few days time I shall be opening my latest observatory, a Civic Observatory for Staffordshire, which will be finally opened by Dr Guy Consolmagno (the Pope’s Astronomer) who also has interests in meteorites and in exobiology/astrobiology!) [See here for details]