Joseph Seckbach, Maud Walsh
From Fossils to Astrobiology: Records of Life on Earth and the Search for Extraterrestrial Biosignatures
From Fossils to Astrobiology reviews developments in paleontology and geobiology that relate to the rapidly-developing field of Astrobiology, the study of life in the Universe. Many traditional areas of scientific study, including astronomy, chemistry and planetary science, contribute to Astrobiology, but the study of the record of life on planet Earth is critical in guiding investigations in the rest of the cosmos. In this varied book, expert scientists from 15 countries present peer-reviewed, stimulating reviews of paleontological and astrobiological studies. The overviews of established and emerging techniques for studying modern and ancient microorganisms on Earth and beyond, will be valuable guides to evaluating biosignatures which could be found in the extraterrestrial surface or subsurface within the Solar System and beyond. This volume also provides discussion on the controversial reports of “nanobacteria” in the Martian meteorite ALH84001. It is a unique volume among Astrobiology monographs in focusing on fossil evidence from the geological record and will be valuable to students and researchers alike.
Horseshoe Crabs and Velvet Worms: The Story of the Animals and Plants That Time Has Left Behind
From one of the world’s leading natural scientists and the acclaimed author of Trilobite!, Life: A Natural History of Four Billion Years of Life on Earth and Dry Storeroom No. 1 comes a fascinating chronicle of life’s history told not through the fossil record but through the stories of organisms that have survived, almost unchanged, throughout time. Evolution, it seems, has not completely obliterated its tracks as more advanced organisms have evolved; the history of life on earth is far older—and odder—than many of us realize.
Scattered across the globe, these remarkable plants and animals continue to mark seminal events in geological time. From a moonlit beach in Delaware, where the hardy horseshoe crab shuffles its way to a frenzy of mass mating just as it did 450 million years ago, to the dense rainforests of New Zealand, where the elusive, unprepossessing velvet worm has burrowed deep into rotting timber since before the breakup of the ancient supercontinent, to a stretch of Australian coastline with stromatolite formations that bear witness to the Precambrian dawn, the existence of these survivors offers us a tantalizing glimpse of pivotal points in evolutionary history. These are not “living fossils” but rather a handful of tenacious creatures of days long gone.
Written in buoyant, sparkling prose, Horseshoe Crabs and Velvet Worms is a marvelously captivating exploration of the world’s old-timers combining the very best of science writing with an explorer’s sense of adventure and wonder.
Richard A. Fortey
Trilobite!: Eyewitness to Evolution
“At last, I found a trilobite. The rock simply parted around the animal, like some sort of revelation. I was left holding two pieces of rock–surely what I held was the textbook come alive. The long thin eyes of the trilobite regarded me and I returned the gaze. More compelling than any pair of blue eyes, there was a shiver of recognition across 500 million years.”
From the author of Life comes the fascinating story of the beginnings of life on our planet as seen by its very first creatures, trilobites–the exotic, crustacean-like animals that dominated the seas for 300 million years.
Richard Fortey fell in love with trilobites as a fourteen-year-old when he held his first fossil in his hand. In Trilobite!, he draws on a lifetime of study of these creatures to unravel the history of life on earth from their point of view. Trilobites saw continents move, mountain chains grow and erode; they survived ice ages and volcanic eruptions, constantly evolving and exquisitely adapting to their environment–their own evolution calibrated to geological time itself.
With Fortey’s expert guidance, we begin to understand how trilobites reveal the pattern and mechanism of evolution through their fossil legacy in the rocks. Through the eyes of trilobites, he allows us glimpses of former worlds as foreign in their geography as in their life forms. Altogether, he provides a unique picture of our geological past, which in turn provides us–scientist and layperson alike–with a new grasp of the wonders of scientific discovery.
Seven Skeletons: The Evolution of the World’s Most Famous Human Fossils
An irresistible journey of discovery, science, history, and myth making, told through the lives and afterlives of seven famous human ancestors
Over the last century, the search for human ancestors has spanned four continents and resulted in the discovery of hundreds of fossils. While most of these discoveries live quietly in museum collections, there are a few that have become world-renowned celebrity personas-ambassadors of science that speak to public audiences. In Seven Skeletons, historian of science Lydia Pyne explores how seven such famous fossils of our ancestors have the social cachet they enjoy today.
Drawing from archives, museums, and interviews, Pyne builds a cultural history for each celebrity fossil-from its discovery to its afterlife in museum exhibits to its legacy in popular culture. These seven include the three-foot tall “hobbit” from Flores, the Neanderthal of La Chapelle, the Taung Child, the Piltdown Man hoax, Peking Man, Australopithecus sediba, and Lucy-each embraced and celebrated by generations, and vivid examples of how discoveries of how our ancestors have been received, remembered, and immortalized.
With wit and insight, Pyne brings to life each fossil, and how it is described, put on display, and shared among scientific communities and the broader public. This fascinating, endlessly entertaining book puts the impact of paleoanthropology into new context, a reminder of how our past as a species continues to affect, in astounding ways, our present culture and imagination
Australia’s Fossil Heritage: A Catalogue of Important Australian Fossil Sites by The Australian Heritage Council
The National Heritage List was created in January 2004 to recognize, celebrate and protect places of outstanding heritage value to the nation. One aspect of natural heritage that has been little explored is Australia’s wealth of exceptional fossil sites. While a small number of fossil sites have risen to public prominence, there are many lesser-known sites that have important heritage values.
The Australian Heritage Council engaged palaeontologists from state museums and the Northern Territory Museum and Art Gallery to compile lists of outstanding fossil sites and to document their characteristics and relative importance against a range of categories, with a view to further understanding about Australia’s important fossil heritage. Sites that were listed for National or World Heritage values were not included in the places for consideration, with the focus being on lesser-known but still important sites. This book is an account of the palaeontologists’ findings.
Australia’s Fossil Heritage provides a useful reference to the outstanding fossil sites it catalogs, and gives a clearer understanding of the heritage values of such sites. More generally, it contributes to a greater appreciation of Australia’s geological and fossil diversity and enables readers to learn more about Australia’s prehistory.