Ammonite wars

Neale Monks (UK) Ammonites have been studied intensively for the last 200 years but, between experts, there is very little agreement on what ammonites looked like or how they worked as living organisms. Could they float? Did they swim? How did they catch their food? How long did they live? Why did they disappear at the end of the Cretaceous? All these questions remain essentially unresolved. In fact, ammonites are a quite poorly understood group of fossils in many ways. By far the majority of scientific papers written about ammonites concentrate purely and simply on what is known as primary taxonomy — is this ammonite species distinct from all the others so far discovered and, if it is, how can it be recognised reliably and where else can it be found? The reason most scientists concentrate on these questions above all others comes down to the usefulness of ammonites for biostratigraphy. Many ammonite species evolved and died out within fairly short periods of time, perhaps a few hundred thousand years, but their fossils are often abundant and, most crucially of all, often very widely distributed. So, if a particular ammonite species can be found in sediments at two different localities, it’s a good indication that those two sediments were laid down within the same, rather narrow period of time. Just taking British palaeontologists as an example, virtually all the major scientists working on ammonites did so to further their studies of biostratigraphy: WJ Arkell, R Casey, MR House, MK Howarth, … Read More

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