Book review: Introducing Palaeontology: A Guide to ancient life (2nd edition), by Patrick N Wyse Jackson

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Jon Trevelyan (UK)

A second edition of this guide has now been published, which is reviewed at: Introducing Palaeontology (2nd edition): A Guide to Ancient Life. This first first edition is no longer available.

I have written many admiring reviews of Dunedin’s books, and this is another one. OK – I like fossils, but it is always nice to have a brief but informative guide to the actual science behind one’s finds. And this certainly fits the bill for amateurs and undergraduates alike.

In this respect, it is worth remembering that life on earth can be traced back over three thousand million years back into ‘deep time’; and, of course, many of the life forms during this immense period of time can be found in rocks, often preserved as beautiful and fascinating fossils, despite the improbability of any organism being preserved in the fossil record. This includes traces of the earliest life forms, such as bacteria and algae, and then more complete and obvious fossils of complex, multi-cellular organisms that appeared later on Earth.

In addition, scientists have shown how changes over time to species preserved as fossils allows us to subdivide geological time through the science of stratigraphy; and the knowledge that species evolve and become extinct (most species that have ever existed are now extinct) has come from the study of their fossil remains. Indeed, lineages can be traced and extinctions explained as a consequence of terrestrial and extra-terrestrial events, again through the study of geology and palaeontology.

This new (second) edition has been revised, updated and expanded, and now provides a concise and accessible introduction to the science of palaeontology. It is set out in two broad parts, one covering the science (including codes of conduct, taxonomy, the use of fossils, fossil lagerstätten and so on) and the other, the fossil groups (for example, sponges, bryozoans, brachiopoda, molluscs and arthropods). As always with Dunedin books, it is lavishly illustrated with full colour photographs and diagrams, with a glossary and an easy reading style.

The author is an associate professor in geology and curator of the Geological Museum at Trinity College, Dublin. He has been fascinated by fossil bryozoans for many years, and also investigates aspects of the history of geology.

If you want a brief guide to the science of fossils, this one’s for you.

Introducing Palaeontology: A Guide to Ancient Life (2nd edition), by Patrick N. Wyse Jackson, Dunedin, Edinburgh and London (2019), 158 pages (paperback and also available as an eBook), ISBN: 978-1780460833

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