Every fossil tells a story. Best-selling paleontology author Donald R. Prothero describes twenty-five famous, beautifully preserved fossils in a gripping scientific history of life on Earth. Recounting the adventures behind the discovery of these objects and fully interpreting their significance within the larger fossil record, Prothero creates a riveting history of life on our planet. The twenty-five fossils portrayed in this book catch animals in their evolutionary splendor as they transition from one kind of organism to another. We witness extinct plants and animals of microscopic and immense size and thrilling diversity. We learn about fantastic land and sea creatures that have no match in nature today. Along the way, we encounter such fascinating fossils as the earliest trilobite, Olenellus; the giant shark Carcharocles; the "fishibian" Tiktaalik; the "Frogamander" and the "Turtle on the Half-Shell"; enormous marine reptiles and the biggest dinosaurs known; the first bird, Archaeopteryx; the walking whale Ambulocetus; the gigantic hornless rhinoceros Paraceratherium, the largest land mammal that ever lived; and the Australopithecus nicknamed "Lucy," the oldest human skeleton.
We meet the scientists and adventurers who pioneered paleontology and learn about the larger intellectual and social contexts in which their discoveries were made. Finally, we find out where to see these splendid fossils in the world's great museums. Ideal for all who love prehistoric landscapes and delight in the history of science, this book makes a treasured addition to any bookshelf, stoking curiosity in the evolution of life on Earth.
Donald R. Prothero has taught college paleontology and geology for almost four decades at the California Institute of Technology, Columbia University, Occidental College, Vassar College, and Knox College. He is adjunct professor of geological sciences at California State Polytechnic University at Pomona, adjunct professor of astronomy and earth sciences at Mt. San Antonio College, and research associate in vertebrate paleontology at the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County. He is the author of more than thirty-five books, including Bringing Fossils to Life: An Introduction to Paleontology and the best-selling Evolution: What the Fossils Say and Why It Matters. He has also published more than 300 scientific papers. In 1991, he received the award for Outstanding Paleontologist Under the Age of 40. In 2013, he was awarded the James Shea Award by the National Association of Geoscience Teachers for outstanding writing and editing in the geosciences.
Preface Acknowledgments 1. Planet of the Scum: The First Fossils (Cryptozoon) 2. Garden of Ediacara: The First Multicellular Life (Charnia) 3. "Little Shellies": The First Shells (Cloudina) 4. Oh, Give Me a Home, When the Trilobites Roamed: The First Large Shelled Animals (Olenellus) 5. Is It a Worm or an Arthropod? The Origin of Arthropods (Hallucigenia) 6. Is It a Worm or a Mollusc? The Origin of Molluscs (Pilina) 7. Growing from the Sea: The Origin of Land Plants (Cooksonia) 8. A Fishy Tale: The Origin of Vertebrates (Haikouichthys) 9. Mega-Jaws: The Largest Fish (Carcharocles) 10. Fish out of Water: The Origin of Amphibians (Tiktaalik) 11. "Frogamander": The Origin of Frogs (Gerobatrachus) 12. Turtle on the Half-Shell: The Origin of Turtles (Odontochelys) 13. Walking Serpents: The Origin of Snakes (Haasiophis) 14. King of the Fish-Lizards: The Largest Marine Reptile (Shonisaurus) 15. Terror of the Seas: The Largest Sea Monster (Kronosaurus) 16. Monster Flesh-Eater: The Largest Predator (Giganotosaurus) 17. Land of the Giants: The Largest Land Animal (Argentinosaurus) 18. A Feather in Stone: The First Bird (Archaeopteryx) 19. Not Quite a Mammal: The Origin of Mammals (Thrinaxodon) 20. Walking Into the Water: The Origin of Whales (Ambulocetus) 21. Walking Manatees: The Origin of Sirenians (Pezosiren) 22. Dawn Horses: The Origin of Horses (Eohippus) 23. Rhinoceros Giants: The Largest Land Mammal (Paraceratherium) 24. The Ape's Reflection? The Oldest Human Fossil (Sahelanthropus) 25. Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds: The Oldest Human Skeleton (Australopithecus afarensis) Appendix: The Best Natural History Museums Index