Fabulous Fossils, 300 Years of Worldwide Research on Trilobites Donald G. Mikulic, Ed Landing and Joanne Kluessendorf, eds. New York State Museum Bulletin 507: The University of the State of New York, The State Education Department:, 2007. $19.95 plus $6.00 shipping, soft-cover; 248 pp. The book is minimally illustrated with period black & white artwork, drawings and photographs.
The New York State Museum has produced a worthwhile book for trilobite enthusiasts around the world. A warning is appropriate though for people who buy books based upon titles without previewing the contents. Fabulous Fossils is a book written by professional paleontologists in a style similar to the format of The Journal of Paleontology. What does this mean to you? Every paper is consistent from one to the next in the style of a technical research paper beginning with an abstract, ending with a conclusion and references. That is a good thing. Depending on the paper and authors, the amount of undefined technical terminology varies. The number of illustrations is not great and many are photographs of the researchers mentioned in the papers. Do not expect a book with lots of slick photographs of perfectly preserved trilobites.
Having said all of that, Fabulous Fossils is a wonderful book covering the history of trilobite research around the world by many current trilobite workers. Even if you are not yet a serious trilobite afficionado you will recognize authors with local Cincinnatian connections: Danita Brandt, Richard Davis and James St. John. Other authors familiar to American collectors include: Loren Babcock, Donald Mikulic, Joanne Klussendorf, Harry Whittington and Ellis Yochelson.
I may as well get my one real issue with the book out of the way early - editing. It is very difficult to proofread and edit something that you have written yourself - your brain tends to fix typos as you read since it knows what you mean. It is much easier to edit someone else's work. Fabulous Fossils has three editors, one of which, Ed Landing, a technical editor and the general editor, wrote the Introduction to the book. Within the Introduction itself Landing refers to authors Brandt and Davis as "Brandt and Davies" - twice! This was a sign. Throughout Fabulous Fossils I found quite a few other typos. I am cursed by my inability to speed read. I read every word. My apologies to authors and editors everywhere. This is a high-quality, well-done publication and I did not expect to see sentences with extra words that were not removed from perhaps earlier versions of the sentence. I have to admit this happens to me as well but then I am not a professional writer nor do I charge money for my reviews.
While all of the chapters are well researched and important to specialists in the covered areas, for my purposes here I will only discuss those of more general interest.
Loren Babcock's paper, "Role of Malformations in Elucidating Trilobite Paleobiology: A Historical Synthesis," will be of great interest to many readers. According to Babcock, a little over 1100 trilobites with malformations have been cited in research papers despite the thousands of trilobites collected. This can be an indication of the scarcity of these conditions or perhaps it is caused by collecting bias. Predation evidence, disease and symbiotic relationships are a few of the topics covered. One of the specimens even exhibits a potential tumor. Babcock describes the various types of malformations and how they allow interpretation of trilobite paleobiology.
The early research and taxonomic descriptions of Swedish trilobites is presented in the paper by Jan Bergstrom "The Trilobite World of J. W. Dalman." In 1827 Dalman published descriptions of 17 new species of trilobites from Sweden. Bergstrom points out that at that time there were only 49 species described worldwide. This brief paper provides an account of Dalman's work and insight into taxonomic classification. You will undoubtedly recognize Dalman's name as being the root for names of a number of trilobite and brachiopod species.
Of great local interest is the aforementioned paper by Brandt and Davis, "Trilobites, Cincinnati, And The 'Cincinnatian School of Paleontology'." Brandt and Davis cover the "Cincinnati School" in general and then discuss biographical information about individual members and follow with their contributions to trilobite research. These noteworthy workers include; John Locke, F.B. Meek, S. A. Miller, John Mickleborough, Nathaniel Shaler, E. O. Ulrich, Charles Schuchert, August Foerste, William Twenhofel and Raymond Bassler. For those who are unfamiliar with the "Cincinnati School" it should be noted that the members of this informal group did not have the classical training of modern paleontologists. These were serious and accomplished amateurs who became respected professionals through their work. While such a progression from amateur to professional is not seen today without formal advanced education, Brandt and Davis suggest that the "Cincinnati School" is alive and well in the form of the University of Cincinnati based Dry Dredgers organization. A half a page of text is devoted to the accomplishments and contributions of this group of local amateurs.
Robert Kihm and James St. John have contributed a fascinating paper: "Walch's Trilobite Research - A Translation of His 1771 Trilobite Chapter." Walch's trilobite chapter is a part of his larger work The Natural History of Petrifactions. Kihm and St. John begin with biographical information on Walch but the bulk of the lengthy paper is the translation itself. The translation begins, "If ever during our times, a Petrifaction has excited the attention of Naturalists, it is surely that which has the common name of the wrinkled conch with three lobes, Concha triloba rugosa." (118) Now you know the source for my review subtitle. Although lengthy, this paper is worthwhile as it deals with the struggles of early naturalists as they strove to classify this strange organism with no living analogues. Walch is the person who coined the name trilobite."
James St. John contributed another paper, "The Earliest Trilobite Research (Antiquity to the 1820's)." The earliest use of a trilobite fossil is a drilled trilobite (perhaps used as a pendant) from the late Paleolithic of France about 15,000 B.P. More recent use as decorations or talismans are documented from native Americans. St. John reports of early European and Chinese documentation about trilobites and the 17th and 18th century struggles to classify these animals.
In "Reflections on the Classification of the Trilobita" Whittington discusses the current state of the evolutionary relationships of the trilobites. Older classification schemes are discussed as well as modern methods. The taxonomy of the Cambrian trilobites in particular is a mess. The Cambrian situation is discussed in more detail in the paper "Nightmare on Resser Street - Dealing With Resser's Trilobite Taxonomy" by Frederick Sundberg.
The discovery of trilobite appendages was a momentous event in the annals of trilobite research. Ellis Yochelson recounts the history of this discovery in "Charles Doolittle Walcott and Trilobite Appendages (1873-1881)." Part of Walcott's early work was as a professional collector, i.e., one who collects and sells fossils to make money. He lived on the Rust farm near Utica, New York and married into the Rust family as well. It was at this location that Walcott found the remarkably preserved trilobites that he would later use to illustrate preserved appendages. The collecting site is called the Rust Quarry in the literature. At one point in his career Walcott worked for James Hall who was apparently known to usurp the work of others. Walcott was very careful to keep his research to himself and was able to receive full credit for his discoveries. For the technologically minded readers, there is extensive discussion of the equipment and techniques used to prepare specimens for study.
In addition to those summarized above, Fabulous Fossils has papers of interest to anyone looking for worldwide exposure. These are: "History of Trilobite Research in the Czech Republic" by Bruthansov , et. al., "Trilobite Research in South Korea During the 20th Century" by Choi, "History and Development of Trilobite Research in Brazil" by Ghilardi and Sim es, "Australian Trilobite Studies" by Jell, "Historical Review of the Trilobite Research in China" by Peng, "Biographical Notes on Sun Yunzhu (1895-1979) Lu Yanhao (1913-2003)" by Peng.
Overall, I am impressed with the selection and quality of the research papers presented in Fabulous Fossils . Trilobite enthusiasts should appreciate this lesson in historical research.
Readability - College Graduate level because undefined technical terms are used in some of the papers.
On the Upside - A worthwhile addition to the library of any trilobite enthusiast with nine of the fifteen papers of broader general interest. A good reference for the history of paleontological research and progress.
On the Downside - The minimal number of illustrations of trilobites and the technicalpresentation style will exclude many casual amateurs. Some people will have limited interest in the papers covering specific worldwide locations.
Overall Rating - Very good for its intended purpose of presenting the history of worldwide trilobite research.