February 2016

The Silurian Experience, 2nd ed., Paul Chinnici and Kent Smith. Primitive Worlds, Rochester, NY, 2015, $105.00, hardcover; 342 pp. A spiral bound version is available for $75.00 and a condensed version of the book called a field guide is available for $15.00. All versions of the book may be obtained directly from the publisher on-line at http://www.primitiveworlds.com by using the Quarry Store tab at the top of the page.

Silurian Lagerstätten

The Silurian Experience, 2nd ed., Paul Chinnici and Kent Smith. Primitive Worlds, Rochester, NY, 2015, $105.00, hardcover; 342 pp. A spiral bound version is available for $75.00 and a condensed version of the book called a field guide is available for $15.00. All versions of the book may be obtained directly from the publisher on-line at http://www.primitiveworlds.com by using the Quarry Store tab at the top of the page. My review copy is the hardcover version; I did note however, that the contents are actually “perfect bound” (think of Fossils of Ohio) within the hard covers rather than sewn-in signatures. As noted, this is the second edition. According to the editor, this work contains almost entirely new specimens with new and additional information from the first edition.

The authors may not be familiar names to most readers so an explanation is in order. Both Chinnici and Smith are amateur collectors. To be more specific, they are commercial collectors (more on that in the note following this review). The Silurian Experience is based upon their excavation of a quarry on private land that exposed the Rochester Shale to an extent not seen before. Work began in 1992 and continues to this day. Over 120 different species have been recovered from this quarry; all have been exquisitely prepared.

This is an impressive book even at first glance from its black dust jacket covered with Dalmanites trilobites to the beautiful photographs inside. The actual hard cover of The Silurian Experience duplicates the Dalmanites art of the dust jacket. The book is illustrated with over 500 color and black & white photographs. Emily Damstra, a talented Canadian artist, has contributed an illustration of a reconstructed Silurian sea floor environment. Professor Carlton Brett has contributed a thirty page chapter, “Stratigraphy and Paleoenvironments of the Rochester Shale in Western New York.”

Chinnici and Smith explain that Carl Brett did his Ph.D. work on the Rochester shale and was followed by a number of his own students who continued studying the area. Most of this early work was in natural vertical exposures along creeks. Once the authors and their partners began working the nine acre Caleb quarry (named after the land owner) in earnest, much more information was available about the Rochester Shale than ever before. The ability to excavate entire bedding planes revealed more insight into the paleoenvironments than ever before. Prior to working this quarry, the Lagerstätten storm beds had not been known. Through the work of the authors’ team, these beds have become known in much more detail.

The history of the Rochester Shale, beginning with work by James Hall in the middle 1800's through to the work of Carl Brett and his students, is presented in the first section of The Silurian Experience. This section includes numerous photographs of the quarrying operations. Excavators, bulldozers and rock saws are employed at various stages of the operation. This is difficult time consuming work requiring passion and dedication. Some of the photographs show fossils as they were found beside photographs of the fully prepared specimens.

An impressive seven pages of tables included in the first part of the book is testament to the data collected by the team for the benefit of the science of paleontology. Each table represents a particular faunal element, e.g., Bryozoans, lists all of the species found and the specific bed where they occur.

The opening section by the authors is followed by the contribution of Professor Carlton Brett. This chapter is rich with diverse information about the Rochester Shale. Beginning with the broadest view, Dr. Brett discusses the overall geologic setting illustrated with a color map of the north American continent during the late Silurian. The view is refined with more detailed stratigraphic columns, also color coded, of the Rochester Shale and its correlation at various localities. In dealing with taphonomy, e.g., Dr. Brett is even able to determine that trilobites in certain beds had died in a mass mortality event, were aligned by currents and subsequently buried; a cursory evaluation may have concluded that the trilobites had been buried alive. The section on paleoecology is extensive to the point of discussing such varied aspects as water depth, light intensity, salinity, substrates, and environmental energy, i.e., water flow velocity. When reading this section, it is easy to see parallels with interpretations of the paleoecology of the Cincinnatian. In another detailed section, the fauna and community relationships are discussed. In his final section, Dr. Brett discusses a topic familiar to students of the Cincinnatian: cyclicity and community transitions. Dr. Brett’s contribution was not included in volume 1 of The Silurian Experience and it is a valuable addition to the current version.

The bulk of The Silurian Experience is a faunal compendium of extensive proportions illustrated by excellent photographs. Chapter organization is by phylum and class. Each chapter begins with a page or pages of small photographs of the fauna that are included in the rest of the chapter. The pages following have larger format photographs with explanations and descriptions of the fossils. Most photographs have the actual size of the specimen noted below the photo. One of the most striking images is on the next to last page of the book. It is a full page photograph of a beautiful Arctinurus trilobite covered with over 100 tiny brachiopods as they were attached in life. This photographic compendium includes the following groups: coral, bryozoa, mollusks, brachipods, conulariids, worms, graptolites, echinoderms and arthropods. The worm section includes macheridians while the echinoderm section includes asteroids, ophiuroids, edrioasteroids, crinoids, rhombiferan cystoids and coronoidea. There are eleven different types in the trilobite section. Beyond these main groups, The Silurian Experience also has sections illustrating trace fossils and groups of uncertain affinities. All in all, this is a thorough look at the fauna from the Rochester Shale and the communities that comprise that Formation.

An index is not provided. To locate a particular fossil species the reader must check the table of contents and find the desired entry under the appropriate section. The table of contents then provides the starting page for the section in which that fossil may be found.

The Rochester Shale is a later occurrence than the Waldron Shale more familiar to our local collectors. Even at that, some of the genera are common to both the Waldron and/or the Cincinnatian including: Leptaena, Dalmanites, Dendrocrinus, Eucalyptacrinites, Hallopora, Orbiculoidea, and Favosites among others.

Readability - High school to undergrad. The most technical part of The Silurian Experience is Dr. Carl Brett’s contribution, but to his credit Carl either defined technical terms within his work or used common language.

On the Upside - Excellent photographs and reconstructions covering the exceptional diversity and preservation of fossils in the Rochester Shale. This is a terrific book that will be of great use to anyone interested in the Silurian. Because of the similarities in environment and faunal types, The Silurian Experience should also excite the curiosity of those interested in the Upper Ordovician - many of Carl Brett’s descriptions and analysis can be applied to this earlier time.

On the Downside - The Silurian Experience is expensive and may be out of reach for some readers.

Overall Rating - This is well worth seeking out despite the price. The authors have delivered a thorough coverage of the Rochester Shale fauna and made a significant contribution to the knowledge of this Formation.

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