Plattenkalk, Lithography, and Archaeopteryx

This month I am going to review a book about one of the most famous fossil localities in the world - Solnhofen. Hopefully all of the Dredgers will immediately associate this site with Archaeopteryx lithographica, possibly the most famous fossil of all times.

Originally published in 1978 in German as Solnhofen: Ein Blick in die Erdgeschichte, the English edition, Solnhofen: A Study in Mesozoic Palaeontology*, by Barthel, Swinburne, and Conway Morris, was published in 1990 by Cambridge University Press. K.W. Barthel is actually the author, N. H. M. Swinburne revised and translated the English edition, and S. Conway Morris edited the English edition. You may recognize Conway Morris as one of the individuals responsible for restudying and revising some of the fauna from the Burgess Shale.

Before I get into the book itself, I may as well state my problems with it. You may have been shocked by the cost of Dinosauria at $95.00 for a large format 733 page book. Brace yourself, this one goes for $64.95 with only 236 pages. In addition, it is a smaller format - 6 * 9. I also didn't care for the binding; it's hardbound but with slick coverings and no dust jacket; this is the typical binding used by T.F.H. for the pet book market. The paperback edition has recently become available at $34.95.

Solnhofen is well illustrated throughout with black and white photographs of specimens. The text is also complemented with line drawings of some of the fossils to help the reader interpret the photographs. Charts, graphs, and maps are used to further augment the text.

There is more to this book than mere illustration of the outstanding specimens from the quarries. Not quite half of Solnhofen deals with technical topics other than the flora and fauna. The first chapter covers the history of the quarries and early uses of the Solnhofen Plattenkalk (loosely defined as platy limestone) for building and printing. The next chapter becomes more technical as it delves into geologic history, stratigraphy, and paleogeography of this uppermost Jurassic formation. Petrography, the description and classification of the rock itself is discussed in the third chapter. Discussion of the palaeoenvironment, sedimentation, and palaeoecology takes place in the following two chapters; these sections include palaeo - water chemistry and preservation, depositional theories, palaeoclimate, lagoonal life, and the surrounding terrestrial ecosystem. The last section before the actual fossils are described concerns taphonomy, a subject which includes transport, death, fossilization, and exhumation of the fossil.

The single 100 page chapter covering the flora and fauna gives one a greater appreciation of the meaning of the term lagerstätte. The preservation of organic life is indeed exceptional, including not only cyanobacteria as the simplest life form found but also, more complex algae and vascular plants, all of the invertebrate types we are familiar with, and terrestrial, aerial, and marine vertebrates. The plants and animals are discussed in laymans terms, very little technojargon to wade through.

Solnhofen concludes with a chapter comparing it to other plattenkalk lagerstätten. Amongst these is the Green River formation of the western United States famous for fish fossils; it differs in being a non-marine depositional environment.

This is an excellent book for those interested in learning more about this particular locality and its remarkable fossils. It is indeed unfortunate that the price is so high. I think this will severely limit its popularity with the non-professional audience for which it is intended. Hopefully, the U. C. Geology library will have a copy.

* The British spelling is used throughout in deference to the usage in the book.

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