The book is written by a collection of professional paleontologists who are leading authorities in their respective areas of specialty. Fossils of Ohio is written for both professionals and amateurs and is consequently more technical than its predecessor or Cincinnati Fossils. This is good news because it will allow interested amateurs to bring their level of knowledge up a few notches. How so? Technical terms are usually defined in context; plus when they first appear they are placed in boldface type to indicate their inclusion in the extensive glossary. Morphologic terms are many times illustrated with diagrams or photographs.
The first three chapters are among the most important since they explain much of the basic general information we all should know about paleontology. The first of these is a twenty-four page introduction covering preservation, collection, identification, and an overview of the classes of fossils covered in the book. Chapter two is a short presentation of preparation techniques. Like other chapters, this one refers the reader to specific works in the professional literature for more detailed information. The third of these general chapters deals with the rocks and sediments in Ohio. This section is a mini course in geology including the geologic time scale, stratigraphy, plate tectonics, geologic history of Ohio by Period, and specific stratigraphy by region.
The geologic time scale presented for the Cincinnatian is somewhat different from the version popular with amateurs in our area. It appears to be of a hybrid between the Caster, Dalv , and Pope version of 1955 in Cincinnati Fossils and the more recent versions of various authors. Fortunately, they've replaced the Bull Fork Formation with the older Arnheim, Waynesville, Liberty, and Whitewater nomenclature that is more useful to the amateur. The McMillan of the Maysvillian Stage is now the Grant Lake Formation.
Fossils of Ohio is impressive in size and range of coverage. This is a weighty 575 page work which includes a fourteen page glossary, a sixteen page list of references cited, and fifteen pages including both an index of genera and an index of species. A minor complaint - there is no general topic index so if you want to look up monoplacophoran, for example, you'd have to know that it's a mollusc and page through the gastropod section to find it. Following the introductory chapters are 237 pages covering the invertebrate groups. A little less than 100 pages are devoted to vertebrate fossils. About 130 pages are devoted to Ohio's plant fossils. The final chapter covers vertebrate and invertebrate trace fossils.
Each of the chapters covers separate phyla and follows a common organization. An introduction covers subjects such as morphology, preservation, and occurrence. The authors have provided a key to identification reminiscent of those from Ohio Fossils wherein the reader answers a series of yes/no questions to identify the genus of the specimen in question. Following this the particular group is discussed by geologic age - the Ordovician section oftentimes is the largest - and particular species are described in some detail. A section on collecting localities is given but don't get your hopes up; no specific sites are given except for places like Caesar Creek and those that are no longer collectible for one reason or another. In general these sections can be summarized by: don't collect on private land without permission, don't collect on Interstate highways, be careful on road cuts. The photographic plates close the chapters.
Having a somewhat narrow Cincinnatian focus myself, I looked at Fossils of Ohio initially for its coverage of our home area and how it compares to our local reference Cincinnati Fossils. A general comparison of the two books reveals that each is intended for a different audience; Cincinnati Fossils is "an elementary guide" while Fossils of Ohio is for more serious amateurs and those who want to learn more but are intimidated by professional level works.
Many of us have used Cincinnati Fossils as our first reference for fossil identification. Will Fossils of Ohio replace it? No. The new book will supplement Cincinnati Fossils in this area. Neither book covers all of the fossils to be found in the area but they each have examples not found in the other. While each generally shows the more common fossils they both illustrate their share of harder to find material as well. As you might expect, the detail of description in Fossils of Ohio is more involved. Photographic plates and diagrams supplement the word descriptions. You will probably recognize some of the photographs since they were reprinted from Cincinnati Fossils.
Overall coverage of the Cincinnatian is, as it should be, quite good. Almost every chapter covering invertebrates has a statement along the lines of: the most well preserved and abundant specimens are to be found in the Cincinnatian Series of southwest Ohio. The use of individual specialists for each phyla is a tremendous benefit to the amateurs of the state. I found out "new" information pertaining to our local fossils in almost every part of Fossils of Ohio. A few examples:
Conularia is now placed in its own phylum - Conulariida. It had previously been associated with corals and jellyfish.
To help dispel some common misuse of terminology, Rusophycus has been determined to be a feeding trace of a trilobite. The use of the term "nest" is discouraged because there is no evidence the form has anything to do with reproduction.
The trilobite Chasmops breviceps has been referred to Tricopelta breviceps.
The terms internal mold, external mold, and cast are well defined for those of us who tend to get this confused. Our local mollusc fauna is generally preserved as internal molds.
Changes in brachiopod nomenclature include Hiscobeccus reverting back to Lepidocyclus. Michael Sandy, the author of this section has also referred Onniella back to Dalmanella but acknowledges that some workers do not agree. Thaerodonta is referred to Eoplectodonta. Some things are simpler, some things are not.
Tentaculites, often classed as a mollusc, is now in its own Class - Tentaculitoids - which is not attached to any higher taxa. The morphology is similar to a number of different phyla so it remains one of those odd ones.
You'll need to read the plant sections to find Cyclocrinites darwinii a calcareous algae listed as Pasceolus in older papers. Well preserved specimens resemble a golf ball
Was Fossils of Ohio worth waiting for? I'd say that it certainly was. It isn't often that amateurs have the opportunity to receive the latest information from professionals on the fossils we collect. The Ohio Geological Survey did an excellent job of bringing these authors together and molding their individual works into one comprehensive volume.