Solving the Mystery of the First Animals on Land: The Fossils of Blackberry Hill
by Kenneth Gass
Siri Scientific Press (2015) 978-0-9929979-5-3 RRP £17.50
96 pp, 210 x 148 mm, soft cover, 81 colour illustrations, mainly photographs
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Newsletter of the Paleontological Society (Priscum, Fall 2017, pages 19-20): "The photographs of the traces are extraordinary in their definition and clarity, and bring to life most vividly the activities of the animals. These trace fossils are of the greatest importance, as they are direct evidence that the beginnings of animal life leaving the sea for life on land began during the 540-500 million years of the Cambrian period, and not many millions of years later during the Silurian and Devonian periods."
Newsletter of the Palaeontological Association (2016, number 91, pages 107-108): "To cite the author from his first line of the preface to the book: 'A picture book on Blackberry Hills was inevitable. The place is simply too intriguing to remain buried in scientific journals…' I couldn’t agree more." ... "... an excellent introduction for readers who want to dig deeper into the topic and the technical literature. Based on this I would recommend this book to all with an interest in natural history, scholars as well as amateurs."
Fossil News (Fall 2016: 51, abridged snippets): "...a beautiful, extensively illustrated book on one of the more important Middle Cambrian trace fossil deposits in the United States (the book contains 81 high-quality figures, most of them in colour and published only in this volume). …a great addition to the library of anyone interested in trace fossils, Cambrian life, or the early invasion of land. For professionals, the book offers excellent images of the trace and body fossils of Blackberry Hill, as well as an extensive reference list. For amateur paleontologists, it provides a nice introduction to the importance of trace fossils in the fossil record (and includes a thorough terminology section, which helps with understanding the geological, ichnological and biological terms used throughout the text).
Niles Eldredge, evolutionary biologist: "A mystery revealed, this book charmingly tells the story of how clever scientific detective work has answered the question of what those first animals to visit the subaerial environments of our world really were – however fleeting their visits from their ancient ocean habitats may have been. Engagingly told by Chris Gass, one of the key participants, the story reveals the importance of a highly special area that holds the fossilized evidence that shows what really happened."
Gregory D. Edgecombe, The Natural History Museum (London): "The early history of life on land is a conundrum that has perplexed some of the foremost figures in the history of paleontology since the era of Richard Owen and Charles Darwin over 150 years ago. At centre stage in this mystery are trackways on sedimentary rocks that we now know are of Cambrian age - some 500 million years old - and were made by animals making the first excursions out of water in life’s history. Here, Chris Gass weaves together the history of science and groundbreaking research conducted over the past 20 years to reveal the identities of these ancient trace makers. His book is a scientific detective story in words and photographs."
From the back cover
Solving the Mystery of the First Animals on Land: The Fossils of Blackberry Hill is the first book to cover the unique group of rock outcrops in central Wisconsin that appears to have put an end to a 150 year-old mystery of global interest. Since the mid-1800s, fossilized trackways and footprints have been found on beach deposits that date back to the Cambrian Period, some 500 million years ago in what is now North America – but fossils of the animals that made them were reluctant to reveal themselves. Thanks to Blackberry Hill, the identity of some of the first animals to walk on land is a secret no more.
Numerous color photographs of spectacularly preserved tidal flat trackways, animals, and parts of the habitat itself, all set in stone, help to tell the story of some of the first animals to explore this strange, new, and presumably hostile environment. Current interpretations made possible by the fossil discoveries are presented, including how some of the trackways were made and what might have lured the animals ashore. Peculiar, winding trackways from giant, slug-like organisms and other boneless animals are shown covering entire surfaces. This book also reveals other surprises discovered at Blackberry Hill, including body and trace fossils of another tidal flat dweller never before found in rocks as old as these, and the first evidence showing that large jellyfish were abundant in Cambrian times and were already subject to mass strandings. In this book, Kenneth (Chris) Gass thus demonstrates why Blackberry Hill holds a special place in the history of life on Earth.
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