Magazine article The Times Higher Education Supplement : THE

Where to Find the Best Impressions: Books

Magazine article The Times Higher Education Supplement : THE

Where to Find the Best Impressions: Books

Article excerpt

Euan Clarkson is inspired by a detailed history and guide to a rich cluster of fossilised remains.

The Lost World of Fossil Lake: Snapshots from Deep Time

By Lance Grande

University of Chicago Press

432pp, Pounds 31.50

ISBN 9780226922966 Published 15 May 2013

In the early Eocene, the Green River Formation was a great subtropical lake set in a forested volcanic terrain and rich with living organisms. It is now a harsh and sparsely populated upland desert in southwestern Wyoming, but that early wealth of life has been spectacularly well preserved in the fossil record; the fish, for example, with their black or dark brown bones and scales, can be found in museums and private collections worldwide, and each is a treasure. More than a million have been found to date, and there are many more kinds of fossils, too. As Lance Grande notes in this enchanting book, the formation's Fossil Butte Member (FBM) "provides the most comprehensive picture of Eocene life that we know of, surpassing even the beautifully preserved assemblages of the middle Eocene Messel Formation in Germany and the late Eocene Florissant Formation in Colorado".

The Lost World of Fossil Lake is a splendidly illustrated compendium on these c.52 million-year-old fossils, written with grace and authority. Collections have been made from the site for about 150 years, and although the ma- terial has been described in many publications, there has been no comprehensive survey until now. And here it is, and with its 243 fine colour plates, it will appeal to both amateur and professional geologists and palaeontologists.

We begin with the formation's origin and history. The great Western Interior Seaway, which in late Cretaceous times had divided North America in two, had by this time been replaced by dry land and by the Green River lake complexes, of which Fossil Lake was one of three, on the borders of Wyoming and Utah. Although this particular lake lasted less than 2 million years, its aquatic biodiversity was far greater than that of any of the others in the complex, probably owing to the number of habitats represented, and its sedimentology and stratigraphy are properly documented.

Grande next offers a fascinating tale of the early collectors, commercial and otherwise, who worked in these wild lands, with some of the former living decidedly marginal existences. …

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