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Fantastic Fossils: A Guide to Finding and Identifying Prehistoric Life

by Donald R. Prothero Columbia University Press
Pub Date:
Hbk 336 pages
AU$79.00 NZ$81.74
Product Status: Not Our Publication - we no longer distribute
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Nothing fills us with a sense of wonder like fossils. What looks at first like a simple rock is in fact a clue that reveals the staggering diversity of ancient environments, the winding pathways of evolution, and the majesty of a vanished earth. But as much as one might daydream of digging a hole in the backyard and finding a Tyrannosaurus, only a few places contain these buried treasures, and when a scientist comes across a remnant of prehistoric life, great care must be taken. What do budding paleontologists need to know before starting their search?


In Fantastic Fossils, Donald R. Prothero offers an accessible, entertaining, and richly illustrated guide to the paleontologist’s journey. He details the best places to look for fossils, the art of how to find them, and how to classify the major types. Prothero provides expert wisdom about typical fossils that an average person can hope to collect and how to hunt fossils responsibly and ethically. He also explores the lessons that common and rarer discoveries offer about paleontology and its history, as well as what fossils tell us about past climates and present climate change. Captivating illustrations by the paleoartist Mary Persis Williams bring to life hundreds of important specimens. Offering valuable lessons for armchair enthusiasts and paleontology students alike, Fantastic Fossils is an essential companion for all readers who have ever dreamed of going in search of traces of a lost world.

PrefaceAcknowledgmentsPart I. Fossils Are Where You Find Them1. Fantastic Fossils2. How Are Fossils Formed?3. What Kinds of Rocks Yield Fossils?4. Where Do You Find Fossils?5. Dating Fossils6. Collecting Fossils: Badlands7. Collecting Fossils: Beaches8. Collecting Fossils: Quarries and Roadcuts9. The Crucial Step: Collecting DataPart II. Identifying Your Fossils10. What's in a Name?11. Phylum Porifera: Sponges and Their Relatives12. Phylum Cnidaria (Coelenterates): Sea Jellies, Sea Anemones, and Corals13. Phylum Brachiopoda: Brachiopods, or Lamp Shells14. Phylum Bryozoa: Bryozoans, or Moss Animals15. Phylum Arthropoda: Trilobites and Their Relatives16. Phylum Mollusca: Clams, Snail, Squids, and Their Relatives17. Phylum Echinodermata: Sea Stars, Sea Urchins, and Their Relatives18. Phylum Hemichordata: Graptolites19. Phylum Chordata: Fish, Amphibians, Reptiles, Birds, and Mammals20. Paleobotany: Fossil PlantsIndex

This book condenses most of what you find in a college textbook on paleontology into a concise, readable handbook that explains everything from how to find and collect fossils to how to assign them scientific names. No fossil enthusiast should be without it!

Spencer G. Lucas, Curator of Paleontology, New Mexico Museum of Natural History and Science

Donald Prothero knows how to use the written word to make paleontology exciting, and the literary adventure he takes us on in his latest book, Fantastic Fossils, is definitely worth the price of admission. Via prose and a plethora of illustrations Prothero shepherds us from badlands to beaches and quarries to roadcuts; all of these peregrinations give the reader a sense of what it’s like to be on a paleontological quest. As part of this metaphorical pursuit one also receives practical knowledge; the reader comes to understand not only how to collect and identify fossils but also their broader significance as natural history objects with myriad implications for ecology, evolution and climate change. Prothero’s book features the remark that: “Fossils are cool. Fossils are amazing.” I concur, and if you do too, or if you’re anyone from nine to ninety who wants to learn more about fossils, you should definitely check out this book.

Bruce S. Lieberman, Biodiversity Institute and Department of Ecology & Evolutionary Biology, University of Kansas
Donald R. Prothero is a Research Associate in Vertebrate Paleontology at the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County. He has taught college geology and paleontology for 40 years at institutions such as Columbia University, Vassar College, Knox College, and Pierce College, and currently at Cal Poly Pomona. For 27 years, he was Professor of Geology at Occidental College in Los Angeles and Lecturer in Geobiology at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena. He earned his M.A., M.Phil., and Ph.D. degrees in geological sciences from Columbia University. He is the author of over 300 scientific papers published in leading journals and over 30 titles in geology, paleontology and evolutionary biology.