Stromatolites to walking whales


In the Adelaide Museum they have a lovely room dedicated to the Ediacara fossils – fossils from the Flinders Ranges that are some of the oldest multicellular fossils ever found. (The room features a former seabed rock slab suspended vertically in the middle of the room, allowing fossils on both sides of the slab to be viewed.) The finds resulted in the insertion of another period in the geological timescale (unsurprisingly, the Ediacaran Period).

This is just one of the major discoveries that feature in the short and snappy chapters of Donald Prothero’s The Story of Life in 25 Fossils, which covers significant fossils from stromatolites to the Burgess Shale to archaeopteryx to walking whales to ancient humans. He also weaves in the stories of the people that found them, including the amazing Mary Anning, famous for her discoveries of ichthyosaurs, plesiosaurs, pterosaurs and others in the nineteenth century at Lyme Regis in England, and who provided may specimens for the more famous male geologists of her time.

When I was a child, Australia seemed to have a dearth of interesting fossils, but it is interesting how significantly Australia features in both Prothero’s new book and our more recent understanding of the history of life – from still-living stromatolites at Shark Bay to the Flinders Ranges fossils, to walking whales from Jan Juc, to Adelaide Museum’s mesmerising opalised ichthyosaur and plesiosaur skeletons (surely some of the most beautiful freaks of geological history), and now, just this week, significant sauropod discoveries.


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