Fossils of the gault clay, edited by Jeremy R. Young, Andrew S. Gale, Robin I. Knight and Andrew B. Smith. The Palaeontological Association, London, 2010. No. of pages: viii + 342. ISBN 978-1-4443-3542-2 (paperback).


The first thing I did when I got this book was to try it out. A few days previously, I had collected several Gault fossils at Wissant in France. And with this book, I succeeded straight away in identifying the ammonites, belemnite, bivalves, but not the gastropods because they were internal moulds.

This book is the twelfth Palaeontological Association Field Guide to Fossils, a familiar collection to every palaeontologist, either professional or amateur. A short (15 p.) introduction outlines the differences between the English and the French biozonation schemes, focuses on the Gault at Folkestone and provides good information on taphonomy. I regret the lack of a paragraph introducing the Gault as a diachronic facies over the whole Anglo-Paris Basin. The introduction is followed by the descriptive chapters of the groups.

Devoting the first chapter to calcareous nannofossils is an excellent idea. Though most amateurs cannot use a scanning electron microscope (SEM), some have a polarising light microscope (PLM) with a high quality immersion lens, which permits the observation and identification of most of the coccoliths of the Gault. The plates, which include both PLM and SEM images of each species, are excellent and very demonstrative.

Following chapters—corals, bryozoans, serpulids—are classically constructed and rich in good plates. Two chapters dedicated to bioerosive trace fossils, bioimmurations and bioclaustrations share one plate. I think it interesting that such traces and natural casts of soft-bodied epibionts are described here, for these fossils are much less popular than, for instance, ammonites or sharks and are often forgotten in books directed towards a generalist readership. Only three species of brachiopods are to be found in the English Gault, so the chapter is concise, with only one plate. This contrasts with the following chapters dealing with molluscs: 48 bivalve taxa are described and illustrated, with a good contribution on the stratigraphically-important inoceramids: 61 gastropod species (all with their shell, stressing the difficulty to identify a gastropod internal mould); and five scaphopods (a diversity that surprised me!). The ammonites are separated between non-heteromorphs, amongst which the hoplitids are the lion's share (25 species out of 41), and heteromorphs (16 species). I regret that the selected ammonites are presented under a typological conception of the palaeontological species: among the 41 species, several are today considered by many ammonite palaeontologists as variants, which, though morphologically recognisable as such, should be synonymised. This unnecessarily complicates the identification task for a reader. Nautiloids (four species) and belemnites (just one species) are less diverse, though fairly abundant. Three plates of crustaceans (16 decapod and five cirripede species) and their concise descriptions will be very useful for the identification of these remains, frequently collected, but considered as a ‘difficult’ group by many collectors. Though one does not hope to find these microfossils on the field, ostracods are important stratigraphical fossils of the Gault. Their preparation and examination are easy enough to motivate collectors who will find their morphology appealing. The 20 described species are the most common of the Gault. Amongst the echinoderms, one plate is devoted to the six species of echinoids and half a plate to the crinoids, including one roveacrinid which will only be gathered by sieving the sediment, a procedure that will also yield isolated asteroid (four taxa) or ophiuroid plates (one species).

Bony fishes, represented very rarely by articulated remains, are illustrated on three spectacular macrofossils plates, whilst one plate of line drawings shows four taxa of fish otoliths that can be sieved from the sediment. Sharks and rays are among the most popular fossils; their descriptions and images underline the diversity of these teeth, some of which are very beautiful. The last chapter is dedicated to reptiles, very popular, but rare, and describes turtles, an ichthyosaur, plesiosaurs, pterosaurs and dinosaurs. The reference list is complete and the systematic index useful.

I guess that the absence of citation of the main synonyms and the absence of identification keys, at least for some groups, is an editorial choice. I regret it, for I think it would have been useful for the reader without much increasing the size of the book.

Well made and well illustrated books like this one can kindle the passion for fossils and arouse young palaeontologists. This book will prove to be a very useful identification guide and a bit more. Its audience will include both amateurs and professionals, and, owing to the uniqueness of the Anglo-Paris Basin, people who collect and study fossils from United Kingdom and France, and surely a bit further.