Visions of a vanished world: the extraordinary fossils of the Hunsrück slate by Gabriele Kühl, Christoph Bartels, Derek E.G. Briggs and Jes Rust. Yale University Press, New Haven and London, 2012. No. of pages: 128. Price: UK£25.00. ISBN 978-0-300-18460-0 (hardback)
Article first published online: 7 JAN 2013
Copyright © 2013 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.
Volume 49, Issue 2, page 217, March/April 2014
How to Cite
Donovan, S. K. (2014), Visions of a vanished world: the extraordinary fossils of the Hunsrück slate by Gabriele Kühl, Christoph Bartels, Derek E.G. Briggs and Jes Rust. Yale University Press, New Haven and London, 2012. No. of pages: 128. Price: UK£25.00. ISBN 978-0-300-18460-0 (hardback). Geol. J., 49: 217. doi: 10.1002/gj.2483
- Issue published online: 5 MAR 2014
- Article first published online: 7 JAN 2013
Picture books for geologists, designed to take the breath away of expert and novice alike, commonly tread well-worn pathways – volcanoes, dinosaurs and landforms are typical subjects. So, a breath-taking set of images of (mainly) invertebrates from the Devonian is a little out of the ordinary. When Derek Briggs directed my attention to his latest book on the Yale UP stall at the GSA Annual Meeting, it was love at first sight. Having arranged for a review copy for Geological Journal, it arrived on Monday and, here at Thursday lunchtime, I'm writing my review. Not every book I see gets devoured so avidly.
This large format volume, about 30 by 25.5 cm, is beautifully produced on high quality art paper. The text is well written and compliments the illustrations, a short introduction to the geology being followed by a behavioural discussion of the biota – sessile benthos, vagile benthos, free swimming organisms and trace fossils. I would have liked to read more about the geology, but the bibliography will be adequate to direct me to the recent literature. And how satisfying to see Lyell's Tertiary not being split into Neogene and Paleogene (p. 12)!
But it is the illustrations that are the star of Visions…. These are uniformly excellent and all are guaranteed ‘page turners’ even for non-geologists. Many are in colour and there is a smattering of X-radiographs that expose unsuspected details, like the articulated blastoid (fig. 30) and the intricacy of the arthropod Bundenbachiellus giganteus (Broili) (fig. 76). The large format has allowed many of the images to be reproduced at full page size and nowhere is there that feeling of ‘clutter’ that many a monographs' busy plates can engender. I was delighted to see that the photographers, Georg Oleschinski and Alexandra Bergmann, receive due acknowledgement (p. 128). My one (very small) disappointment was that there is no X-radiograph of a Hünsruck Slate comb jelly.
My only real criticism, and a mild one, came when I reached the discussion of the crinoids from the slate. Correctly, arms are said to bear tube feet (p. 39), but the adjacent image shows Propoteriocrinus scopae Schmidt with well-developed pinnules. Pinnules aren't mentioned here, so the unwary may erroneously interpret pinnules as tube feet. The authors also repeatedly attribute the thorniness of some Hunsrück Slate crinoids to adaptations against parasites. The scale and positioning of these structures surely argue that they were deterrents for predators (e.g. Donovan 2012); a parasitic platyceratid gastropod would just glide past such defences.
But enough of such negative thoughts. As I write, it is less than a month to Christmas. Anyone with an interest in the natural environment and the history of the Earth would enjoy receiving Visions… as a present. Why not you?