Palmer, Douglas. 2008. Book reviews, MIKULIC, D. G., LANDING, E. & KLUESSENDORF, J. (eds) 2007. Fabulous Fossils. 300 years of Worldwide Research on Trilobites. v + 248 pp. Albany: New York State Museum. Price US $19.95 (paperback). Geological Magazine 145(1): 157.
Trilobites are undoubtedly amongst the most popular fossils and, one way or another, any palaeontologist dealing with Palaeozoic strata will encounter them and have to face questions about their nomenclature. The very nature of Linnaean taxonomy and rules of the International Commission on Zoological Nomenclature (ICZN) require our attention to historical precedent in classification and that means delving into the early literature. Generally speaking, we can get away with using the literature of the last 50 or so years but even this may no longer be immediately available in our libraries. If one has to delve into the deeper history of palaeontology, the early 19th century and perhaps even into the late 18th century, then we can be in trouble. Fabulous Fossils: 300 Years of Worldwide Research on Trilobites will help and encourage young palaeontologists be more aware of the curious and fascinating history of the subject. New York State Museum is to be congratulated on producing this excellent collection of essays, celebrating ‘300 Years of Worldwide Research on Trilobites’. The essays range from James St John’s review of the earliest trilobite research, through regional reviews such as the history of trilobite research in South Korea, Brazil, Australia, China and parts of the USA to Professor Harry Whittington’s ‘Reflections on the classification of the Trilobita’, Ellis Yochelson on ‘Charles Doolittle Walcott and Trilobite Appendages (1873–1881)’. Although most of these will mainly be of interest to trilobite specialists, I would still recommend any palaeontologist dealing with Palaeozoic macro-invertebrate fossils to read some of the essays, especially St John’s which reproduces many of the early illustrations of trilobites including the first known one. This is Edward Lhwyd’s 1698 illustration, recognisable today as Ogygiocarella debuchii, although Lhwyd thought that it resembled a ‘flatfish’ and wrote ‘not that I conclude that either these, or any other Marine terrestrial Bodies, were ever really, either Parts or Exuviae of Animals’. As an illustration, it is fairly crude considering the technical skills of illustration that were generally available at the time but maybe not in Oxford. I am more impressed by the quality of illustration of the paradoxidid called Entomolithus paradoxus by Linnaeus in his 1753 Museum Tessinianum, which I have not seen before and it would be interesting to know who was producing the illustrations for such works. The paper by Mikulic & Kluessendorf will be of particular interest to British palaeontologists as it deals with ‘Legacy of the locust – Dudley and its famous trilobite Calymene blumenbachii’, which was first discovered in the mid 1700s and was, apparently, the first trilobite to be known from complete exoskeletal remains and was instrumental in establishing their arthropod affinities. Some of the early illustrations of this iconic trilobite, such as those by Walch (1771) and Blumenbach (1780) are better than those reproduced in Murchison’s 1859 Siluria. Hopefully Fabulous Fossils will be sufficiently successful for New York State Museum to consider further similar publications on other major groups of fossils – they would be doing palaeontology and upcoming students a great service.