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Book Review Of: Swimming In Stone

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siteseer

a book review of:

"Swimming in Stone: The Amazing Gogo Fossils of the Kimberley" by John Long. Fremantle Arts Centre Press. 2006. 320 pages. Suggested Retail Price: $21.95 USD.

Anyone who has collected fish fossils of any kind knows that they tend to be found in the form of isolated teeth, jaw sections, vertebrae, or the few other more durable bones. Even when you collect at one of those rare deposits where complete skeletons are common, the specimens are flattened, crushed by the rock layers that formed on top of them. In paleontology, a flattened skeleton is a good specimen but since many of the deposits are not that old, geologically speaking, scientists are dealing essentially with modern fish orders and families that date back to the Cretaceous at the earliest. Whole other classes existed long before that - back to the time when fishes were biting their way to the top of the food chain.

"Swimming in Stone: The Amazing Gogo Fossils of the Kimberley" is the story of a 375 million-year -old marine deposit in an arid and remote part of Western Australia. The Gogo Formation is a nodule-bearing limestone layer, the nodules of which contain an incomparable treasure: fishes preserved as three-dimensional specimens: uncrushed skulls and skeletons with evidence of muscle and cartilage attachments. Thorough studies of the Late Devonian Gogo fishes have allowed scientists a much better understanding of early representatives of osteichthyans (bony fishes) and placoderms. a long-extinct class that appeared in the Early Silurian and ruled the Devonian seas.

The author, John Long, has worked as a vertebrate paleontologist and museum curator/representative, specializing in Devonian fishes for nearly thirty years. He has been a prominent researcher of the Gogo with much of his professional life involved in the collection, preparation, and study of its fishes as well as in the conservation and promotion of the deposit.

An extended introduction imagines the living Gogo environment, a tropical reef. It moves forward in time as geologic processes deeply buried it and later slowly exposed the nodule-bearing bed now representing the reef. The reader learns a little local human history as well.

The book is then divided into 3 parts subdivided into 21 chapters. The first part is a historical account of Gogo studies from fieldwork to labwork; the second is a guide to the various fishes known from there. In the third part Long looks at how the deposit has been reinterpreted over the years, comparing it to other same-age fisheries. Long writes about how some anatomical features in humans can trace their origins to Devonian fishes and can be seen in Gogo forms (skull structure, basic limb structure, enamel-coated teeth, etc.).

Long writes in an easy-going style pausing to define technical terms and explain complex concepts. The reader gets to know him as an average guy as well as a scientist. Captions in the margin provide further background on topics related to same-page text.

This book is reasonably well-illustrated. The reader encounters 4-8 pages of solid text in only a few chapters. The figures are printed in black-and-white but Chapter 8 holds several full-color plates. The figures range from drawings (reconstructions, charts) to photos (locations, fossil photos, portraits) and it is a good mix. The paleogeographic map at the beginning of Chapter 19 confronts us with an unfamiliar jumble of continents still en route to uniting as Pangaea.

I would recommend "Swimming in Stone" to anyone interested in Paleozoic fishes especially placoderms and their contemporaries. Collectors who have dug up pieces of placoderm armor in other parts of the world would appreciate a mainstream paleo title they can relate to. It is a good light read about unusual fossils within a story set in an exotic locale - almost foreign even to many Australians. It would also appeal to anyone who enjoyed the recent premiere of "Your Inner Fish" on American public television (based on Neil Shubin's 2008 book).

Jess

Edited by siteseer

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Xiphactinus

Thanks for the summation. I'll put that one on my list!

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Fossildude19

Jess,

Thanks for this review. Sounds like something right up my alley.

I will check it out.

Thank you!

Regards,

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