- Paperback: 368 pages
- Publisher: Pegasus Books; 1 edition (March 15, 2015)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 1605987034
- ISBN-13: 978-1605987033
- Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 1.5 x 8.3 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars See all reviews (32 customer reviews)
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #963,605 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Dinosaurs Without Bones: Dinosaur Lives Revealed by their Trace Fossils 1st Edition
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Magnificent full dinosaur skeletons like Sue, the T. Rex specimen currently housed in Chicago’s Field Museum, have been invaluable to paleontologists in discovering how these reptilian behemoths moved and behaved many millions of years ago. Yet many dinosaur buffs may be surprised to learn just how little current information about these creatures is discovered in their bones. Instead much is learned via the little known field of ichnology, a branch of geology that studies animal burrows, tracks, trails, and feces. As veteran ichnologist Martin explains in this thorough overview of the CSI-like scientific discipline, particularly as it overlaps with paleontology, an astonishing number of features about dinosaur habits, diet, and even migration patterns can be gleaned from abundant “trace” fossils. Some recent, eye-opening discoveries include certain species’ penchant for building nests and, improbably, taking regular swims in rivers and lakes. Martin’s rigorous descriptions of his profession’s painstaking research techniques will probably not endear his work to mainstream audiences but paleontology and forensic science enthusiasts will undoubtedly find it fascinating. --Carl Hays --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
“Martin’s popular, non-academic debut bubbles over with the joy of scientific discovery as he shares his natural enthusiasm for the blend of sleuthing and imagination that he brings to the field of ichnology―the study of trace fossils and features left by organismal behavior, such as tracks, nests, and burrows. The energy behind Martin’s “what if” saurian life scenarios is no mere distraction; his science is solid and his descriptions of the current state of classification and knowledge are clear, up to date, and detailed. The books is great fun for anyone looking to revive their childhood dinosaur obsessions.” (Publishers Weekly, Starred Review)
“Martin’s greatest talent may be in evoking the lost world brought to light by dinosaur traces. Ichnology is a science of absence, one that re-creates an entire ecosystem out of a few dimples in some rocks. Martin is a skilled tracker and a worthy guide.” (The Dallas Morning News)
“An enjoyable and stimulating read for both the dinosaur fan and expert alike that highlights the extensive and largely unrecognized role ichnology has played in revealing dinosaur behavior and ecology, and the impact dinosaurs may have had on past and modern ecosystems. Anthony Martin uses his extensive experience to provide an amusing, thorough, and provocative review of dinosaur trace fossils, from tacks and burrows all the wya through regurgitates and coprolites.” (David Varricchio, Associate Professor of Paleontology, Montana State University)
“People are amazed what paleontology can deduce from bones―Anthony shows what can be learned with a simple trace in the sand. No other book in recent years expresses the joy of employing the scientific method to reveal the ancient world.” (James Kirkland, Utah State Paleontologist)
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Top Customer Reviews
I also was pleasantly surprised and really have been enjoying the book. If interested in the subject, and I still like dinosaurs myself, check it out!
As with any field in paleontology, popular books on ichnology concentrate on dinosaurs. In the 1990's most books about dinosaur trace fossils were by Martin Lockley: "Tracking Dinosaurs" (1991), "Dinosaur Tracks and Traces" (1991), "The Eternal Trail" (1999), etc. After a two decade gap in popular books on ichnology, I was pleased to see a new book "Dinosaurs Without Bones" by Anthony J. Martin. Martin is a paleontologist at Emory University who specializes in trace fossils, with emphasis on the Southern Hemisphere.
The chapter headings are:
1. Sleuthing Dinosaurs
2. These Feet Were Made for Walking, Running, Sitting, Swimming, Herding, and Hunting
3.The Mystery of Lark Quarry
4. Dinosaur Nests and Bringing Up Babies
5. Dinosaurs Down Underground
6. Broken Bones, Toothmarks, and Marks on Teeth
7.Why Would a Dinosaur Eat a Rock?
8.The Remains of the Day: Dinosaur Vomit, Stomach Contents, Feces, and Other Gut Feelings
9.The Great Cretaceous Walk
10.Tracking theDinosaurs Among Us
11.Dinosaurian Landscapes and Evolutionary Traces
Two things you can immediately tell from the headers:
This books expands the notion of trace fossils beyond the usual footprints, toothmarks, and burrows, and includes anything that records some kind of behavior. The book is written in a very humorous style, with a lot of word-play.
I will dip into some of these topics to give you a flavor. Obviously, there is a lot of interesting material.
From Chapter 3: Paleontologists tend to be story tellers (in my mind a little too much, speculating far beyond the facts in some cases), and ichnologists are even more extreme in this trait because their objects of study preserve behavior. Lark Quarry (in Australia) preserves ~3300 dinosaur footprints and seems to tell a compelling story. There are a few medium size three-toed footprints, presumed from some ornithopod, many three-toed footprints of some small theropods all moving in the same direction and running at high speed (because the tracks are widely spaced in the direction of travel). Some of the small tracks overstep the medium-sized prints. There are also a line of very large three-toed prints, presumably of a large theropod). The story is "dinosaur stampede", where the large theropod panics a herd of smaller theropods who want to avoid being eaten. Presumably this inspired the Tyrannosaurs chasing a herd of Gallimimus in "Jurassic Park." Unfortunately further work puts this exciting story into doubt. It is not necessarily straightforward to tell the three-toed tracks from ornithopods (like hadrosaurs) from the tree-toed tracks of theropods. The proportions of the very large tracks are more like that of an ornithopod, than a theropod. In fact there are no known very large theropods from Australia 95 Myr., but there is a very large ornithopod Muttaburrasaurus. So whatever the small dinosaurs were running from, it probably was not from being eaten.
From Chapter 5: Martin is famous for studying the only known case of a burrowing dinosaur. A spiral burrow (6ft long and 1 ft in diameter) was excavated from Montana in 2005. It contained three disarticulated skeletons of Oryctodromeus, a small herbivore, one adult and two juveniles. This would be a very tight fit, but not unusual for a burrowing animal. The completeness of the skeletons makes a pretty good case that the animals died in the burrow and were not washed in later.
From Chapter 7: The classic explanation of the rounded pebbles found associated with the abdomen of dinosaurs (gastroliths) is that they were deliberately swallowed and acted as substitute teeth for grinding plant matter. This is often applied specifically for sauropods. The real situation is more complicated. Many herbivorous dinosaurs with no grinding teeth have never shown any gastroliths, and surprisingly many meat-eating dinosaurs have gastroliths. One can never be certain that the gastroliths were deliberately or accidentally swallowed, nor can one always eliminate the possibility that stones were washed into the burst abdominal cavity of a dinosaur long after death.
From Chapter 10: Birds are living dinosaurs, and much of their behavior leaves traces: beak marks, nests, bowers, etc. It is speculative, but once we know what bird-caused traces look like, we can look for the same features in Mesozoic sediments.
From Chapter 11: Many individual animals working together leave traces on their environment. For instance, overgrazing of vegetation allows for faster erosion, which can change the course of rivers. Dinosaur flatulence could cause global warming. Mobile dinosaurs could distribute seeds and parasites across continents. I found this a very eye-opening discussion. Unfortunately, while one can detect things like erosion and global warming in the fossil record, it is very hard to assign the behavior of specific animals as a cause.
I enjoyed "Dinosaurs Without Bones" overall. It contained much information of which I was not previously aware, and it was an easy read. On the other hand, if you are looking for more technical information on dinosaur traces, you will have to look elsewhere. One thing I did miss is helpful diagrams embedded with the text to illustrate certain points. All photographs of trace fossils, and a few diagrams (the most amusing of which is "Brachiosaurus projectile vomiting"), are together in the center of the book.
But from that (scant) knowledge, flights of fantasy emerge. Paleontologists aren’t mere scientists; they are fantasists, dreaming up scenarios if not whole novels about what their stony discoveries mean. To be sure, they have their lists of reality checks, if only to weather potential criticisms better, but their imaginations are where they really show off. And Dinosaurs Without Bones flies freely, leveraging every bodily function that fossil traces afford us. Every bodily function.
Paleontologists need to be expert in an incredible range of fields. They need to understand everything from digestion to physics. They need to know that a T-rex could not possibly run around at 45 mph as in the movies, because if it ever slipped or tripped, its massive weight and height would most surely have killed it in its fall, which is not a very effective evolutionary trait or strategy. The book is filled with such observations. It makes for a potentially realistic vision of what actually took place on planet earth 200 mya (million years ago, a lovely abbreviation used throughout).
There is a great deal of data on birds - modern birds – which for Martin represent the living embodiment of dinosaurs. His appreciation of them dominates the last quarter of the book. And he makes excellent arguments for his positions.
The one batch of theories I wanted but did not see was numbers. How many dinosaurs were there? Billions? Did they overpopulate the planet, or were they scattered? How dominant were they in the landscape? How much territory did a T-rex need, and how much for a brontosaurus? It matters in topics like how dinosaurs might have affected the environment, promoting flowers over dense foliage for example, or filling the air with exhaust gases and therefore warming it. I was left with absolutely no feel for how prevalent dinosaurs were.
Martin peppers the setting with humor: self-effacing, punning, and cultural (eg. hoping for an appearance on Comedy Central, the highest form of acknowledgement for scientists in the USA). It makes the book all the more readable, and, well, human. Basically, Martin is an incurable romantic, but an exhaustively fair and thorough one.