303 pages, 8 pp col plates, b/w illus
Darwin was perplexed by the fact that very ancient rocks, dated before the Cambrian, seemed to be barren, when he expected them to be teeming with life. He speculated that this was probably because fossils remained to be found. Decades of work by modern palaeontologists have indeed brought us amazing fossils from far beyond the Cambrian, from the depths of the Precambrian, so life was certainly around. Yet the fossils are enigmatic, and something seems to have happened around the Cambrian to speed up evolution drastically and produce many of the early forms of animals we know today. In this book, Martin Brasier, a leading palaeontologist working on early life, takes us into the deep, dark ages of the Precambrian to explore Darwin's Lost World.
Decoding the evidence in these ancient rocks, piecing together the puzzle of what happened over 540 million years ago to drive what is known as the Cambrian Explosion, is very difficult. The world was vastly different and we are in terrain with few familiar landmarks. Brasier is a master storyteller, and combines the account of what we now know of the strange creatures of these ancient times with engaging and amusing anecdotes from his expeditions to Siberia, Outer Mongolia, Barbuda, and other places, giving a vivid impression of the people, places, and challenges involved in such work. He ends by presenting his own take on the Cambrian Explosion, based on the picture emerging from this very active field of research. A vital clue involves worms - burrowing worms are one of the key signs of the start of the Cambrian. This is fitting since Darwin was inordinately fond of worms.
An important story, told in a lively fashion. Richard A. Fortey, TLS
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