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Good Reads  Palaeontology  Palaeozoology & Extinctions

Locked in Time Animal Behavior Unearthed in 50 Extraordinary Fossils

Popular Science
By: Dean R Lomax(Author), Robert Nicholls(Illustrator)
286 pages, 137 b/w photos and b/w illustrations
A highly original book that looks at fossil evidence for animal behaviour. Read our Q&A with Dean Lomax.
Locked in Time
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  • Locked in Time ISBN: 9780231197298 Paperback Sep 2022 In stock
  • Locked in Time ISBN: 9780231197281 Hardback May 2021 Out of stock with supplier: order now to get this when available
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About this book

Fossils allow us to picture the forms of life that inhabited the earth aeons ago. But we long to know more: how did these animals actually behave? We are fascinated by the daily lives of our fellow creatures – how they reproduce and raise their young, how they hunt their prey or elude their predators, and more. What would it be like to see prehistoric animals as they lived and breathed?

From dinosaurs fighting to their deaths to elephant-sized burrowing ground sloths, this book takes readers on a global journey deep into the earth’s past. Locked in Time showcases fifty of the most astonishing fossils ever found, brought together in five fascinating chapters that offer an unprecedented glimpse at the real-life behaviours of prehistoric animals. Dean R. Lomax examines the extraordinary direct evidence of fossils captured in the midst of everyday action: dinosaurs sitting on their eggs like birds, Jurassic flies preserved while mating, a T. rex infected by parasites. Each fossil, he reveals, tells a unique story about prehistoric life. Many recall behaviours typical of animals familiar to us today, evoking the chain of evolution that links all living things to their distant ancestors. Locked in Time allows us to see that fossils are not just inanimate objects: they can record the life stories of creatures as fully alive as any today. Striking and scientifically rigorous illustrations by renowned palaeoartist Bob Nicholls bring these breathtaking moments to life.


Introduction: Unlocking the Prehistoric World
Ditching the “Dusty Old Fossils”
Understanding Behavior in Fossils

1. Sex
- Mother Fish and Sex as We Know It
- Dinosaur Sex Dance
- Life in Death: Live Birth in Pregnant “Fish-Lizards”
- Jurassic Sex: Captured Forever in the Act
- A Pregnant Plesiosaur
- When Whales Gave Birth on Land
- Sexing a Cretaceous Bird
- Shell-Shocked Mating Turtles
- Tiny Horses and Tiny Foals

2. Parental Care and Communities
- Brooding Dinosaurs
- Oldest Parental Care: Ancient Arthropods and Their Young
- Pterosaur Nesting Grounds
- Megalodon Nursery
- The Babysitter
- Dinosaur Death Trap
- A Prehistoric Pompeii: An Ecosystem Caught in Time
- Fish Trapped Inside Giant Clams
- Snowmastodon: A Refuge for Small Animals
- Giant Floating Ecosystem: A Jurassic Megaraft Crinoid Colony

3. Moving and Making Homes
- Mammal Movers: Tragedy at the River Crossing
- Follow the Leader: The Earliest Animal Migrations
- Sitting on the Jurassic Bay
- The Death March: The Final Steps of a Jurassic Horseshoe Crab
- Mass Moth Migration
- Dinosaur Death Pits
- Time to Grow When You Molt and Go
- Prehistoric Partners: The Odd Couple
- Devil’s Corkscrews
- The Dinosaur That Lived in a Burrow
- Giant Underground Sloths

4. Fighting, Biting, and Feeding
- Clash of the Mammoths
- The Fighting Dinosaurs
- Jurassic Drama: A Hunt Gone Wrong
- Terror Worm of the Primeval Sea
- Greedy Fish
- Cracking the Case of the Bone-Crushing Dogs
- To Catch a Killer: The Snake That Dined on Baby Dinosaurs
- A Dinosaur-Eating Mammal
- The Feeding Ground: “Something Interesting?”
- Hell Pig Meat Cache
- Prehistoric Dolls: Fossil Food Chains with a Twist

5. Unusual Happenings
- Parasite Rex
- Mass Mammal Strandings: An Epic Ancient Graveyard
- Soundly Sleeping Dragon
- Snap That! A Dramatic Jurassic Croc
- The Drama of a Drought?
- Eaten From the Inside Out
- Dinosaur Tumors
- Fossilized “Farts”
- Could It Be Dinosaur Pee

Further Reading

Customer Reviews (1)

  • Make space on your palaeontology shelf
    By Leon (NHBS Catalogue Editor) 26 May 2021 Written for Hardback

    Fossils can tell us what animals living in the distant past looked like. Over the centuries, palaeontologists have made incredible strides in reconstructing extinct life forms, helped along by cumulative experience, technological advances, and a steadily increasing body of rare but truly exceptionally preserved fossils. But reconstructing their behaviour – surely that is all just speculative? In Locked in Time, palaeontologist and science communicator Dean R. Lomax, with the able help of palaeoartist Bob Nicholls, presents fifty of the most exceptional fossils that preserve evidence of past behaviour: from pregnant plesiosaurs to a pterosaur pierced by a predatory fish. I was eagerly awaiting this book from the moment it was announced, but I was still caught off-guard by some of the astonishing fossil discoveries featured here.

    Locked in Time effectively consists of fifty vignettes organised around five themes. Perhaps surprisingly, this is not the first popular science book on behaviour revealed by the fossil record. Anthony J. Martin wrote Dinosaurs Without Bones in 2014, focusing on ichnology, the study of trace fossils such as fossil footprints, scratch marks, or nests. Lomax, however, casts his net far wider than just dinosaurs and has scoured the scientific literature for both trace and body fossils that reveal how these animals likely behaved in life. Some examples require careful inference, others, cases that the pioneer Arthur Boucot called "frozen behaviour", are blindingly obvious.

    There are some truly astonishing fossils featured here. An ichthyosaur that died while giving birth proves beyond a doubt they were live bearing. A pair of turtles was unfortunate enough to end up caught in the act of mating for eternity. There are well-known fossils such as the pregnant mother fish Materpiscis, the battle between a Protoceratops and a Velociraptor featured on the book's cover, or the tall spiral structures once nicknamed Devil's corkscrews by flummoxed fossil hunters that turned out to be burrows, some even containing fossilised beavers. There is violence: the skulls of two fighting male mammoths that died with tusks still interlocked; but also tranquillity: the fossil troodontid Mei long that was found in a posture reminiscent of modern-day birds resting or sleeping. There is the fossil that got Lomax started on this project: a metres-long trackway of a horseshoe crab scurrying over a lake bottom with the individual fossilised at the end of it! There is palaeopathology, parasites, and even fossil farts.

    But make no mistake, Locked in Time is much more than a book of trivia and factoids. Palaeoethology, the study of behaviour of organisms in the fossil record, is a proper subdiscipline of palaeontology and has bearings on the study of palaeoecology. And for all the spectacular fossils and occasional puns, Lomax also subtly educates his reader on more serious topics. Three things struck me in particular.

    First, as Lomax acknowledges, not all interpretations of behaviour are uncontested. Are the fossils of the primitive bird Confuciusornis sanctus that display exquisitely preserved ornamental feathers really males? Further research showed the fossils without these feathers to contain medullary bone, a temporary tissue associated exclusively with reproductively active females. The ornamented individuals showed no such evidence, strengthening the case for sexual dimorphism in this species. Or what of the 200-year-old claim that ichthyosaurs were cannibals? It took until the 1990s when further detailed studies of presumed stomach contents concluded that there were no signs of bite marks or etchings by stomach acids, strengthening the case that these were instead embryos. An important theme that Lomax highlights repeatedly is the utility of studying the behaviour of animals alive today. Although care is in order, comparisons with the behaviour of extant animals and the traces they leave can help demystify the behaviour of extinct animals.

    Second, Lomax reveals the inner workings of palaeontology. It is not uncommon for fossils to linger for years or even decades after excavation pending the availability of funding and a skilled preparator. One specimen of the plesiosaur Polycotylus latipinnus was dug up in 1987 but not prepared until 2011, finally revealing its pregnancy. Sometimes technological advances breathe new life into old fossils, such as the burrow containing the therapsid Thrinaxodon liorhinus that was discovered in 1975. Not until 2013, when it was examined with powerful x-rays at a synchrotron facility, did the partially prepared fossil reveal a thus-far hidden injured amphibian that had crawled into the burrow and nestled itself against the likely dormant Thrinaxodon. In other cases, palaeontologists have to beware frauds, as traders occasionally doctor fossils to make them fetch a higher price on the marketplace – some stories could just be too good to be true.

    Third, Lomax proves himself to be a gentle educator. He will immediately explain jargon (e.g. Lagerstätten, ecdysis, or anamorphosis) and only introduce it where appropriate. And though this is popular science, Lomax is keen to bust myths. No, the large shark Megalodon is no longer alive, and there is zero evidence for either Dilophosaurus or other dinosaurs being capable of spitting acid, no matter what Jurassic Park tried to tell you. He beautifully channels deep time when writing "Before dinosaurs even appeared, trilobites were already fossils under their feet" (p. 110), and explains why trace fossils are much more common than body fossils: "Over its lifetime, an animal might leave behind countless footprints [...] but only one skeleton" (p. 105).

    Finally, seeing is believing, and Locked in Time is richly illustrated. Most vignettes include photos and schematic drawings of the fossils, and my jaw dropped on numerous occasions. Given that disarticulated and fragmentary fossils are the norm, the selection that Lomax has curated here is truly breathtaking. Furthermore, all vignettes include a single or double-page spread with palaeoart from Bob Nicholls, tastefully reproduced in grayscale. He was featured in Dinosaur Art and wrote the introduction to Dinosaur Art 2 where he discussed his Psitaccosaurus reconstruction mentioned here on p. 75. Nicholl's artwork is heavily informed by science and adds much flavour to this book.

    Locked in Time is an outstanding and highly original piece of popular science that overflows with Lomax's enthusiasm and passion for his topic. Even if your shelves are already heaving with palaeontology books, make space for one more. Believe me, you have not seen a book like this before.
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Dean R. Lomax is an internationally recognized palaeontologist, author, television presenter, and science communicator. He is currently a visiting scientist at the University of Manchester and is a leading authority on ichthyosaurs. His books include Dinosaurs of the British Isles (2014) and Prehistoric Pets (2020).

Bob Nicholls is a world-renowned natural history artist who specializes in the reconstruction of prehistoric animals, plants, and environments. His illustrations and models have been published in more than forty books and exhibited in over forty museums, universities, and visitor attractions around the world.

Popular Science
By: Dean R Lomax(Author), Robert Nicholls(Illustrator)
286 pages, 137 b/w photos and b/w illustrations
A highly original book that looks at fossil evidence for animal behaviour. Read our Q&A with Dean Lomax.
Media reviews

"A rousing romp through the fossil record. Dean Lomax's storytelling and Robert Nicholls' artwork reanimate the lifestyles and behaviors of long-extinct species. Revel along as old bones, teeth, and footprints tell the tale of dinosaur mating dances, fighting mammoths, and pterodactyl nurseries."
– Steve Brusatte, University of Edinburgh palaeontologist and New York Times bestselling author of The Rise and Fall of the Dinosaurs

"Vividly told with stunning illustrations, Locked in Time is an essential book for any fossil fan. From the ancient steps of a horseshoe crab to courting dinosaurs, Lomax and Nicholls achieve the closest thing to time travel in bringing the prehistoric back to life."
– Riley Black, author of Skeleton Keys: The Secret Life of Bone

"When we think about the animals of the past, we're drawn to a small handful of movie dinosaurs, but in this fascinating and engaging book, Lomax brings to life incredible moments in the lives of animals from throughout prehistory, discovering the universal in the specific and offering us an insight into our sense of place on this planet. While being immersed in scientific literature, Lomax has a gift for extracting events from millions of years ago and giving them meaning for everyone today."
– Ellie Harrison, presenter of Dinosaur Britain

"A beetle within a lizard within a snake, a giant beaver that made huge corkscrew burrows 3 meters deep, the mammal that ate dinosaurs, insects caught in the act of mating, and dinosaurs with cancer [...] Dean Lomax presents an extraordinary tour through recent fossil discoveries that shed light on all aspects of the life of the past. These extraordinary scenarios are brought to life in exquisite reconstructions by Bob Nicholls. These are fossils that don’t make it into the textbooks; your appreciation of the history of life will never be the same again!"
– Michael J. Benton, Professor of Vertebrate Paleontology, University of Bristol

"A number of exceptional, spectacular fossils show – via the most direct evidence imaginable – that the extinct animals of the past were once very much alive. They preserve animals giving birth, swallowing prey, and even having sex. Others reveal cases where animals died from poisoning, choking, or even when locked in combat. Join Dr. Dean Lomax in this beautifully illustrated, thoroughly researched but accessibly written tour of animals forever locked in time."
– Darren Naish, coauthor of Dinosaurs: How They Lived and Evolved

"Illuminates how we pieced together our understanding of behaviors in the animal kingdom [...] Buckle up – it's a journey."

"Meticulously researched and Dr [Dean] Lomax is a most eloquent and well-informed tour guide. Renowned palaeoartist Bob Nicholls provides the sumptuous illustrations that brings Dean's narrative to life."
Everything Dinosaur

"A strikingly illustrated study that will have immense value and appeal for both paleontology students and non-specialist general readers alike, Locked in Time: Animal Behavior Unearthed in 50 Extraordinary Fossils is impressively well written and thoroughly 'reader friendly' in organization and presentation. Exceptionally well informed and informative, Locked in Time: Animal Behavior Unearthed in 50 Extraordinary Fossils is an extraordinary and unreservedly recommended addition to community, college and university library Paleontology collections and supplemental studies curriculums."
Midwest Book Review

"Fascinating and highly recommended."
AIPT Science

"This informative, educational, and entertaining book will make a good addition to the paleontology aficionado's library."
Fossil News

"Fully achieves what it sets out to do: educate and entertain."
Quarterly Review of Biology

"A captivating and accessible read [...] Highly recommended."

"[Lomax] covers 50 extraordinary fossils, in five fascinating chapters that offer an unprecedented glimpse at the real-life behaviours of prehistoric animals. The book is illustrated by striking and scientifically rigorous illustrations by renowned palaeoartist Bob Nicholls. A great read for those interested in ancient life."
Deposits Magazine

"Lomax is an easy narrator, deftly weaving personal reminiscence and passion among the paleontological facts. There's an abundance of 'impeccable, large illustrations and photographs.' I had a blast with this book."
– Ola G, Re-enchantment of the World

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