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Reviews - May 2009


Fossils AliveFossils Alive or New Walks in an Old World

Nigel H Trewin
Published by: Dunedin Academic Press Ltd
Publication date: 2008
ISBN: 9781903765883 (hbk)
List price: £19.95
211 pp

As the title suggests, Fossils Alive takes the reader on a time-travel series of walks back into the life and environments of 10 of Scotland’s most famous geological localities. Illustrated with sketches and coloured photographs, mostly of fossils, these trips range from the early Devonian of Tillywhandland and its fish, through ‘Dinosaur Dinner on Skye’ up to the late Jurassic Helmsdale tsunami.

The idea behind the book is to transport the reader back in time to these localities and experience them as original living environments. Sometimes there is a companion or two so that a dialogue and shared experience are imagined. So it is a laudable attempt to present the life and environments in a popular way for the enquiring reader. The information presented in these time travel ‘safaris’ is grounded in accurate geological information.

Nigel Trewin’s career has given him first-hand field experience of all the localities so he certainly knows what he is writing about. And there is a brief bibliography to direct the general reader to the basic supporting literature.

Each chapter begins by giving the geological background and setting to the particular time and place, what the rocks are like, how they were formed and what the fossils are. The objective of each journey is then made clear. For instance the ‘Fish Foray in Forfar’ aims to ‘…visit the shores of Lake Forfar in the early Devonian and see the fish, arthropods and plants in their natural environment’. While on their fieldtrips, our heroes encounter and describe the animals and plants that are preserved today as fossils in these localities. There is often a surprise element to add interest, such as a volcano popping off and a scramble to retreat in their transporter (called the ‘bus’) – all good clean fun.

Although aimed at the general reader, I am sure that Fossils Alive will provide good background information and useful interpretations of sites that are often visited by student excursions.

Duncan Palmer, Cambridge

302Structure and Emplacement of High-level Magmatic Systems
Geological Society Special Publication No. 302

K Thomson & N Petford (eds)
Published by: The Geological Society of London
Publication date: 2008
ISBN: 978-1-86239-256-4 (hbk)
List price: £85.00
227 pp

A volume in the Special Publication series usually comprises a collection of papers on a topic of current research. It often has its roots in a conference and thus gives a review of the state of knowledge and areas of research activity at a given point in time. As well as providing a key reference for researchers in the field it has the additional function of providing an overview of the topic for the wider geological community. Special Publication 302 is no exception; in particular it provided one non-specialist with a set of papers that has helped satisfy a curiosity sparked by presentations that I had heard on saucer-shaped sills at recent conferences.

The volume provides a broad picture of recent progress in the understanding of high-level magmatic systems. It contains papers that address the modelling of fracture-induced intrusions and analogue experimental work on appropriately scaled analogue models. Case studies on intrusions range in scale from 3D seismic images of sills in the Atlantic margin to outcrop-scale studies where the exposure is examined in detail. Other case studies make use of recently developed tools, such as AMS, that allow the re-examination and reinterpretation of classic areas such as Slieve Gullion and the Etive dyke swarm.

The volume is dedicated to Ken Thomson, whose work on offshore seismic data provided a key breakthrough in our understanding of sill emplacement in sedimentary basins. By rendering the sediments transparent and the sills opaque, Ken was able to provide a picture of the 3D geometry of sills in unprecedented detail.

This is a well-produced volume with clear text and photographs together with well-drawn diagrams. It thus maintains the high standard expected of the Special Publication series.

Duncan Woodcock, Daresbury

CISCirencester in Stone

J McCall & P Copestake
Published by: Gloucestershire Geology Trust
Publication date: 2008
ISBN: 978-1-90453-009-1
List price: £4.95
49 pp

This attractively printed volume sits well alongside the similar volume edited by Joe McCall a decade earlier, Gloucester in Stone. The older booklet benefited from many pen drawings to draw the reader’s attention to pertinent details - and a wall game too. Unfortunately, although the new volume contains many colourful digital images, the absence of hand-drawn figures and annotations to the images means that the ability to focus on detail is left to the experience of the reader, thereby losing some of the potential instructive value.

The Gloucestershire Geology Trust is responsible for both publications, with the later book aimed at encouraging a wider public to value its stone heritage. Cirencester contains a wealth of historically interesting buildings and the widespread use of stone makes it a fascinating study area. The newcomer to the town will welcome the clear foldout street map within the front cover (which doubles as a bookmark); but there is no scale and the user is left to presume that North is at the top!

Although its A5 size makes the book suitable for the pocket and provides sufficient pages for the information needed to describe a worthwhile walk around the town, unfortunately an unnecessarily small, plain and rather thin font has been employed. Plenty of room remains between the lines for a larger style but this reviewer did not find the main text easy to read - in contrast to the information panels, which are much clearer.

In terms of content, the Geology of Cirencester chapter is more a Geology of Gloucestershire. This section would have benefited from a more focused map of the vicinity of Cirencester, marking the quarries of relevance to the supply of stone to the town (historical and current) rather than the currently-working quarries alone. The Cotswolds are not actually marked on this map; stratigraphical terms are employed that are not shown on the succession (e.g. Bajocian and Bathonian), and when was the Cenozoic or indeed the Pleistocene?

Non-geological readers will no doubt be confused by the multiplicity of such terms with no recourse to explanations in the text and no glossary. Moreton-in-Marsh is not shown, and so the location of the ice sheets remains a mystery.

Once into the geological trail, the layout for each site is good. Clear banners indicate the location, and directions are given in italics. Information is imparted in digestible quantities through good use of captions and boxes. The book ends with a brief “bibliography” (really just a reading list), but why are no websites given, to encourage the reader to delve more deeply into the subject?

For some reason the outer sites employ a different numbering sequence (21 to 23 would have been clearer than returning to a new 1 to 3 sequence). They would also have benefited from details of either walking distances or parking facilities. Furthermore, neither the map nor the site description give any idea how to access the Royal Agricultural College – perhaps emphasising the need for such books to be proof-read by someone less familiar with the town in question.

There are nevertheless strengths within this book - the nice presentation inviting the reader to walk around the town with their eyes focused on the building stones. It is also good to see the final page giving attention to the current extractive industries.

Mike Rosenbaum, Ludlow