Trilobites tell me of ancient marine shores teeming with budding life, when silence was only broken by the wind, the breaking of the waves, or by the thunder of storms and volcanoes. The struggle for survival already had its toll in the seas, but only natural laws and events determined the fate of evolving life forms. No footprints were to be found on those shores, as life had not yet conquered land. Genocide had not been invented as yet, and the threat to life on Earth resided only with the comets and asteroids.
All fossils are, in a way, time capsules that can transport our imagination to unseen shores, lost in the sea of eons that preceded us. The time of trilobites is unimaginably far away, and yet, with relatively little effort, we can dig out these messengers of our past and hold them in our hand. And, if we learn the language, we can read their message.
I like to dig for trilobites. It is time travel and, at the same time, an addictive treasure hunt. I started doing this as an escape from my addiction to physics. Little did I know that I would encounter wonderful physics in the eyes of the trilobites—and other excitements of discovery. I also like photography, and trilobites provided an endless source of form and composition. Thus the origins of this book, primarily a personal account of my involvement with trilobites.
The material presented in the first edition of this atlas, published in 1975, was accumulated over fifteen years of digging, preparing, camera work, and printing. Already at that time, my wish had been to share some of my findings with fellow scientists and students, while realizing that my pictures could bring excitement to a broader audience, of fossil amateur collectors and of naturalists at large. My desire to reach both groups of readers resulted in a compromise that would include a minimum of necessary technical coverage, letting my pictures do most of the talking.
Much as it has been my experience in teaching introductory physics to a large class of either science or non-science majors, it is extremely difficult to strike the middle ground that will enthrall some while awakening the interest of others. My 1975 atlas elicited responses and book reviews that ranged over a broad spectrum, many of them gratifying, some castigating, or both. These reviews have been of great help to me in this present endeavor.
Another fifteen years have elapsed, and some of the issues that were raised and incompletely resolved then have now been clarified. The urge to communicate once more with my previous audience, and to involve a new one, has become imperative.
The second edition of the atlas perpetuates the unavoidable dilemma faced earlier, concerning the technical level of presentation. With the aid of previous criticism, many former oversights and mistakes have been taken care of and certain pitfalls avoided. Thus the controversial issue of trilobite classification has been defused by presenting the atlas materia] as it appears in the geologic column, grouping the related trilobite forms into families and subfamilies only.
Although the original format and scope of the introductory text has been retained, its content has been updated to reflect the latest findings and lines of thought concerning the position of the trilobites in the early animal kingdom. Even if with some partiality, I have refrained from showing too many examples of my own trilobite finds. Instead, I attempted to cast my net farther with the help of friends who permitted my illustration of historical type specimens from museum collections, as well as of the treasures from their private collections.
It is my hope that those trilobite enthusiasts familiar with the first edition of my atlas will want to find out how my thoughts have evolved and what has been added and enhanced in this revised edition. I also hope that, through these images and thoughts, a new generation of readers may be captivated and awed by this lost world of trilobites and by its message.
Was this article helpful?