Dinosaur Lives Revealed by Their Trace Fossils
Email this review


Paleontologist Martin (Environmental Sciences/Emory Univ.; Life Traces of the Georgia Coast: Revealing the Unseen Lives of Plants and Animals, 2013, etc.) has written textbooks, but this is his first work for a popular audience, and his choice to use humor as an educational tool meets with mixed results.

Everyone has seen their bones, but it turns out that dinosaurs also left behind nests, tracks, trails, burrows, tooth marks, feces, skin and intestinal contents. These have become valuable enough to produce ichnology, a subspecialty of paleontology that studies trace—i.e., not bone or teeth—fossils. A pioneer in the field, Martin delivers an expert, if overly effervescent, account of what trace fossils reveal about their environment as well as dinosaur social behavior, movement, quarrels, sex lives and care of their young. Their tracks are everywhere. Any ichnologist worth his salt can use a single footprint to identify the dinosaur, while a collection of prints reveals its height, weight, stride length, speed and perhaps tells a story. A famous site in Australia seems to show a herd of small dinosaurs fleeing a predator. Experts agree that reptiles in the Mesozoic used the same survival strategies as they do today. They built nests and laid eggs in them; dozens of both have been turning up for decades. They dug burrows whose first example was discovered only in 2007, complete with its fossilized inhabitants. An impressive amount of behavioral and dietary information is revealed in their abundant coprolites (fossilized feces), not-so-abundant stomach contents, and the rare preserved vomit and urinary deposits.

Most scholarly attempts at comedy, including this one, make for a painful experience, but readers who can tolerate the relentlessly glib, jokey prose will learn a great deal about these fascinating, long-dead creatures.

Pub Date: March 12th, 2014
ISBN: 978-1-60598-499-5
Page count: 368pp
Publisher: Pegasus
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1st, 2014


NonfictionDINOSAUR IMPRESSIONS by Philippe Taquet
by Philippe Taquet
NonfictionDINOSAUR HUNTERS by David A.E. Spalding
by David A.E. Spalding
NonfictionMY BELOVED BRONTOSAURUS by Brian Switek
by Brian Switek
IndieLASTBORN by Prudence Brown Lev
by Prudence Brown Lev