Blackberry Hill—the collective name for a group of quarries and outcrops in Central Wisconsin—contains many intertidal trace fossils preserved in Cambrian rock, dating from the first geological period of the Paleozoic Era. Gass (Encrinurinology: A Poetic Probe into a Trilobite Tribe, 2006, etc.) is an independent researcher with peer-reviewed articles in publications such as the Journal of Paleontology. With this photograph-heavy volume, he aims to shed light on the recent discoveries at Blackberry Hill and how they help answer questions about the first animals to walk on Earth: “A picture book on Blackberry Hill was inevitable. The place is simply too intriguing to remain buried in scientific journals,” he says. The fascinating color photographs capture the ephemeral images of some tiny Paleozoic creature creeping over rippled sand or mud, or the round impressions of stranded jellyfish, preserved in stone for unimaginable millennia. It’s simply astounding that soft-bodied characteristics are observable at all after so much geological time. The photographs are presented rather casually, however, with captions such as “Numerous Diplichnites trackways” but no dates, no exact locations and often nothing to provide scale (aside from car keys, a wristwatch or a whisk broom). Nevertheless, also quite interesting is Gass’ overview of how new information or ideas have helped develop interpretations of fossil tracks. Along the way, the book offers intriguing examples of how paleontology works. For example, does the absence of a medial line mean the animal had no tail or that it held its tail upward? The answers lie in this appealing scientific detective story.
An absorbing introduction to a rich source of paleontological information.