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 Published by the American Geological Institute
December 2000
Newsmagazine of the Earth Sciences


Geotimes now offers each month's book reviews, list of new books,  book ordering information and software column on the Web.  Look for new maps in the print edition. This site is in development. Please send any suggestions to

Book reviews:

  • Fossil Vertebrates of Arabia
  • Roadside Geology of Indiana



    On the shelf
    Where to order
    On the Web

    Book reviews
    Fossil Vertebrates of Arabia, edited by Peter J. Whybrow and Andrew Hill. Yale University Press (1999). 523 p. ISBN 0-300-07183-3. Illus. Cloth, $125.

    Jason A. Lillegraven

    I was delighted by this attractively presented book on vertebrate paleontology from the moment I read that it was developed with assistance from an oil company. The 36 chapters were written by 49 contributors from 12 countries, representing research discussed at a conference held in the United Arab Emirates in 1995. Aside from its scientific richness, Fossil Vertebrates of Arabia is a positive example of the cooperation that can occur among individual scientists, representatives of industry, and enlightened leadership of a host country. Hurray for all who contributed!

    The general subject of vertebrate paleontology of Arabia is relatively new, because the first Arabian faunas of fossil vertebrates were discovered in 1974. It reviews, describes and compares new species of Arabian and Asiatic vertebrates, and is thus an important contribution to primary literature of vertebrate paleontology. In some cases, it reviews the available knowledge for entire groups. Although most of the text deals with specifics of nonmarine vertebrate assemblages, it also covers the regional geologic setting, lithostratigraphy, revised stratigraphic terminology, geochemistry, paleobotany, invertebrate paleontology, paleoecology and paleogeography.

    The main importance of this work is its analysis of Old World, late Neogene paleogeography — physical and biological — both for terrestrial and marine realms. Although the Arabian plate is roughly the size of the Indian subcontinent, only about a dozen consequential nonmarine vertebrate-bearing localities are known from its Cenozoic strata. This book provides nicely cross-referenced, complete reviews of all major localities, as well as summaries of other, smaller sites. Greatest attention is paid to late Miocene (c. 8-6 Ma) faunas from lower parts of the Baynunah Formation, Emirate of Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates.

    An important message from the book is that secure dating of late Cenozoic geological events in this area where multiple plates and three continents converge largely depends on scattered assemblages of land vertebrates from the Arabian plate. Detailed analyses of those fossils provide the most reliable evidence for just when specific parts of the Tethyan and Paratethyan waterways became interrupted, allowing land dwellers to disperse among northeastern Africa, southwestern Asia, and southeastern Europe.

    The newly studied faunas derive from basinal settings that originally were adjacent to southwestern flanks of the Zagros Mountains of western Iran. Paleodrainages probably represent ancestral stages of the Tigris-Euphrates system. Compositions of the fossil assemblages suggest considerably moister settings than exist today in southeastern parts of the Arabian peninsula. The mammalian faunas of Arabia show closest taxonomic links to Africa, but significant late Miocene exchange with Asia also is manifest. In contrast, faunal connections to Europe seem minor. At least for higher taxonomic levels, known late Miocene diversity from the Arabian peninsula is at levels characteristic of coeval assemblages from Africa and Asia. Strong faunal exchanges seem to have occurred with all of northern Africa.

    The book is generously illustrated, not only with pictures of fossils but with magnificent photographs of representative landscapes south of the Arabian Gulf. Editing is solid. The binding of my copy fell apart almost immediately, but it was readily repaired with Elmer’s Glue. Limits of utility of available data, especially in terms of paleontological dating, usually are clearly highlighted. Some circularity in reasoning is evident, particularly in chapters that attempt to date strata through geochemical techniques.

    A few of the chapters seemed like afterthoughts to broaden the geological perspective, as they did not clearly tie to the principal subject of the book and provided little new information. But those chapters were the exception, and almost everything else involved new content.

    The editors should be commended for establishing cross-references among relevant subjects throughout the text. The authors took great pains to compare elements of the Arabian floras and faunas with counterparts in surrounding continental areas. A fair amount of repetition exists through the book, but the trade-off is that each chapter can stand alone. I found that I needed frequent access to my atlas as I read, having never done research in this area of the world. But these are minor quibbles.

    Fossil Vertebrates of Arabia, through its text and cited literature, provides ready access to new, critically important physical evidence relevant to more general geological enquiry. Despite its clear emphasis on vertebrates, this is a book that should not be ignored by paleontologists or geologists investigating late Neogene paleogeographic interactions among Europe, Asia and Africa.

    Lillegraven teaches in the geology and geophysics department, and the zoology and physiology department at the University of Wyoming, Laramie, WY 82071-3006.
    Roadside Geology of Indiana by M.J. Camp and G.T. Richardson. Mountain Press Publishing, Missoula, Mont. (1999). 326 p. ISBN 0-87842-396-6. $18.

    John R. Hill

    Mark Camp and Graham Richardson take their readers on a geologic tour of Indiana that spans 450 million years in time and crosses and recrosses, by highway and byway, the varied landforms of the Hoosier State. For those who enjoy learning about the origin and makeup of the terrain over which they are driving, Roadside Geology of Indiana offers insights into why central Indiana is so flat and southern Indiana boasts spectacular vistas from bold uplands — as seen, for example, in Brown County State Park and along Interstate 65 near Henryville.

    The authors are thorough and even handed in their treatment of each of the major physiographic regions of Indiana, but important geomorphic processes such as the effects of differential erosion on landform development are not developed as well as they might have been.

    Despite well-intentioned goals to present concise and complete coverage of the geology of Indiana, the book contains shortcomings that detract from an otherwise fine work.

    The geologic time chart near the front of the book, which the authors offer as a framework upon which to build their story, is confusing. The time lines for the geologic periods of the Paleozoic do not correlate with the written material that follows, nor do they correlate with currently accepted time spans for the Paleozoic.

    The authors discuss the various industrial minerals that occur within each of the major geologic units as they are encountered in the road log. But they emphasize historic elements of resource discovery and early exploitation at the expense of the value that these commodities have now.

    In a few cases, such as their treatment of the vast gypsum deposit at Shoals that the Indiana Geological Survey discovered in the early 1950s, Camp and Richardson offer less than accurate historic insights. The section on geodes is, regrettably, not well done and would best have been left out or better researched.

    Similarly, the section on the Wabash Valley fault system states, “No earthquakes have been recorded, so they [the Wabash Valley faults] are probably dead.” This statement is erroneous and misleading. Numerous earthquakes have been recorded within the Wabash Valley fault system, including a magnitude-5.1 event that took place in 1987 near Lawrenceville, Ill. The foci of Wabash Valley fault system earthquakes lie deep within the Precambrian rocks thousands of meters below the surface.

    Camp and Richardson could have avoided these shortcomings had they relied more heavily on other publications as resources.  On the whole, however, the layperson interested in earth science will find Roadside Geology of Indiana interesting and informative as they travel through the state.

    Hill is a geologist and assistant director with the Indiana Geological Survey, 611 N. Walnut St., Bloomington, IN 47405.

    On the shelf

    Aspects of Tectonic Faulting, edited by F.K. Lehner and J.L. Urai. Springer (2000). 226 p. ISBN 3-540-65708-8. Illus. Cloth, $99.

    Biotic Regulation of the Environment: Key Issues of Global Change by Victor G. Gorshkov, Vadim V. Gorshkov and Anastassia M. Makarieva. Springer (2000). 367 p. ISBN 1-85233-181-X. Illus. Cloth, $139.

    Carl Sagan: A Life by Keay Davidson. Wiley (2000). 540 p. ISBN 0-471-39536-6. Paperback, $17.95.

    Fossil Shells From Western Oregon: A Guide to Identification by Ellen J. Moore. Chintimini Press (2000). 131 p. ISBN 0-9640066-1-8. Illus. Paperback, $12.

    Geoscience of Rift Systems — Evolution of East Africa, edited by C.K. Morely. AAPG Studies in Geology #44 (1999). 242 p. ISBN 0-89181-051-X. Illus. Paperback, $134.

    Imperfect Balance: Landscape Transformations in the Precolumbian Americas, edited by David L. Lentz. Columbia University Press (2000). 547 p. ISBN 0-231-11157-6. Illus. Paperback, $65.

    The Oceans by Ellen J. Prager and Sylvia A. Earle. McGraw-Hill (2000). 316 p. ISBN 0-07-135253-8. Illus. Cloth, $24.95.

    Where to order

    Also visit AGI's Earth Science World Bookstore to search

    Annual Reviews, Inc., 4139 El Camino Way, Palo Alto, Calif. 94303-0139. Phone: (800)523-8635. Fax: (650)855-9815. WWW:

    Cambridge University Press, 110 Midland Ave., Port Chester, N.Y. 10573-4390. Phone: (800)872-7423. Fax: (914)937-4712. WWW:

    Geological Society of America, P.O. Box 9140, Boulder, Colo. 80301-9140. Phone: (800)472-1988. Fax: (303)447-1133. WWW:

    Society for Sedimentary Geology, P.O. Box 4756, Tulsa, Okla. 74159-0756. Phone: (918)493-3361. Fax: (918)493-2093.

    Springer-Verlag, 333 Meadowlands Parkway, Secaucus, N.J. 07094. Phone: (800)777-4643 ext. 599.

    University of Tennessee Press, Chicago Distribution Center, 11030 S. Langley Ave., Chicago, Ill. 60628. Phone: (800)621-2736. Fax: (312)660-2235.

    On the Web

    Resources for Earth Science and Geography Education is an education tool. It is continually updated with links to carefully screened sites selected based on image quality, ease with which lesson plans can be developed, organization, authenticity, scope and format. The site covers such topics as maps, GIS data sets, coastal landforms, geologic time, climate and planetary geology. Mark Francek of Central Michigan University maintains the site and sends out a weekly e-mail alert that features an “earth science site of the week.”

    The American Geophysical Union has prepared a guide encouraging geoscientists to welcome media attention as an effective way to communicate their work to the public. The guide, You and the Media, aims to help scientists gear up for interviews with news reporters. It contains information about press releases, press conferences, and how to handle tough questions. You and the Media is electronically published and can be downloaded at no cost from the AGU Web site.

    Trying to get your Web site up and running all on your own? Not sure if all of your links are working or if pages are loading too slowly? This “Web site garage” can help you pinpoint the areas that you need to work on to make your site as user-friendly as possible. To use the site, simply type in the URL of your Web site and the e-mail address to which you want your results sent.