Cradle of Life: The Discovery of Earth's Earliest Fossils

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Princeton University Press, Mar 20, 2001 - Science - 392 pages
3 Reviews

One of the greatest mysteries in reconstructing the history of life on Earth has been the apparent absence of fossils dating back more than 550 million years. We have long known that fossils of sophisticated marine life-forms existed at the dawn of the Cambrian Period, but until recently scientists had found no traces of Precambrian fossils. The quest to find such traces began in earnest in the mid-1960s and culminated in one dramatic moment in 1993 when William Schopf identified fossilized microorganisms three and a half billion years old. This startling find opened up a vast period of time--some eighty-five percent of Earth's history--to new research and new ideas about life's beginnings. In this book, William Schopf, a pioneer of modern paleobiology, tells for the first time the exciting and fascinating story of the origins and earliest evolution of life and how that story has been unearthed.

Gracefully blending his personal story of discovery with the basics needed to understand the astonishing science he describes, Schopf has produced an introduction to paleobiology for the interested reader as well as a primer for beginning students in the field. He considers such questions as how did primitive bacteria, pond scum, evolve into the complex life-forms found at the beginning of the Cambrian Period? How do scientists identify ancient microbes and what do these tiny creatures tell us about the environment of the early Earth? (And, in a related chapter, Schopf discusses his role in the controversy that swirls around recent claims of fossils in the famed meteorite from Mars.) Like all great teachers, Schopf teaches the non-specialist enough about his subject along the way that we can easily follow his descriptions of the geology, biology, and chemistry behind these discoveries. Anyone interested in the intriguing questions of the origins of life on Earth and how those origins have been discovered will find this story the best place to start.

  

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LibraryThing Review

User Review  - JNSelko - LibraryThing

An in-depth and exhaustive study of the earliest life on earth. It is amazing that life began so soon after the earth cooled, and also amazing how hard it is to tell early life from natural geological processes (think Martian Meteorite). Read full review

Cradle of life: the discovery of earth's earliest fossils

User Review  - Not Available - Book Verdict

Schopf, the world's leading expert on Precambrian fossils (0.5 to 4.5 billion years old), has written an exceptional description of the field that is accessible to any educated lay reader. As a ... Read full review

Contents

Darwins Dilemma
3
The Nature of Geologic Time
4
The Schoolbook History of Life
10
Darwins Dilemma
13
Denouement
34
Birth of a New Field of Science
35
Famous Figures Enter the Field
48
A Youngster Joins the Fray
52
Earths First HighRise Condos
184
Stromatolites of the Geologic Past
195
What Are Stromatolites Good For?
201
Cyanobacteria Earths Oldest Living Fossils
209
The Status Quo Evolution of Cyanobacteria
215
Evolutions Most Successful Ecologic Generalists
231
Cells Like Ours Arise at Last
236
Keys to Eukaryotic Success
237

The Floodgates Open Full Bore
61
The Oldest Fossils and What They Mean
71
Questions and Answers about the Oldest Records of Life
75
The Oldest Fossils Known
99
How Did Life Begin?
101
The Universals of Life
107
How Did Mononers of CHON Arise on the Lifeless Earth?
108
Organic Monomers beyond the Earth
131
How Did Monomers Become Linked into Polymers?
134
From Monomers to Polymers toward Life
138
Metabolic Memories of the Earliest Cells
139
The Essentials of Life
143
Lifes Earliest Way to Make a Living
150
A New Source of Glucose
155
Why Do We Breathe Oxygen?
158
The FourStage Development of Modern Metabolism
161
So Far So Fast So Early?
164
When Did Life Begin?
166
How Did Evolution Proceed So Far So Fast So Early?
168
Fossils Geology and Geochemistry
169
Isotopic Evidence of Ancient Metabolisms
173
Direct Evidence of Early Evolution
181
Stromatolites Earths First HighRise Condos
183
How Old Are the Eukaryotes?
240
Eukaryotes Perfect the Art of Cloning
243
A New Lifestyle Brings Major Change
246
The Wax and Wane of Precambrian Acritarchs
252
Prelude to the Phanerozoic
259
Solution to Darwins Dilemma
264
TakeHome Lessons
269
EXTRAORDINARY CLAIMS EXTRAORDINARY EVIDENCE?
279
Fossils Foibles and Frauds
281
Man a Witness of the Deluge
282
Beringers Lying Stones
291
Theories on the Nature of Fossils
299
Unearthing a Rosetta Stone
303
The Hunt for Life on Mars
304
NASA Stages a Press Conference
306
Meteorites from Mars
310
Search for the Smoking Gun
313
Lessons from the Hunt
324
Glossary
327
Further Reading
349
Index of Geologic Units and Genera and Species
357
Subject Index
361
Copyright

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About the author (2001)

Schopf-University of California at Los Angeles

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