Cradle of Life: The Discovery of Earth's Earliest Fossils
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.
What people are saying - Write a review
LibraryThing ReviewUser Review - 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).
Cradle of life: the discovery of earth's earliest fossilsUser Review - 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 graduate student, he helped Harvard biologist Elso Barghoorn prepare the landmark Science article on the famous Canadian Gunflint chert, a seminal Precambrian discovery. His candid description of the competition over who would have the honor of publishing the first major paper is worth the price of the book. Schopf's chapter on the evolution of biochemical pathways is a fascinating and wonderfully clear exposition of a difficult topic. The chapter on fraud in paleontology seems oddly out of place, but descriptions of the meeting between Schopf, Aleksandr Oparin, and Salvador Dali and of Schopf's critical analysis of the Mars rock for indications of early life more than make up for this. Recommended for all libraries.--Lloyd Davidson, Seeley G. Mudd Lib. for Science & Engineering, Northwestern Univ., Evanston, IL ...
The Emergence of Life on Earth: A Historical and Scientific Overview
No preview available - 2000