The Garden of Ediacara: Discovering the First Complex Life

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New York, NY 1998 Hard cover New ed. New. Sewn binding. Cloth over boards. 295 p. Biology and Resource Management.

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Overview

Durgaing an expedition in Sonora, Mexico, paleontologist Mark A. S. McMenamin unearthed fossils of creatures dated at approximately 600 million years old — making them the oldest large body fossils ever discovered. These circular fossils, known as Ediacarans, seemed to defy explanation. Representatives of marine life forms that existed in Precambrian times, as much as fifty million years before life on earth began to diversify rapidly, the specimens bore a superficial resemblance to jellyfish.

A typical Ediacaran had a quilted body, three curving arms at the center, and a fringe of fine radial lines. McMenamin's curiosity was fueled by the puzzle of whether the Ediacarans were animals or some other type of organism. How could such complex forms of life appear so suddenly, without extensive records of prior evolution? Yet, this seems to be exactly what the Ediacarans had done.

The Garden of Ediacara presents a mesmerizing documentary of a major scientific discovery, detailing McMenamin's trip to Namibia, where, with a party that included the renowned paleontologist Adolf Seilacher, the author investigates a spectacular cast made from a colony of fossils in the Nama desert. He chronicles the long, often futile search made by earlier scientists for Ediacara, which began more than a century ago in Europe, North America, and Africa, and the various types of Ediacaran fossils that have been uncovered in the years since.

McMenamin concludes that Ediacarans were not animals because they never passed through the ball-shaped embryonic stage peculiar to known animal life forms. But, remarkably, Ediacarans seem to have developed a central nervous system and a brain independent from animal evolution. This startling conclusion has profound implications for our understanding of evolutionary biology, for it indicates that the path toward intelligent life was embarked upon more than once on this planet.

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Editorial Reviews

Tree
[A] thought-provoking personal exploration of what the Ediacaran fossils represent.
Booknews
Chronicles the author's search for Ediacara and their significance to evolutionary biology. McMenamin (geology, Mount Holyoke College) recounts his searches in Mexico, Namibia, and Australia, and includes 50-plus drawings and photographs of specimens and the locales in which they were collected. He concludes that although Ediacarans were related to animals and developed brains and central nervous systems, they were not true animals because they never passed through an embryonic stage. Annotation c. by Book News, Inc., Portland, Or.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780231105583
  • Publisher: Columbia University Press
  • Publication date: 4/28/1998
  • Pages: 368
  • Product dimensions: 6.24 (w) x 9.22 (h) x 0.92 (d)

Meet the Author

Mark A. S. McMenamin is professor of geology at Mount Holyoke College. He is the author of a number of groundbreaking books on paleobiology and evolution, including The Emergence of Animals: The Cambrian Breakthrough and Hypersea: Life on Land (with Dianna L. S. McMenamin), both published by Columbia. He edited and annotated the English translation of Vladimir Vernadsky's The Biosphere, and is also the coeditor (with Lynn Margulis) of the English translation of L. Khakhina's Concepts of Symbiogenesis.

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