Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Paleontology Mistakes in Mainstream Books

Recently, I posted about a mis-labeled modern brachiopod that was bought from a dealer. Today, I thought I would share some experiences of finding mistakes in some books I found in the library.

The first book is called ROCKS & FOSSILS A Visual Guide by Robert R. Coenraads (Firefly Books) published in 2005. The book has some great pictures and diagrams. What caught my attention was the picture of Devonian Period fossilized sponge. I found it while paging through library fossil books while trying to identify a white fossil on a darker rock that was seen on a trip I took south of Louisville. The area was marked as Mississippian or Carboniferous Period. The road cuts were showing just traces of fossils but this one small outcrop had some small branching coral heads.

The fossil I saw looked like the one found in this book on page 249 in the sponge section. It had this label "This fossil stromatoporoid was found on a Devonian reef structure near Golden in the Canadian Rocky Mountains. This class was the most diverse before it went extinct." Well, I had not seen a fossil sponge like the one shown in the picture. So I asked a geologist from Canada about it and he said the picture looked like a coral. This information made me want to research some more. I referred to the book credits on page 304 and was somewhat surprised that the author used so many stock photographs.

One can see the fossil in question at the Corbis website: with the description "Favositids and Stromatoporoids fossils found on Devonian reef structure. Golden, Canada, Canadian Rocky Mountains." The picture was taken by Jonathan Blair in September 1987 and I think a geologist named Helmut Geldsetzer was identifying the fossils on site.

The picture in the book was cropped to only show the coral and not the sponge thus the issue I have with section of that book. It identifies a coral as a sponge which is not the case. So thanks to regular reader of this blog, Howard for detecting the issues with the image in this book.

Another book I found on a shelf not far away was the The Everything Family Guide to Washington, D.C. 3rd Edition by Jesse Leaf published in 2007. The issue I have with this book is part of its description of a section of the Smithsonian The National Museum of Natural History. In the section of the book that covers the First Floor Early Life section on pages 85-86, it states, "Some of the highlights of this exhibit include rare 530-year-old fossilized soft-bodied animals in shale, which were discovered by the fourth secretary of the Smithsonian in 1910".

This passage refers to Charles Doolittle Walcott who became secretary of the Smithsonian in 1907 and is credited for discovering the Cambrian fossils of the Burgess shale in Canada. Unless the author was viewing an exhibit on loan from the Creationist Museum, I believe they meant to write 530-million-year-old fossilized soft-bodied animals. The Cambrian Period occurred approximately 542-488 million years ago.