Thursday, 3 May 2012

Book Review: Dinosaurs of Eastern Iberia

It is very easy to forget , when you focus so much of your attention on the high profile formations of Asia, Canada and the United States, that there is significant dinosaur bearing strata virtually right on your doorstep. I was always aware of the importance of Eastern Iberia but, until this book was published, had not realised how many and how diverse these locations were. Only a couple of hours flying time away lays one of the most important and astonishingly rich dinosaur grave yards in the world.
Published by Indiana University Press in 2011, Dinosaurs of Eastern Iberia is a fascinating introduction to the past, present and on-going studies into, not only the dinosaurs that inhabited the area, but also the other flora and fauna that shared their environment.  Also considered are the palaeobiogeographical aspects of these studies as well as highlighting evidence of the K-T boundary in the numerous Late Cretaceous sediments. There are a total of twelve chapters that cover the history, geology and palaeontology of Eastern Iberia covering a multitude of different subjects along the way.
The first chapter deals with the history of palaeontological discoveries in the region which began in the 1860’s and developed slowly throughout the twentieth century. However, after the Renaissance, interest in dinosaurs exploded and soon hundreds of sites were located, identified and excavated. The 21st century brought new unparalled riches to the fore and this chapter really sets the tone for the book especially if, like me, you did not realise how rich the various localities are.
There are dinosaur bearing localities from the Late Jurassic, Early Cretaceous and Late Cretaceous and the next two chapters explain some of the geological and climatic aspects of the region. Using diagrams, images and a combination of both enables the reader to appreciate how the so-called Alpine Cycle affected the Iberian Peninsula throughout the Mesozoic (and beyond) and describes the different conditions that formed the fossil-bearing sedimentary rocks of today.
Chapter 4 focusses on the dinosaurs themselves – specifically their history and classification. This was a favourite chapter of mine in the book and describes in some detail what actually constitutes the makeup of a dinosaur. Unusually for a book of this type, the osteology data is supplemented with skeletals and images of individual bones that really help the reader to understand some of the terminology that is frequently used but that may not be necessarily understood.
Chapter five is a straightforward description explaining how diverse the dinosaurs were and introduces the various clades and suborders whilst chapter six describes the various techniques that are employed in describing the various fossils. From prospecting in the field, to collection, preparation and study, this chapter gives a solid introduction to the world of the vertebrate palaeontology. No stone is left unturned as paleoichnology and the study of eggs are included and the very latest bone histology studies, CT imaging and other digital technologies are highlighted.
The next two chapters focus on the saurischian and ornithischian dinosaurs of the Iberian Peninsula and compares them with other dinosaurs from around the world. Explaining the origins and relationship between the various groups the chapters represent current, solid and reliable data backed up by some stunning images and reconstructions.
Chapter nine was another favourite since it describes the animals and plants that shared the dinosaurs’ world in the various Mesozoic ecosystems. This was another chapter brought to life by the images of the fossils and reconstructions of the various life forms. When you imagine these ancient worlds, complete with the flora and the amazing variety of fauna there was, it would have been a truly wondrous sight to behold.
The next chapter describes the effects of continental drift on the region and how this affected, climate, environment and dinosaurian distribution throughout the Mesozoic whilst chapter eleven addresses that perennial favourite - the extinction of the dinosaurs. Describing how the concept of extinction was initially arrived at through to highlighting the five major extinctions that have affected the planet since the Pre-Cambrian, the chapter runs through the various concepts that suggest how the demise of the dinosaurs came about. The focus, however, is on how the Maastrichtian beds of Eastern Iberia reveal a thriving dinosaurian community virtually right up to the  K-T boundary and the authors are very positive that, as more beds are studied, more evidence will be revealed that will help piece together the final days of the dinosaurian dynasty.
The final chapter is written by Oscar Sanisidro, whose magnificent artwork dominates this volume, and looks at how the dinosaurs and their world are reconstructed and brought vividly back to life. He explains that a combination of studying the skeletal remains, working out the muscle and tendon configuration and comparative anatomy helps the scientist and artist restore these long vanished animals. Virtually the same techniques are used to reconstruct the flora that shared the dinosaurs environment – variants on a theme if you will. The combination of all these disciplines can be very dramatic as demonstrated so admirably in this book.
To summarise, this is a very beautiful book that is delightful on the eye and relies heavily on its imagery. That is not to say that there is not a copious amount of data presented because there is but you cannot get away from the visual beauty of this volume. As James Farlow states on the back cover: “I suspect that many will buy the book for the artwork alone!” – And he would be right.
Criticisms? This book is aimed at the general reader but I suspect that this volume is a little more highbrow than that and I feel that the average general reader may struggle on occasion. Part of the reason for this is that sometimes the text appears clunky or even awkward in places but I suspect that this may be due, in part, to some of the literal translation from Spanish to English. Some of the artwork too has come in for minor criticism but I believe that most of these issues are due to limitations of the digital rendering process.
This is great book in which there is a wealth of information provided and is a great introduction to the dinosaurs of Eastern Iberia. If, like me, you only had a limited interest in the dinosaurs of this region then buy this book! I promise that you will regard this important and fascinating region with a new found interest and respect.  
Galobart, A., Suñer, M. and Poza, B. 2011. Dinosaurs of Eastern Iberia: Indiana University Press, Bloomington, Indiana, USA. 321pp. ISBN 978-0-0253-35622-2


ferwen said...

Sanisidro is a great paleoartist

Mark Wildman said...

Absolutely - as I said, his amazing artwork dominates this volume.

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