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The Garden of Ediacara Discovering the First Complex Life

by Mark A.S. McMenamin

  • ISBN: 9780231105583
  • ISBN10: 0231105584

The Garden of Ediacara Discovering the First Complex Life

by Mark A.S. McMenamin

  • List Price: $90.00
  • Binding: Hardcover
  • Publisher: Columbia Univ Pr
  • Publish date: 05/01/1998
  • ISBN: 9780231105583
  • ISBN10: 0231105584
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Description: During an expedition in Sonora, Mexico, paleontologist Mark McMenamin unearthed fossils of creatures dated at approximately 600 million years old -- making them the oldest animal fossils ever discovered. These circular fossils, which are known as Ediacarans, seemed to defy explanation. Including twenty-two photographs and more than fifty drawings of these strikingly beautiful early life forms, The Garden of Ediacara presents a mesmerizing documentary of a major scientific discovery.

The Ediacarans were a marine life form that existed in Precambrian times, as much as fifty million years before life on earth began to diversify rapidly. Bearing a perhaps superficial resemblance to jellyfish, the Ediacarans had a quilted body with 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 complex forms of life appear without respect to adaptation -- in other words, without extensive records of prior evolution? This, it seemed, was exactly what the Ediacarans had done.

The Garden of Ediacara details McMenamin's trip to Namibia, where, with a party including the renowned paleontologist Adolf Seilacher, he 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 South Australia, and of the various types of Ediacaran fossils that have been uncovered in the years since.

McMenamin concludes that although they were related to animals, Ediacarans were not animals in the strict sense, because they never passedthrough an embryonic stage that is peculiar to known animal life forms. But they seem to have developed a central nervous system and brains independent from animal evolution. This finding has profound ramifications 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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Warmly inscribed by author Mark McMenamin on the title page. A nice copy in dust jacket. 295p.
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