Trilobites, Dinosaurs and Mammoths: An introduction to the prehistory of the British Isles


By James McKay (for the Palaeontological Association)

This is an interesting little booklet and very much a new departure for the Palaeontological Association. You will be aware that I review several of its many excellent fossil guides on this website. However, this recently published tome is somewhat different. Rather than covering specific fossils, it contains colourful, detailed, artistic illustrations, accompanied by concise explanatory text by palaeoartist, James McKay. In this way, he takes the reader on a whistle-stop introductory tour through the millions of years of geological and palaeontological history of the British Isles. As he says:

It is a story of increasing complexity and diversity of living things over time, a story of origination of species, repeated mass extinctions and recovery”.

It is important to understand that this relatively small parcel of land is a special place for understanding the evolution of our world, because almost every time period is preserved in its geology. In addition, many of the first important geological discoveries were made here (the first dinosaur to be named, the discovery of deep time and bio-stratigraphy, and so on). This allows James McKay to use his pictorial reconstructions of land and seascapes, and the fauna and flora that we know existed at those times, to lead us through the prehistoric changes that happened to life on these islands.

And the beauty of his illustrations is that they cover areas that virtually everybody who collects or studies fossils in the UK (for example, Folkestone and the Rhynie Chert) have visited or read about. Each of the 44 pictures covers a specific place and time in the British Isles such that, any such person can picture what these places and their flora and fauna may have looked like when the fossils were living plants and animals.

While this is an excellent little publication, I am glad to say that PalAss has not stopped commissioning its fossil guides and I understand that two new ones will shortly be published (and hopefully reviewed by me). These will cover the Lias of the Yorkshire Coast and the fossils of the Kimmeridge Clay, and I look forward to seeing them.

Trilobites, Dinosaurs and Mammoths: An introduction to the prehistory of the British Isles, by James McKay, The Palaeontology Association (2019), 96 pages (paperback), ISBN: 978-09-01702-25-8

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