Travels with Trilobites: Adventures in the Paleozoic by Andy Secher


Jon Trevelyan (UK)

I know this looks first and foremost like a coffee table book, but what a picture and coffee table book! And, unlike such books, the undoubtedly chatty text is well worth reading. This is a great book for those who love palaeontology.

I love trilobites, not just because they are (arguably) some of the most successful organisms ever to live. They can also be exquisitely beautiful, which I can attest to, having visited the Tahiri Museum of Fossils & Minerals near Erfoud in Morocco, where I was shown some of the extraordinary work it is carrying out on trident trilobites and other exquisite varieties of this ancient arthropod. Therefore, it is not surprising that the photos in this book are so gorgeous.

In addition, trilobites were some of the earliest forms of fossilised complex animal life (that is, ancient, hard-shelled marine invertebrates), part of the so-called Cambrian explosion and beyond, living in the ancient Palaeozoic Era seas. They first appeared in the Lower Cambrian (521 million years ago) and finally became extinct at the end of the Permian, 250 million years later. During this time, they adapted to occupy almost every undersea niche possible and evolved into more than 25,000 scientifically recognised species.

The conceit of this book involves the author – Andy Secher (see below) – inviting the reader to accompany him on a visually stunning, but leisurely journey in search of the fossilised remains of these wonderful creatures. The book is organised by chapters covering each of the relevant geological periods (the Cambrian to the Permian), allowing him to explore trilobite-hotspots around the world, including Alnif in Morocco (on the edge of the Sahara Desert), the Sakha Republic (Siberia), and Kangaroo Island (off the coast of Southern Australia).

He also provides in an in depth look at museums, fossil shows, and life on the collectors’ circuit. In addition and most importantly for those of us with wishing to know more than just how lovely they are to look at, the book combines key scientific information, but presented along with colourful observations and inside stories from someone who is undoubtedly a prolific collector. In this way, he provides inside stories of how and where trilobite fossils have been found, prepared, collected (both publicly and privately), bought, sold – and faked.

The book contains hundreds of full colour photographs of specimens from Secher’s private collection. These showcase amazing fossil finds, which highlight the diversity, complexity, and beauty of trilobites, referred to above.

Andy Sacher is one of the world’s foremost trilobite collectors and is a field associate in palaeontology at the American Museum of Natural History. He is also co-editor of the museum’s Trilobite Website. Apparently, his private collection comprises more than 4,000 trilobite fossils – I’m jealous.

Travels with Trilobites: Adventures in the Paleozoic, by Andy Secher, Columbia University Press (2022), 392 pages (hardcover), ISBN-13: 978-0231200967.

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