The Crucible of Creation by Morris, Simon Conway
Oxford University Press | 01 January 1998
Hardback | 242 pages
We live on a wonderful planet that not only teams with life, but shows a marvellous exuberance of form and variety. From condors crossing tropical storms at altitude as high as 6000 meters, to microscopic bacteria living many kilometers below the Earth's crust, life is pervasive. No one yetknow the precise total of species that presently inhabit the Earth, nor how many once existed but are now extinct, but the total must run into many millions. Within such a vast array of life, it is perhaps surprising that only one species, ourselves, is able to understand and to invistigate itsorigins. because we are in so many ways different from any other life form that has evolved on Earth, how do we know that our origins and history can be traced here, rather than as extra-terrestrial immigrants? The reason is simple: our evolutionary pedigree is stamped on every feature of ourfaces and bodies, and by looking at the fossil record, we can trace our progress back to the primitive fish who first evolved limbs and the basic brain structure that is our inheritance today. In this book, renowed palaeontolgist Simon Conway Morris explores how a single unit of rock, locatedin the west of Canada, and known as the Burgess Shale, has placed the history of life in a new set of contexts and so by implication has shed new light on our place in the scheme of evolution. He takes us through the fantastic discoveries of hitherto unknown species that were discovered in thisisolated outcrop, where the processes of decay have so been withstood that the true richness of ancient life is revealed. We meet animals such as trilobites and molluscs, with though, durable skeletons, but also, uniquely, soft-bodied animals from many millions of years ago. The burgess Shale, withits remarkable richness of fossil remains, has become an icon for those studying the history of life -a reference point of equal significance to Darwin's finches, which exemplified the central role of evolution. Professor Conway Morris guides us through the rock and its significance, throughthe personalities involved, the mistakes they made, and most important of all, considers whether the discoveries made there necessitate a radical reconsideration of the whole concept of evolution in the Darwinian framework.