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Ichthyosaurs from the Early Jurassic of Britain

20 November 2023

I can declare I am biased – I have had a 50-year love affair with ichthyosaurs. Ichthyosaurs are iconic fossils. They are as readily identifiable as ammonites, trilobites, and dinosaurs to most of the public. This renown is partly due to the discoveries of complete skeletons in Britain by Anning; Hawkins, Moore, and Gillett; Leeds; and Young and the subsequent descriptions of these specimens by giants of the geological community in the early 19th century, such as Conybeare, De La Beche, Buckland, and Owen. With the wealth of well-preserved specimens that exist, it is somewhat surprising that ichthyosaurs were ignored by the scientific community for most of the 20th century. Fortunately, we are now in a period of ichthyosaur renaissance, which began in the 1970s and is reaching its peak today.

Therefore, to say I have been waiting for a book like this for 40 years is not an understatement. Weedon and Chapman have created a tour-de-force. Half of the book is an encyclopaedia about ichthyosaurs, covering everything from the anatomy, evolution, and detailed palaeobiological analyses of the species described within. The book also details early Jurassic geology in Britain; another useful synthesis that can’t be found elsewhere. Two chapters are dedicated to the Natural History Museum, London, which has the foremost collection of early Jurassic ichthyosaurs, detailing firstly the history of the collection’s formation and secondly how the collection is curated. The latter includes a very useful piece on how historically significant specimens, such as those collected by Anning, are valued.

The remaining half of the book contains detailed descriptions of all the species known from the early Jurassic. The taxonomy of each species, including the distinguishing features, history, palaeobiology, and distribution is covered using sensible and balanced interpretations of the literature. The descriptions are lavishly illustrated with colour photographs, tables, graphs, and maps. To supplement these descriptions, the appendices include detailed lists (specimen number, brief description, locality and horizon, and publications) of almost all the known specimens in public institutions. I can only applaud the time and effort that has gone into this work.

This book permanently sits on my desk, and I honestly use it on a weekly basis – in the short time I have owned it, it has become well-thumbed and already has annotations. I don’t expect this book to be superseded in my lifetime and it was worth the 40-year wait.

Reviewed by Paul G. Davis



BY: Graham P. Weedon and Sandra D. Chapman (2023). Siri Scientific Press. 448 pp. hbk.

ISBN: 978-1-8381528-6-4

PRICE: £99.99 https://siriscientificpress.co.uk