________________ CM . . . . Volume XIII Number 19 . . . . May 11, 2007


Deep Alberta: Fossil Facts and Dinosaur Digs.

John Acorn.
Edmonton, AB: The University of Alberta Press & The Royal Tyrell Museum, 2007.
186 pp., pbk., $29.95.
ISBN 978-0-88864-481-7.

Subject Headings:

Grades 4 and up / Ages 9 and up.

Review by Thomas F. Chambers.

**** /4


Belonostomus, A Pointy-headed Fish

During the time of the dinosaurs in Alberta, there were weird and wonderful fishes swimming in the Bearpaw Sea, and the rivers that flowed into this northern extension of the Gulf of Mexico. Some, like gar, bowfin, and sturgeon, have living relatives today. But not Belonostomus. Belonostomus was a smallish, slender fish, and if you were able to travel back in time and catch one, it would probably make a decent meal for only one person, assuming that they tasted good. Their scales were thick and hardened, unlike most modern fish scales. The most obvious thing about Belonostomus, however, was its sharp, pointed snout or "rostrum," formed from the tip of the upper jaws. This was clearly a predatory fish, with its fins set far back on the body, like those of a pike.

Deep Alberta is an exciting book about Alberta's geological and palaeontological heritage. Originally broadcast as a radio series in Alberta in 2005, it has 80, two page chapters. In addition to the dinosaurs one expects to find in such a book, Deep Alberta has chapters on frogs, fish, bison, trees, turtles, and some creatures not usually associated with Alberta. Their inclusion shows just how different Alberta's climate once was. There are chapters on cheetahs, camels, crocodiles, alligators, and lions. While none are related to similar creatures now living in other parts of the world, reptiles such as crocodiles and alligators have changed little in over sixty five million years.

     Some of the most unusual creatures included in Deep Alberta are mosasaurs, didelphodons and short-faced bears. The mosasaur was a sea-going lizard, fourteen metres long (as large as the more famous tyrannosaurus rex) whose babies were born live at sea. The didelphodon was a possum-like cretaceous marsupial while the short-faced bear was a massive four metres high.

     Children and adolescents, plus their parents, will enjoy Deep Alberta. It is written with flair and an enthusiasm for the subject that is most engaging. The text is magnificently illustrated with one illustration for each chapter. Most are in colour. As one would expect in such a book, a good number are of fossils. One chapter has an excellent map showing the geology of Alberta.

     There are a number of teaching aids, including an index, a glossary, and an excellent list of references. An added feature, Key Figures in Alberta Palaeontology, gives brief biographies of the leading figures in the discipline. The organization of the book and the addition of the teaching aids make Deep Alberta suitable for classroom use. Some of the palaeontological terms are hard to pronounce, but Acorn teaches the reader how to pronounce some of the most difficult ones as well as explaining what they mean. Stegoceras, for example, is pronounced steg-oss-err-ass and one way to pronounce parasaurolophus is para-sauro-lo-phus.

     Author John Acorn is a talented and industrious person. A scientist, with an M.Sc. in entomology, he teaches various courses at the University of Alberta, including Wildlife Biodiversity and Ecology and Protected Areas Management. He is the host of a TV series, Acorn, the Nature Nut, for children from Kindergarten to Grade 6, which has been shown in the U.S. on PBS. He is also a Research Associate at Alberta's Royal Tyrell Museum of Palaeontology and at the E. H. Strickland Entomolgy Museum. Acorn has written numerous books on bugs and birds, including Bugs of Northern California and Bugs of Ontario.

Highly Recommended.

Thomas F. Chambers, a retired college teacher, lives in North Bay, ON.


To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

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