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The chronicle of a fascination

Milestones of trilobitology

In each field of science we can pinpoint discoveries and events which had a deciding influence on the entire development of gaining knowledge on a particular subject as a whole. On this page, we would like to list some of those events in chronological order.

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Ogygiocarella debuchii1698 - The reverend Dr. Edward Lhywd, in a letter to his friend Martin Lister, reports on his discovery of the fossilized skeleton of what he believes to be a flatfish in limestones close to the town of Llandeilo in the south of Wales. In later years that "flatfish" turns out to be what is now known as the trilobite Ogygiocarella debuchii, frequently found in Ordovician rocks of the British Isles. Lhywd's letter represents the first mentioning of a fossil in writing that can be assigned to trilobites.

1771 - German scholar Johann Ernst Immanuel Walch recognizes for the first time that trilobites represent a seperate class of extinct arthropods and names it after its distinctive basic morphology "trilobitae" (three lobes). It will take many years, though, until this term (amended to "trilobita") prevails in nomenclature.

One of Barrande's plates1832 - Joachim Barrande, while supervising a construction site between Prague and Pilsen, stumbles upon the fossilized remains of trilobites. Barrande becomes fascinated with those fossils and decides to commit himself to the exploration of the fossilized faunas of Bohemia. He publishes 22 fantastic volumes on the Silurian, describing a countless number of trilobites, ammonites, brachiopods and molluscs.

1839 - Sir Roderick Murchison publishes his major work "The Silurian System", containing sketches of trilobites which he believes can serve as a means to determine the age of rocks. It is the first time that trilobites are used as indicator fossils.

1876 - Charles D. Walcott, while digging for fossils at Trenton Falls, N. Y., discovers trilobites with antennas and limbs, preserved by particlar environmental conditions during diagenesis. For the first time, scientists get an idea of the morphology of the entire animal.

1893 - W. D. Matthew, a Ph. D. student, discovers a trilobite with preserved antennas during an excavation close to the city of Rome, N. Y. Professor Beecher of Yale University recognizes the importance of the find. The quarry now known as Beecher's trilobite bed yields many complete trilobites with their extremities preserved by pyrite replacement. Beecher publishes three papers describing a trilobite larval form, trilobite limbs and trilobite ventral anatomy from material collected from the site he established.

Charles D. Walcott1909 - Charles D. Walcott discovers, albeit more by accident, the Konservat-Lagerst├Ątte of the Burgess Shale in British Columbia. This quarry yields trilobites and many other yet unknown organisms from the Middle Cambrian, often with soft body parts preserved.

1933 - German scholar Rudolf Kaufmann of Greifswald University researches into trilobites of the genus Olenus from Late Cambrian alum shales in Sweden. By closely investigating their evolutionary development over time he sets a milestone for the concept of allopatric speciation.

1959 - First publication of the "Treatise on Invertebrate Paleontology, Part O, Arthropoda 1, Trilobitomorpha". It immediately becomes the standard work of reference in the field of trilobitology.

Alberti's major work on the trilobite faunas of Morocco1969 - German scholar Gerhard K. B. Alberti publishes his great work "Trilobiten des j├╝ngeren Siluriums sowie des Unter- und Mitteldevons" (Trilobites from the Late Silurian, Lower and Middle Devonian). A supplement is published just one year later, a second and third supplement in the years to follow. It represents the first large monograph of the trilobite faunas of Southern Morocco, gaining importance with the growing popularity of trilobites from that part of the world. It is still a major reference.

1971 - Niles Eldredge and Stephen J. Gould publish their thesis on the concept of "punctuated equilibrium" in the evolutionary development of trilobites and other extinct animals and follow in the footsteps of pioneer Rudolf Kaufmann when addressing the subject of allopatric speciation.

Isotelus rex1997 - Harry B. Whittington, Richard A. Fortey et al. release the first revision of the trilobite treatise: "Treatise on Invertebrate Paleontology, Part O, Trilobita 1, Revised". It is the first of three parts (the latter two having not been published more than 10 years later) and deals only with the orders of Agnostida and Redlichiida.

2000 - Canadian scientists, while on excursion in the vicinity of Hudson Bay in the Canadian province of Manitoba, stumble upon the fossilized remains of the largest trilobite ever found. It measures 72 cms. This Ordovician trilobite, roughly 440 million years of age, represents a yet undescribed species and is later on described as Isotelus rex.

Last Update : 12/12/2010 1:26 PM