Book Review: Locked in Time

Lomax, Dean R. and Robert Nicholls. Locked in Time: Animal Behavior Unearthed in 50 Extraordinary Fossils. (Columbia University Press, 2021) Kindle e-book

I needed a brain break from history (depressing), herbology and medieval medicine (wince-inducing) and current events (no comment). So, dinosaurs and paleo mammals it was. The book is popular science, not academic analysis, but has a very thorough bibliography and works cited section for those interested in detailed paleontology and physiology. It also begins with sex and ends with corpolites and urine, so you’re warned.

The book focuses on behaviors, how we know about them, what clues we can suss out from trackways, trails, bones, and so on. It is not a guide to different species, so don’t expect to learn much about any one type of critter. One review dinged the book for that, and I can sympathize, but the focus is on “how did the animals do [thing]” more than a guide to paleo-creatures. In part because of this, the authors assume that readers have some basic science background and are generally aware of types of dinos and paleo-mammals. I suspect that covers the bulk of their target audience.

The book is arranged by behavior, starting with reproduction. You will learn lots of fascinating biology, and about how meticulous fossil preparers and excavators have to be. After all, one early fossil includes two insects caught in flagrante delicto, and shows their anatomy. Most of the fossils are not that small, but two are smaller. Each behavior has detailed photos of the fossils involved, as well as a full-color scientific illustration of the behavior described. Burrows, baby-sitting, fights, naps, each is shows in the probable habitat. The fossils are from around the world, and are very current (most recent from an unpublished 2020 paper).

You can dip in and out of the book, but I read it straight through. The writing style is good popular science, not watered down. The author is English, but dinosaur is a universal dialect. As I mentioned above, the writer assumes that you have a basic idea about biology in general and ancient life in particular, but you don’t need to be a physiology expert to get a lot out of the book.

The e-book worked on my first generation Paperwhite™, but to really get the benefit of the illustrations, you need a color screen or the print edition.

I recommend the book to anyone interested in ancient animals, people curious about “where did dinosaurs sleep, anyway?” and parents of kids who are ready for more than Dino 101. (You might skip the first chapter unless you want to discuss birds, bees, fishes, turtles, and so on.) It’s very well written, with a dry sense of humor. The authors really love old critters, and it shows.

FTC Disclaimer: I purchased this book for my own use and received no remuneration from the author or publisher for this review.


7 thoughts on “Book Review: Locked in Time

  1. Btw… the thing about “if you have an onion in the room, it will suck away all the sickness” is still a thing. There was a lady in a call center where I worked, who really believed that. And some of the other ladies agreed.

    And it was a classical Roman idea. They thought that since eating onions was healthy, and onions have a strong smell, that clearly the vapors of the smell were somehow able to cure sickness, or suck it into the onion. And the idea is still around.

    I don’t think the ancient/classical Greeks held with that, though. They thought it helped a person be strong and have endurance, but they didn’t love them like Romans did. (They did rub athletes’ bodies with onion juice before competition, and make them eat and drink pounds and pounds of onions during training.)

    Romans thought onions were aphrodisiacs, cured night blindness and helped eyesight sharpen, cured dogbite wounds, helped you sleep, cured mouth ulcers, made toothache stop hurting, got rubbed on lumbago, and stopped dysentery.

    • Don’t get me wrong: onions are darned nutritious, even though they look like there’s nothing to them. They have a lot of vitamins and minerals in them, as well as various antioxidants and beneficial things like quercetin. But they’re not _that_ good.

      • OTOH, it turns out that some herbal medicines applied topically can end up going through the dermis and getting in the bloodstream, because they have particles small enough. So the people who put onions on their feet, under wraps or under socks, were not totally crazy, which is the opposite of what doctors used to say.

        Now… obviously it would be good to know which topical medicines work, and which don’t.

        • Oh… and apparently if you chop an onion, there is a molecule released (propanial s-oxide) that both turns into the molecule that makes one cry (syn-propanial s-oxide); and turns into various other compounds with some beneficial effects. So it might “purify” certain things in the air by breaking them down, but… it’s more likely that onions just absorb or cover existing bad odors, not kill sickness.

        • Some of the medieval herbals I’ve been reading specify that “this is for the outside, never for the inside.” Others say that for one ailment, apply topically, but for other things, combine with X and take internally.

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