In 1993, Alaskan artist and paleo-shark enthusiast Ray Troll stumbled upon the weirdest fossil he had ever seen—a platter-sized spiral of tightly wound shark teeth. This chance encounter in the basement of the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County sparked Troll’s obsession with Helicoprion, a mysterious monster from deep time.
In 2010, tattooed undergraduate student and returning Iraq War veteran Jesse Pruitt became seriously smitten with a Helicoprion fossil in a museum basement in Idaho. These two bizarre-shark disciples found each other, and an unconventional band of collaborators grew serendipitously around them, determined to solve the puzzle of the mysterious tooth whorl once and for all.
Helicoprion was a Paleozoic chondrichthyan about the size of a modern great white shark, with a circular saw of teeth centered in its lower jaw—a feature unseen in the shark world before or since. For some ten million years, long before the Age of Dinosaurs, Helicoprion patrolled the shallow seas around the supercontinent Pangaea as the apex predator of its time.
Just a few tumultuous years after Pruitt and Troll met, imagination, passion, scientific process, and state-of-the-art technology merged into an unstoppable force that reanimated the remarkable creature—and made important new discoveries.
| I don’t remember exactly which year it was that I was kind of accidentally introduced to the artwork of Ray Troll. I work on a university campus and occasionally there will be an event which catches my attention that I’ll attend after work. I’m also a paleontology enthusiast, so when I saw a session about fossil fish and I had no other responsibilities for the day, I went. Little did I know, that I was going to become a fan of fin art! Mr. Troll was giving a presentation on his artwork which featured fossil fishes and I was hooked, so to speak.
Ray Troll also ends up being a central character in this history of the understanding of the whorl-toothed shark, Helicoprion. The fossil whorl captivated him and he spent years talking with paleontologists about Paleozoic sharks, trying to accurately illustrate the animal. Because of when he started his quest, he knew the old guard (now deceased) and was able to dispense some of their wisdom to younger researchers (and point them toward appropriate papers). In fact, he seems to have become the fairy godfather of the Helicoprion project, facilitating contact between professionals which might never otherwise have happened.
I would have to say that popular works on paleo-fish research are few and far between and Susan Ewing has written a very enjoyable contribution to the field. She manages to cover all the factual data and still have a sense of humour, as when she describes one researcher using CT scans to “squeeze out every last ounce of sharky goodness.”
I would also encourage you to check out Troll’s webpage and art:
Thank goodness for people like him, who have the passion to pursue these fascinating research projects, being cheerleaders and facilitators.
With Pradel's data, interpretations, and tips in hand, Pruitt went back through the [CT] scans one more time, slice by slice, to squeeze out every last ounce of "sharky goodness."
I love this author's style--she treats the topic with appropriate seriousness, but still manages to have a sense of humour about it.
Pretty much exactly what it says on the tin. This is a history, not a science, text. But as a history of rain, it's 100% more interesting than a book on rain would generally sound. Filled with anecdotes that bring the history to life, and raise it a notch above a dry (ha!) academic narrative, once I got past the parts of history I always find slow (ie, any part we have to speculate about) I found it hard to put the book down.
The author tries tackle the subject globally, but generally, it's US-centric (which, if I remember right, she disclaims at the start). There's a certain amount of doom and gloom when she gets to present day human vs. rain (spoiler: rain always wins), but I was incredibly please and very inspired by the stories she told about how certain cities are learning from their mistakes. In a global culture that is so, I'm sorry, collectively stupid about climate change, it often feels like we're being beat about the head with it; we haven't yet figured out that, just as this tactic doesn't work on children, it doesn't work on humanity in general. But a story about people learning from the past and taking steps to remediate the problems - that's what, in my opinion - is going to inspire the long-term change we so desperately need.
She ends the book with the most telling irony - her trip the the rainiest place on the planet, Mawsynram, where she experiences 5 cloud free, sunny days, while back home in Florida her family lives through the rainiest weather in the state's recorded history.
A pleasant, informative and well-written read.
It might be the power of suggestion (rain is a soothing, calming concept to me, even if it's a thunderstorm), but so far this book is both informative and relaxing. I like the author's writing so far; there are hints of journalism, but so far, they're very brief and so far, we're sticking to the facts. An excellent start.