This book, liberally illustrated with beautiful new color and archival photography, and artwork and graphics produced especially for the renovated exhibits, is an in-depth look at the evolution of vertebrate animals in the collection. In an incisive, behind-the-scenes text, paleontologist Lowell Dingus discusses the earliest specimens: fish, amphibians, and primitive reptiles that represent evolutionary starting points for major groups; the popular saurischian dinosaurs, including the seventeen-ton Apatosauris (once called Brontosaurus) skeleton; and ornithischian dinosaurs such as the horned Triceratops. He concludes with the mammal hills, where animals as diverse as the fin-backed Dimetrodon, mastodons, and, after primates, our closest “next of kin” – bats – are shown to be related by one hole in the skull behind the eye socket. This modification illustrates the contemporary approach to evolution that readers will learn about called cladistics, which establishes animal relationships based on unique shared anatomical changes that were inherited over the course of time. The Museum galleries are organized to reflect how this approach has been used to reconstruct the family tree of vertebrate evolution: walking along the main pathway through the fossil halls is like walking along the trunk of the vertebrate evolutionary tree.
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