By William G. Deutsch
Mindbridge Press, 2022
Hardcover: $32
Genre: Nonfiction
Reviewed by Jim Buford
Preorder here


Dr. Bill Deutsch, a retired researcher and educator at Auburn University, has followed up his acclaimed first book, Alabama Rivers, with a new book entitled Ancient Life in Alabama: The Fossils, the Finders & Why It Matters.

Alabama has fossil-bearing rocks from the Cambrian Period to the more recent past when the world we know now was beginning to emerge, a timeframe spanning approximately 500 million years, i.e., “deep time.” Note here that recorded history, which is considered to have begun with the Bronze Age, spans a period of approximately 5,000 years, beginning with the Sumerian cuneiform script. Because most of the state was covered by shallow seas through deep time, fossils tend to be of marine creatures. However, land-based animal and plant fossils also occur, including a relative of the ferocious Tyrannosaurus rex, named Appalachiosaurus montgomeriensis for Montgomery County where it was found. Alabama’s State Fossil is Basilosaurus cetoides, an ancient whale originally found in the 1830s that was referenced by Herman Melville in Moby Dick. Alabama fossils are both abundant and varied and the state has a higher fossil diversity than any state east of the Mississippi River.

Bill begins with an introduction to paleontology and fossils. Then he takes us on a “Walk Through Deep Time.” Next, he explains the role of paleontologists and educators in the collection, preservation, and display of fossils. And finally, he makes a convincing case for how fossils can enrich our lives and advocates for using the “deep-time story of life on Earth” fossils reveal to improve school curricula, museum displays, outreach programs, and natural resource management. In Ancient Life in Alabama, Bill again combines a strict application of the scientific method with the ability to communicate effectively with readers.

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Jim Buford is a management consultant whose creative works include essays, short stories, and social history. A former Southern Literature columnist for the Montgomery Advertiser, his most recent book is The House Across the Road and Other Stories. A version of this review first appeared in the Auburn Villager.