Joseph Mawson, a nineteenth-century British railway engineer and businessman in Brazil, discovered fossils from the Cretaceous of Bahia that were described by E. D. Cope and Arthur Smith Woodward. A biographical outline of Mawson is presented. Mawson’s discoveries (especially the giant coelacanth fish Mawsonia, named after him by ASW) are interpreted today in the light of modern geological investigations. Mawsonia apparently lived in fluvial, lacustrine and brackish-water habitats in western Gondwana at the time South America separated from Africa. From the Late Jurassic until the Barremian, Mawsonia was widespread across western Gondwana, but its Aptian–Cenomanian records in South America are restricted to northeastern Brazil (including the Borborema tectonic province and adjacent areas to its north). In contrast, Mawsonia remained widespread in the Aptian–Cenomanian of Africa. Recently published data suggest that northeastern Brazil was still contiguous with Africa in the Aptian/Albian, although it was probably separated from the rest of South America by an epicontinental seaway that apparently followed an unconventional course across the Brazilian interior rather than along the present-day coastline. Aptian–Cenomanian records of Mawsonia and other non-marine taxa (including tetrapods) in northeastern Brazil may therefore represent ‘African’ rather than ‘South American’ biotas.
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Arthur Smith Woodward was the Natural History Museum’s longest-serving Keeper of Geology and the world’s leading expert on fossil fish. He was also an unwitting victim of the Piltdown fraud, which overshadowed his important scientific contributions. The aim of this book is to honour Smith Woodward’s contributions to vertebrate palaeontology, discuss their relevance today and provide insights into the factors that made him such an eminent scientist. The last few years have seen a resurgence in fossil vertebrate (particularly fish) palaeontology, including new techniques for the ‘virtual’ study of fossils (synchrotron and micro CT-scanning) and new research foci, such as ‘Evo-Devo’ – combining fossils with the development of living animals. This new research is built on a strong foundation, like that provided by Smith Woodward’s work. This collection of papers, authored by some of the leading experts in their fields, covers the many facets of Smith Woodward’s life, legacy and career. It will be a benchmark for studies on one of the leading vertebrate palaeontologists of his generation.