Throughout person history, human being have discovered fossils and also wondered around the creatures the lived lengthy ago. In ancient times, fossils motivated legends of monsters and also other strange creatures. The Chinese writer Chang Qu reports the exploration of “dragon bones”, i beg your pardon were most likely dinosaur fossils in China 2,000 year ago. The griffin, a mythical creature with a lion’s body and also an eagle’s head and wings, was probably based on skeletons of Protoceratops that were uncovered by wanderers in central Asia (Figure 11.1).

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Figure 11.1: Griffin (left) and Protoceratops (right).

Another fossil reminded the Greeks the the coiled horns of a ram. The Greeks called them ammonites after the ram god Ammon. Similarly, legends of the Cyclops might be based upon fossilized elephant skulls found in Crete and also other Mediterranean islands. Can you check out why (Figure 11.2)?



Figure 11.2: Ammonite (left) and elephant skull (right).

Many of the actual creatures who bones became fossilized were no much less marvelous than the mythical creatures they inspired (Figure 11.3). The gigantic pterosaur Quetzalcoatlus had a wingspan of as much as 12 meter (39 feet). The dinosaur Argentinosaurus had an estimated weight the 80,000 kg, equal to the weight of seven elephants! other fossils, such together the trilobite and ammonite, admire us with their bizarre forms and delicate beauty.


Figure 11.3: Kolihapeltis sp (left) and Ammonite (right).

Lesson Objectives

Explain why the is rare for an biology to be preserved as a fossil.Distinguish between body fossils and also trace fossils.Describe five varieties of fossilization.Explain the prestige of table of contents fossils, and give several examples.Describe what a life fossil is.

How Fossils Form

fossil is any type of remains or map of an old organism. Fossils include body fossils, left behind once the soft parts have actually decayed away, also as trace fossils, such as burrows, tracks, or fossilized waste (feces) (Figure 11.4).

Figure 11.4: Coprolite (fossilized garbage or feces) from a meat-eating dinosaur.
The process of a when living organism ending up being a fossil is called fossilization. Fossilization is a really rare process: of all the biology that have lived on Earth, only a tiny percent of lock ever become fossils. To see why, imagine an antelope that die on the african plain. Most of its body is conveniently eaten by scavengers, and the remaining flesh is soon consumed by insects and bacteria, leaving behind only scattered bones. As the years walk by, the bones space scattered and also fragmented into small pieces, eventually transforming into dust and returning their nutrients to the soil. It would certainly be rarely for any type of of the antelope’s continues to be to in reality be maintained as a fossil.

Figure 11.5: Fossil shell that has been attacked by a boring sponge.
On the ocean floor, a similar procedure occurs when clams, oysters, and other shellfish die. The soft parts conveniently decay, and the shells room scattered end the sea floor. If the shells space in shallow water, wave activity soon grinds them right into sand-sized pieces. Even if they are not in shallow water, the shells are struck by worms, sponges, and other animals (Figure 11.5).

For animals that lack tough shells or bones, fossilization is even more rare. As a result, the fossil record includes many pets with shells, bones, or other hard parts, and few softbodied organisms. There is virtually no fossil document of jellyfish, worms, or slugs. Insects, which are by much the most usual land animals, are just rarely uncovered as fossils. Because mammal teeth room much an ext resistant than other bones, a large portion of the mammal fossil record is composed of teeth. This method the fossil record will show plenty of organisms that had actually shells, skeletal or other hard parts and also will practically always miss the numerous soft-bodied biology that lived at the exact same time.

Because many decay and fragmentation wake up at the surface, the main factor that contributes to fossilization is rapid burial. Marine animals that die near a river delta might be hidden by sediment brought by the river. A storm at sea may transition sediment on the ocean floor, covering and also helping to preserve skeletal remains.

On land, funeral is rare, so subsequently fossils of soil animals and also plants are less typical than naval fossils. Soil organisms have the right to be hidden by mudslides or ash indigenous a volcanic eruption, or extended by sand in a sandstorm. Skeletons can be extended by dirt in lakes, swamps, or bogs together well. Some of the best-preserved skeletons that land animals are found in the La Brea Tar Pits the Los Angeles, California. Although the pets trapped in the pits probably suffered a slow, miserable death, their bones were maintained perfectly through the sticky tar.

In spite of the difficulties of preservation, billions the fossils have actually been discovered, examined, and also identified by countless scientists. The fossil record is our finest clue to the history of life on Earth, and vital indicator of past climates and geological conditions as well. The fossil record likewise plays a key role in our lives. Fossil fuels such as coal, gas, and oil created from the decayed remains of plants and also animals the lived millions of years ago.

Types of Fossils

Fossilization can happen in plenty of ways. Most fossils are preserved in one of 5 processes (Figure 11.6): maintained remains, permineralization, molds and casts, replacement, and compression.

Preserved Remains

The rarest form of fossilization is the preservation of original skeletal material and also even soft tissue. Because that example, insects have actually been kept perfectly in amber, which is ancient tree sap. Several mammoths and also even a Neanderthal hunter have actually been found frozen in glaciers. These kept remains allow scientists the rare chance to research the skin, hair, and organs of old creatures. Researchers have gathered DNA from this remains and also compared the DNA sequences to those of modern creatures.


The most common an approach of fossilization is permineralization. After a bone, wood fragment, or covering is buried in sediment, it might be exposed come mineral-rich water that moves with the sediment. This water will certainly deposit minerals into empty spaces, creating a fossil. Fossil dinosaur bones, petrified wood, and also many marine fossils were created by permineralization.

Molds and also Casts

In some cases, the initial bone or shell dissolves away, leaving behind an empty an are in the form of the covering or bone. This depression is dubbed a mold. Later on the an are may be filled with various other sediments to form a matching cast in the shape of the initial organism. Countless mollusks (clams, snails, octopi and squid) are frequently found as molds and casts because their shells dissolve easily.


In some cases, the original shell or bone dissolves away and also is replaced by a various mineral. For example, shells that were initially calcite may be replaced by dolomite, quartz, or pyrite. If quartz fossils room surrounded through a calcite matrix, the calcite can be liquified away by acid, leaving behind one exquisitely kept quartz fossil.


Some fossils kind when their continues to be are compressed by high pressure. This can leave behind a dark imprint the the fossil. Compression is most typical for fossils of leaves and ferns, however can occur with various other organisms, together well.


Figure 11.6: Five species of fossils: insect kept in amber, petrified wood, cast and also mold that a shell shell, compression fossil of a fern and pyritized ammonite.

Exceptional Preservation

Some rock beds have developed exceptional fossils. Fossils from these bed may present evidence of soft body components that space not generally preserved. Two of the many famous examples of soft organism preservation are the burgess Shale in Canada and the Solnhofen Limestone in Germany. The burgess Shale is 505 million year old and records the first explosion the shelled organisms in Earth’s oceans. Countless of the burgess Shale fossils room bizarre animals that it seems to be ~ unrelated to any type of other pet group. The Solnhofen Limestone is 145 million years old and also contains fossils of many soft-bodied biology that space not typically preserved, such together jellyfish. The most renowned Solnhofen fossil is Archaeopteryx, one of the faster birds. Back it each other a dinosaur fossil, impressions of feathers can clearly be seen (Figure 11.7).

Figure 11.7: Fossils indigenous Lagerstätten: Archaeopteryx (left) and Anomalocaris (right). Archaeopteryx was an early bird. Anomalocaris was an huge predator (one meter long) that live 500 million years ago.

Index Fossils and Living Fossils

The fossil document shows clearly that end time, life on planet has changed. Fossils in fairly young rocks tend to resemble animals and also plants that room living today. In larger rocks, fossils space less comparable to modern-day organisms.

As scientists built up fossils from various rock layers and formations, they found that they can often acknowledge the absent layer by the assemblage of fossils it contained. Part fossils proved specifically useful in matching up absent layers from various regions. These fossils, calledindex fossils, are widespread but only existed because that a fairly brief duration of time. Once a particular index fossil is found, the relative period of the bed is instantly known.

Many fossils might qualify together index fossils. Ammonites, trilobites, and graptolites are often used as index fossils, as space various microfossils, or fossils of microscopic organisms. Fossils of pets that drifted in the top layers the the s are particularly useful together index fossils, as they may be distributed all over the world.

In contrast to table of contents fossils, living fossils are organisms that have existed for a exponentially long period of time without changing very much at all. Because that example, the Lingulata brachiopods have dated the Cambrian period to the present, a time span of end 500 million years! contemporary specimens that Lingulata are almost indistinguishable from their fossil counterparts (Figure 11.8).

Figure 11.8: Fossil Lingula (left) and also modern Lingula (right).

Clues native Fossils

Fossils room our best kind of evidence about the background of life on Earth. In addition, fossils can give us clues about past climates, the activities of plates, and also other major geological events.

The very first clue that fossils can offer is even if it is an atmosphere was marine (underwater) or terrestrial (on land). Along with the absent characteristics, fossils can indicate even if it is the water was shallow or deep, and whether the price of precipitate was sluggish or rapid. The lot of wear and fragmentation that a fossil can enable scientists to calculation the lot of wave activity or the frequency that storms.

Often fossils of naval organisms are discovered on or close to tall mountains. For example, the Himalayas, the tallest hills in the world, save trilobites, brachiopods, and also other maritime fossils. This indicates that rocks on the seabed have actually been uplifted to form huge mountains. In the case of the Himalayas, this occurred when the Indian Subcontinent started to ram right into Asia around 40 million year ago.

Fossils can additionally reveal clues about past climate. Because that example, fossils that plants and also coal beds have been uncovered in Antarctica. Return Antarctica is frozen today, in the past it must have been much warmer. This happened both due to the fact that Earth’s climate has changed and since Antarctica has not always been situated at the southern Pole.

One of the many fascinating fads revealed by the fossil document is a number of mass extinctions, times once many types died off. Return the fixed extinction that eliminated the dinosaurs is most famous, the biggest mass extinction in Earth history occurred in ~ the finish of the Permian period, around 250 million year ago. In this catastrophe, the is estimated that over 95% of varieties on earth went extinct! The reason of these mass extinctions is not absolutely known, however most scientists think that collisions with comets or asteroids were the reason of at the very least a few of these disasters.

Lesson Summary

A fossil is any kind of remains of old life. Fossils can be human body fossils, i m sorry are remains of the organism chin or map fossils, such as burrows, tracks, or other evidence of activity.Preservation as a fossil is a fairly rare process. The chances of ending up being a fossil are intensified by rapid burial and the existence of preservable tough parts, such together bones or shells.Fossils form in 5 ways: preservation of initial remains, permineralization, molds and also casts, replacement, and also compression.Rock formations with superior fossils room called really important for researchers to study. They permit us to watch information around organisms the we might not otherwise ever know.Index fossils room fossils that room widespread but only existed because that a short duration of time. Table of contents fossils help scientists to uncover the relative period of a absent layer and match it up with various other rock layers.Living fossils space organisms that haven’t readjusted much in countless years and also are still lively today.Fossils give clues about the background of life ~ above Earth, environments, climate, activity of plates, and also other events.

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Review Questions

What factors make it an ext likely that an animal will be maintained as a fossil?What space the five main procedures of fossilization?A scientist desires to recognize the age of a rock. The rock includes an index fossil and an old relative of a living fossil. I beg your pardon fossil will certainly be an ext useful for date the rock, and also why?The island the Spitzbergen is in the Arctic ocean north that Norway, close to the north Pole. Fossils the tropical fruits have actually been uncovered in charcoal deposits in Spitzbergen. What does this indicate?


amberFossilized tree sap.body fossilThe stays of an old organism. Examples include shells, bones, teeth, and leaves.castA framework that develops when sediments to fill a mold and also harden, creating a replica the the original structure.fossilAny continues to be or map of an old organism.fossil fuelA fuel the was created from the continues to be of old organisms. Examples incorporate coal, oil, and natural gas.fossilizationThe process of ending up being a fossil.index fossilA fossil that identifies and shows the relative age of the rocks in which that is found. Table of contents fossils come from types that to be widespread however existed for a reasonably brief duration of fossilA modern-day species or genus that has actually existed on planet for numerous years without an altering very much.marineOf or belonging come the sea.mass extinctionA period of time when an unusually high variety of species came to be extinct.microfossilA fossil that have to be studied v the aid of a microscope.moldAn impression make in sediments by the hard parts of an organism.permineralizationA type of fossilization in which minerals are deposited right into the pores the the original hard parts of an organism.terrestrialOf or belonging to the land.trace fossilEvidence that the task of an old organism. Examples encompass tracks, trails, burrows, tubes, boreholes, and also bite marks.

Points come Consider

What are some other examples of mythical creatures that may be based upon fossils?Why is the so rarely for an pet to be kept as a fossil?Some organisms are more easily kept than others. Why is this a trouble for researchers who are studying old ecosystems?Why are examples of amazing fossil preservation so beneficial for scientists?Many fossils of marine organisms have been uncovered in the center of continents, much from any kind of ocean. What conclusion deserve to you attract from this?