Throughout human history, human being have found fossils and wondered about the creatures the lived lengthy ago. In ancient times, fossils inspired legends that monsters and 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 years ago. The griffin, a mythical creature v a lion’s body and also an eagle’s head and wings, to be probably based upon skeletons of Protoceratops that were discovered by nomads in main 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 named them ammonites after ~ the lamb god Ammon. Similarly, legends of the Cyclops might be based on fossilized elephant skulls found in Crete and also other Mediterranean islands. Deserve to you watch why (Figure 11.2)?



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

Many that the actual creatures who bones ended up being fossilized to be no much less marvelous 보다 the mythical creatures they influenced (Figure 11.3). The huge 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 7 elephants! various other fossils, such as the trilobite and ammonite, impress us v their bizarre forms and also delicate beauty.


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

Lesson Objectives

Explain why that is rarely for an organism to be maintained as a fossil.Distinguish between body fossils and trace fossils.Describe five species of fossilization.Explain the prominence 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 trace of an old organism. Fossils include body fossils, left behind when the soft parts have decayed away, also as trace fossils, such together burrows, tracks, or fossilized waste (feces) (Figure 11.4).

Figure 11.4: Coprolite (fossilized waste or feces) indigenous a meat-eating dinosaur.
The procedure of a as soon as living organism coming to be a fossil is called fossilization. Fossilization is a an extremely rare process: of all the organisms that have actually lived ~ above Earth, just a tiny percent of lock ever become fossils. To check out why, imagine one antelope that dies on the afri plain. Many of its body is easily eaten by scavengers, and the remaining flesh is soon consumed by insects and also bacteria, leaving behind just scattered bones. Together the years go by, the bones are scattered and also fragmented into tiny pieces, eventually turning into dust and returning their nutrients to the soil. It would be rarely for any type of of the antelope’s continues to be to in reality be kept as a fossil.

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

For pets that lack tough shells or bones, fossilization is even an ext rare. Together a result, the fossil record has many pets with shells, bones, or other difficult parts, and few softbodied organisms. There is essentially no fossil document of jellyfish, worms, or slugs. Insects, which space by far the most common land animals, are only rarely found as fossils. Because mammal teeth space much an ext resistant than other bones, a large portion of the mammal fossil record is composed of teeth. This method the fossil document will show countless organisms that had actually shells, skeletal or other tough parts and will practically always miss the plenty of soft-bodied organisms that lived at the same time.

Because many decay and fragmentation wake up at the surface, the main element that contributes come fossilization is rapid burial. Marine pets that die close to a flow delta might be hidden by sediment lugged by the river. A storm at sea may shift sediment ~ above the ocean floor, covering and also helping to keep skeletal remains.

On land, funeral is rare, so consequently fossils of floor animals and also plants room less typical than maritime fossils. Land organisms have the right to be buried by mudslides or ash native a volcanic eruption, or spanned by sand in a sandstorm. Skeletons deserve to be spanned by mud in lakes, swamps, or bogs as well. Several of the best-preserved skeletons of land pets are uncovered in the La Brea Tar Pits that Los Angeles, California. Back the animals trapped in the pits probably suffered a slow, miserable death, their bones were kept perfectly through the difficult tar.

In spite of the difficulties of preservation, billions that fossils have been discovered, examined, and also identified by hundreds of scientists. The fossil document is our best clue to the history of life top top Earth, and an important indicator of previous climates and geological problems as well. The fossil record additionally plays a crucial role in ours lives. Fossil fuels such together coal, gas, and also oil formed from the decayed stays of plants and animals the lived numerous years ago.

Types of Fossils

Fossilization can happen in numerous ways. Many fossils are maintained in one of five processes (Figure 11.6): kept remains, permineralization, molds and also casts, replacement, and compression.

Preserved Remains

The rarest form of fossilization is the preservation of original skeletal material and even soft tissue. For example, insects have actually been kept perfectly in amber, i m sorry is old tree sap. Several mammoths and even a Neanderthal hunter have been discovered frozen in glaciers. These maintained remains enable scientists the rare chance to examine the skin, hair, and organs of ancient creatures. Scientists have gathered DNA from this remains and compared the DNA sequences to those of contemporary creatures.


The many common method of fossilization is permineralization. After ~ a bone, timber fragment, or covering is buried in sediment, it may be exposed to mineral-rich water the moves with the sediment. This water will deposit minerals into empty spaces, developing a fossil. Fossil dinosaur bones, petrified wood, and many maritime fossils were developed by permineralization.

Molds and Casts

In some cases, the original bone or covering dissolves away, leave behind an empty space in the form of the covering or bone. This depression is referred to as a mold. Later the an are may be filled with other sediments to type a matching cast in the form of the original organism. Countless mollusks (clams, snails, octopi and squid) are commonly found together molds and also casts since their shells dissolve easily.


In some cases, the original shell or bone dissolves away and is replaced by a various mineral. Because that example, shells the were originally calcite may be replaced by dolomite, quartz, or pyrite. If quartz fossils are surrounded through a calcite matrix, the calcite deserve to be liquified away by acid, leave behind one exquisitely kept quartz fossil.


Some fossils kind when their stays are compressed by high pressure. This can leave behind a dark imprint that the fossil. Compression is most usual for fossils the leaves and also ferns, yet can occur with other organisms, as well.


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

Exceptional Preservation

Some rock bed have developed exceptional fossils. Fossils from these beds may present evidence that soft body parts that are not typically preserved. Two of the most famous examples of soft organism preservation are the burgess Shale in Canada and the Solnhofen Limestone in Germany. The burgess Shale is 505 million years old and also records the first explosion that shelled biology in Earth’s oceans. Many of the burgess Shale fossils space bizarre pets that seem unrelated to any other pet group. The Solnhofen Limestone is 145 million years old and also contains fossils of many soft-bodied organisms that space not usually preserved, such together jellyfish. The most well known Solnhofen fossil is Archaeopteryx, one of the earliest birds. Although it resembles a dinosaur fossil, impressions of feathers can plainly be viewed (Figure 11.7).

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

Index Fossils and Living Fossils

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

As scientists gathered fossils from different rock layers and formations, they uncovered that they could often acknowledge the rock layer by the assemblage the fossils it contained. Part fossils proved particularly useful in corresponding up rock layers from different regions. These fossils, calledindex fossils, room widespread but only existed for a reasonably brief duration of time. When a details index fossil is found, the relative age of the bed is instantly known.

Many fossils may qualify together index fossils. Ammonites, trilobites, and also graptolites are regularly used as index fossils, as room various microfossils, or fossils of microscopic organisms. Fossils of animals that drifted in the upper layers the the s are an especially useful as index fossils, as they may be distributed all end the world.

In contrast to table of contents fossils, living fossils are biology that have actually existed because that a exponentially long duration of time without an altering very lot at all. For example, the Lingulata brachiopods have existed from the Cambrian duration to the present, a time span of over 500 million years! modern-day specimens the Lingulata are almost indistinguishable from your fossil counterparts (Figure 11.8).

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

Clues indigenous Fossils

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

The an initial clue that fossils can offer is whether an atmosphere was marine (underwater) or terrestrial (on land). Together with the absent characteristics, fossils have the right to indicate whether the water to be shallow or deep, and also whether the price of precipitate was slow or rapid. The quantity of wear and also fragmentation of a fossil can permit scientists to calculation the quantity of wave action or the frequency that storms.

Often fossils of naval organisms are uncovered on or close to tall mountains. For example, the Himalayas, the tallest mountains in the world, contain trilobites, brachiopods, and other maritime fossils. This suggests that rocks ~ above the seabed have been uplifted to kind huge mountains. In the situation of the Himalayas, this happened when the Indian Subcontinent began to ram right into Asia about 40 million year ago.

Fossils can additionally reveal clues about past climate. Because that example, fossils the plants and coal beds have actually been found in Antarctica. Back Antarctica is frozen today, in the past it must have actually been much warmer. This occurred both since Earth’s climate has readjusted and since Antarctica has not always been located at the south Pole.

One the the most fascinating trends revealed by the fossil document is a number of mass extinctions, times when many varieties died off. Although the massive extinction that killed the dinosaurs is most famous, the largest mass die out in Earth background occurred at the end of the Permian period, around 250 million years ago. In this catastrophe, that is estimated that over 95% of varieties on planet went extinct! The cause of this mass extinctions is not certainly known, however most scientists believe that collisions with comets or asteroids were the reason of at the very least a couple of of this disasters.

Lesson Summary

A fossil is any kind of remains of ancient life. Fossils deserve to be human body fossils, i beg your pardon are continues to be of the organism chin or map fossils, such as burrows, tracks, or other proof of activity.Preservation together a fossil is a relatively rare process. The chances of becoming a fossil are amplified by rapid burial and the presence of preservable tough parts, such as bones or shells.Fossils type in five ways: preservation of original remains, permineralization, molds and also casts, replacement, and compression.Rock formations with impressive fossils room called really important for scientists to study. They enable us to see information about organisms the we might not otherwise ever know.Index fossils space fossils that room widespread yet only existed for a short duration of time. Table of contents fossils aid scientists to uncover the relative age of a rock layer and match it increase with various other rock layers.Living fossils room organisms the haven’t adjusted much in countless years and also are still alive today.Fossils offer clues around the background of life on Earth, environments, climate, motion of plates, and also other events.

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Review Questions

What factors make it more likely the an pet will be preserved as a fossil?What room the five main processes of fossilization?A scientist desires to determine the period of a rock. The rock consists of an index fossil and an old relative that a life fossil. I m sorry fossil will certainly be an ext useful for date the rock, and also why?The island that Spitzbergen is in the Arctic ocean north of Norway, near the north Pole. Fossils the tropical fruits have been found in coal deposits in Spitzbergen. What go this indicate?


amberFossilized tree sap.body fossilThe remains of an ancient organism. Examples encompass shells, bones, teeth, and also leaves.castA framework that forms when sediments to fill a mold and also harden, forming a replica of the original structure.fossilAny remains or map of an ancient organism.fossil fuelA fuel the was created from the continues to be of ancient organisms. Examples encompass coal, oil, and natural gas.fossilizationThe process of becoming a fossil.index fossilA fossil the identifies and also shows the relative period of the rocks in which that is found. Index fossils come from species that were widespread but existed for a fairly brief period of fossilA modern species or genus that has existed on planet for millions of years without changing very much.marineOf or belonging to the sea.mass extinctionA period of time when an uncommonly high number of species came to be extinct.microfossilA fossil that must be studied v the help of a microscope.moldAn impression make in sediments through the tough parts of one organism.permineralizationA type of fossilization in i beg your pardon minerals are deposited right into the pores of the original difficult 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 bite marks.

Points to Consider

What are some other examples of mythical creatures that may be based on fossils?Why is that so rare for an animal to be kept as a fossil?Some organisms are much more easily kept than others. Why is this a trouble for researchers who are studying ancient ecosystems?Why are instances of impressive fossil preservation so an useful for scientists?Many fossils of maritime organisms have been discovered in the center of continents, far from any ocean. What conclusion deserve to you attract from this?