info about fossils

So how are fossils formed anyway? There are several processes that plants and animals or their parts can be preserved. No matter which way preservation occurs it takes a lot of luck, pure happenstance. Most living things are quickly recycled upon death. Scavengers and bacteria usually consume all but bones and shells. Still millions of fossils have been found. If you think about all of the museums, university paleontology labs, fossil dealers, and private collectors, there really are a lot of fossils that have been discovered! However when you think of the billions and billions of living things that have inhabited the earth over the last 550 million years only a very small percentage are immortalized in stone!

The following is a list with descriptions answering the question “How are fossils Formed?” Generally the top of the list has methods that preserve best though their occurrence is seldom seen.

How are fossils formed?Freezing (refrigeration)-This is the best means of preservation of ancient materials. It happens only rarely. The animal must be continually frozen from the time of death until discovery. That limits the possibilities to cold hardy animals from the last ice age. There have been remarkable discoveries of mammoth and wooly rhinoceros found in ice from Alaska and Siberia. Specimens with flesh, skin, and hair intact have been found. Some of these finds suggest that they were flash frozen, with food still in the mouth and stomach.

Drying (desiccation)- Mummified bodies of animals including humans have been discovered in arid parts of the world. The soft tissues including skin and organs are preserved for thousands of years if they are completely dried.

How are fossils formed?Asphalt- In what is now downtown Los Angeles lies a 23 acre park called The La Brea Tar Pits, officially Hancock Park. Within the park are over 100 pits filled with sticky asphalt or tar. The tar pits were formed by crude oil seeping through fissures in the earth. The lighter elements of the oil evaporate leaving thick sticky asphalt.

The pits are famous for the number and high quality of Pleistocene fossils that have been pulled from the pits. The fossils date between 10 and 40 thousand years old. Asphalt is an excellent preservative. Bones, teeth, shells, the exoskeletons of insects, and even some plant seeds have been pulled from the pits.

How are fossils formed?Amber- Insects, spiders, and even small lizard have been found, nearly perfectly preserved in amber. Picture this scenario: A fly lands on a tree branch in an area that is now the Baltic sea. While looking for food it steps in sticky sap that the tree has made to protect itself from fungal infection.

As the fly struggles to escape it becomes more and more entombed in the sap until it is completely engulfed and suffocates. The tree eventually dies and falls into the swampy water from which it grew. Over the course of millions of years the tree along with countless others becomes a coal deposit and the sap with our fly inside is polymerized and hardened into amber. As more time passes the coal bed is submerged as the sea level rises. Eventually the currents uncover the coal bed, slowly eating into the Surface, little by little. When the erosion reaches the amber it floats to the surface because it is lighter than the salty water. It is then washed ashore where it can be found. How are fossils formed?Carbonization (distillation)- In this process of fossilization plant leaves, and some soft body parts of fish, reptiles, and marine invertebrates decompose leaving behind only the carbon. This carbon creates an impression in the rock outlining the fossil, sometimes with great detail.

How are fossils formed?Permineralization-This is the most common method of fossil preservation. Minerals fill the cellular spaces and crystallize. The shape of the original plant or animal is preserved as rock. Sometimes the original material is dissolved away leaving the form and structure but none of the organic material remains.

Stratigraphic ranges and origins of some major groups of animals and plants.
If we begin at the present and examine older and older layers of rock, we will come to a level where no fossils of humans are present. If we continue backwards in time, we will successively come to levels where no fossils of flowering plants are present, no birds, no mammals, no reptiles, no four-footed vertebrates, no land plants, no fishes, no shells, and no animals. The three concepts are summarized in the general principle called the Law of Fossil Succession: The kinds of animals and plants found as fossils change through time. When we find the same kinds of fossils in rocks from different places, we know that the rocks are the same age.

fossilThe Columbia Encyclopedia, Sixth Edition 2008 | Copyrightfossil remains or imprints of plants or animals preserved from prehistoric times by the operation of natural conditions. Fossils are found in sedimentary rock, asphalt deposits, and coal and sometimes in amber and certain other materials. The scientific study of fossils is paleontology . Not until c.1800 were fossils generally recognized as the remains of living things of the past and accepted as an invaluable record of the earth's history. The Formation of Fossils Conditions conducive to the formation of fossils include quick burial in moist sediment or other material that tends to prevent weathering and to exclude oxygen and bacteria, thereby preventing decay. Shells and bones embedded in sediment in past geologic time, under conditions suitable for preservation, left exact reproductions of both external and internal structures. Skeletal remains have been preserved as a result of the engulfment of an animal's body in ancient asphalt pits, bogs, and quicksand. At Rancho La Brea, near Los Angeles, Calif., asphalt deposits have yielded a rich variety of skeletons of birds and mammals. Some fossils have been found buried in volcanic ash; such fossil deposits exist in the Cenozoic rocks of the W United States. The Creation of Natural Molds Sometimes, after specimens were enclosed in the rock formed from the hardened sediments, water percolating through the ground dissolved out the remains, leaving a cavity within which only the form was preserved. This is known as a natural mold. When such molds are discovered by fossil hunters, casts can be made from them by filling them with plastic materials. If molds have been filled with mineral matter by subsurface water, natural casts are formed. Molds of insects that lived many millions of years ago are sometimes found preserved in amber. These were formed by the enveloping and permeation of an insect by sticky pine tree resin which hardened to become amber. So perfectly formed are these molds that detailed microscopic studies can be made of the insect's minute structure. Molds of thin objects such as leaves are usually known as imprints. The Preservation of Flesh and Soft Parts Fossilization of skeletal structures or other hard parts is most common; only rarely are flesh and other soft parts preserved. Impressions of dinosaur skin have aided scientists in making restorations of these animals. Imprints of footprints and trails left by both vertebrate and invertebrate animals are also valuable aids to studies of prehistoric life. Coprolites are fossilized excrement material; if it is possible to determine their sources they are useful in revealing the feeding habits of the animals. Entire animals of the late Pleistocene have sometimes been preserved. In Siberia some 50 specimens of woolly mammoths and a long-horned rhinoceros were found preserved in ice with even the skin and flesh intact. Several specimens of the woolly rhinoceros bearing some skin and flesh have been found in oil-saturated soils in Poland. The Petrifaction of Remains Petrifaction is another method of preservation of both plant and animal remains. This can occur in several ways. Mineral matter from underground water may be deposited in the interstices of porous materials, e.g., bones and some shells, making the material more compact and more stonelike and thus protecting it against disintegration. The original material may be entirely replaced with mineral matter, molecule by molecule, so that the original appearance and the microscopic structure are retained, as in petrified wood. Sometimes, on the other hand, all details of structure are lost in the replacement of organic matter by minerals, and only the form of the original is retained. In shales are sometimes found the silhouettes of plant tissues (more rarely of animals) formed by the carbon residue of the organism that remains after the volatile elements have been driven off. 

Rock Solid Fossil FactsBy Charles Hopkins | Published  01/2/2008 | Science and Technology |Rock Solid Fossil FactsFossils are remains or imprints providing evidence of the previous existence of ancient fauna and flora. From a comparatively recent geologic era of just a few thousand years ago stretching in time to a period of many hundreds of thousands of years or more in the past is when fossil formations can be found. They have been discovered throughout the four corners of the world as infinitesimally small one-celled organisms to medium-sized mammals to massive dinosaurs demonstrating the vastly different dimensions fossils can embody. 

A fossil holds a very similar form, except that its weight usually differs immensely from that of the original organism. Plant fossils can be found in rocks or as petrified wood. Besides fossils in rock, animal fossils can be teeth, hair, feathers, skeletons, claws and tusks and even preserved tissue. Insects can be encased in a resin, like amber. Sea life fossils can be teeth, bones, shells and coral, along of course, with rock fossils. In addition, the impressions left from the natural actions of the creature when it was living, such as, paw prints, tracks and trails can compose fossils. Even bodily functions, like eggs and stool, are considered part of the fossil record. 

Most often the remains of prehistoric organisms are lost due to predators, scavengers or decomposition. Even so, under proper environmental circumstances, formation of fossils occurred. Sedimentary rocks consisting of types like sandstone, shale, coal and limestone are largely the sort of rocks which fossils can be found preserved inside. 

There are several ways that fossils can form. One manner in which fossils develop is when water penetrates a shell or skeleton building up minerals inside which over time strengthens the structure. Another process permitting a fossil to form is when a creature is sealed inside a material that eventually hardens, like being froze in ice or encased in a resin. Similarly an animal can be trapped and covered by tar or volcanic ash. Another type of fossil is the complete drying of the creature inside and out causing a sort of mummy. Still another method of fossil formation is under heavy compaction. For instance, an animal dies and is promptly enshrouded and pressed down by sediment eventually solidifying to produce a rock fossil. One more fossil type is when the dead body of an animal has entirely vanished and all that remains is a hole in the rock just like the shape of the organism. Sometimes this hole loads up with different materials afterwards. 

Besides being interesting and fun to look at, so much can be learned from the study of fossils. They teach us about the Earth's past and the ecosystems that prehistoric animals and plants lived in. Without fossils, we may never have known that certain species had ever existed at all. Sadly though, they make us aware that there are probably many fantastic creatures we will never know anything about since they were not preserved by fossils.