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Nearly all fossils we find are from marine animals because sediments like mud and sand quickly bury their remains. The most common way an animal such as a dinosaur fossilises is called petrification.

These are the key steps:. Soft parts of the animal's body, including skin and muscles, start to rot away.

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Scavengers may come and eat some of the remains. Before the body disappears completely, it is buried by sediment - usually mud, sand or silt. Often at this point only the bones and teeth remain. Many more layers of sediment build up on top. This puts a lot of weight and pressure onto the layers below, squashing them. Eventually, they turn into sedimentary rock.

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While this is happening, water seeps into the bones and teeth, turning them to stone as it leaves behind minerals. David adds, 'The water leaves mineral crystals behind in spaces in the bones. This is why dinosaur fossils often have a sponge- or honeycomb-like texture: the internal bone structure has been preserved. Tree fossils, also known as petrified wood, form in the same way. This is why it's possible to count the growth rings of some fossil trees.

Sometimes ground water dissolves the buried bone or shell, leaving behind a bone- or shell-shaped hole or imprint in the sediment. This is a natural mould. If water rich in minerals fills this space, crystals can form and create a fossil in the shape of the original bone or shell, known as a cast fossil.

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Or sediment can fill the mould and form a cast fossil. These are the most common ways that marine animals with shells fossilise. This includes ammonites that went extinct at the same time as dinosaurs, as well as shellfish that are more like the limpets, oysters and mussels we can still find living on the beach today.

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Trace fossils such as footprints form in a similar way. The footprint forms a natural mould and sediment then fills it forming a cast. Fossilised bivalve preserved as an internal and an external mould. The shell itself has dissolved away. How do we find fossils when they've been buried under millions of years' worth of rock?

It's down to a combination of uplift, weathering and erosion plus luck. Earth's surface is broken up into huge, irregularly shaped pieces - tectonic plates - that fit together like a jigsaw. These plates drift around very slowly, driven by heat from within Earth. In certain parts of the world, these plates will collide. This can force areas of rock together and push them upwards.

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Fossils can come from the Archaeaean Eon which began almost 4 billion years ago all the way up to the Holocene Epoch which continues today. The fossilized teeth of wooly mammoth s are some of our most "recent" fossils. Some of the oldest fossils are those of ancient algae that lived in the ocean more than 3 billion years ago.

The word fossil comes from the Latin word fossus , meaning "having been dug up. Fossilization is the process of remains becoming fossils.

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Fossilization is rare. Most organisms decompose fairly quickly after they die. For an organism to be fossilize d, the remains usually need to be covered by sediment soon after death. Sediment can include the sandy seafloor, lava , and even sticky tar. Over time, mineral s in the sediment seep into the remains. The remains become fossilized. Fossilization usually occur in organisms with hard, bony body parts, such as skeleton s, teeth, or shells. Soft-bodied organisms, such as worms, are rarely fossilized. Sometimes, however, the sticky resin of a tree can become fossilized.

This is called fossilized resin or amber. Amber can preserve the bodies of many delicate, soft-bodied organisms, such as ants, flies, and mosquitoes. The fossils of bones, teeth, and shells are called body fossil s. Most dinosaur fossils are collections of body fossils. Trace fossil s are rocks that have preserved evidence of biological activity. They are not fossilized remains, just the traces of organisms. The imprint of an ancient leaf or footprint is a trace fossil. Burrows can also create impressions in soft rocks or mud, leaving a trace fossil. Paleontologist s are people who study fossils.

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Paleontologists find and study fossils all over the world, in almost every environment, from the hot desert to the humid jungle. Studying fossils helps them learn about when and how different species lived millions of years ago. Sometimes, fossils tell scientists how the Earth has changed. Fossils of ancient marine animals called ammonites have been unearthed in the highest mountain range in the world, the Himalayas in Nepal. The fossil record provides snapshots of the past that, when assembled, illustrate a panorama of evolutionary change over the past four billion years.

The picture may be smudged in places and may have bits missing, but fossil evidence clearly shows that life is old and has changed over time. Search Glossary Home. Support this project. Nicholas Steno's anatomical drawing of an extant shark left and a fossil shark tooth right.

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