HALL OF PALEOBIOLOGY WHAT IS
Can a woolly mammoth frozen during an ice age be a fossil? Can hardened tree sap and the bugs caught inside be a fossil? Can dinosaur poop be a fossil? Yes, yes, and yes! Read this to figure out what is a fossil and what’s not.
FOSSILS are more than just dinosaur bones! You may think that fossils are pretty common. A fossil is any trace of life that is at least We sure do have a lot of them in the museum! 10,000 years old. BODY FOSSILS are the remains In reality, the chance of a living thing becoming of an animal. Fossils can also be the remains a fossil is very small. The conditions required to of a plant, bacteria, or fungus (fossilized mold, make a fossil don’t occur often and they only anyone?). They can even be things such as ancient occur in certain environments, such as near the footprints, animal tracks, burrows, and even dung water. This means that almost all living things (that’s animal poop!). These kinds of fossils are that have ever inhabited the earth leave no called TRACE FOSSILS because they show us a fossils or any other trace that they ever existed. trace of ancient life.
Sometimes body remains are preserved in a way that doesn’t change them that much. For KNOW example, imagine a saber tooth tiger on the THE hunt 25,000 years ago. It tackles a horse, LINGO! knocking both the horse and itself into a tar pit—never to escape. The animals are preserved in the tar pit for thousands of years until a PALEONTOLOGIST removes them from the pit. Only bones remain, but —the study of ancient life the bones have not changed. They are still paleobiology made up of the same substances that they —a scientist who studies were made of when the animals were alive. paleontologist In other cases, the remains of living things are ancient life by examining fossils preserved but are chemically changed. These —the fossilized parts of an kinds of fossils tend to be much older. Imagine a body fossil Stegosaurus killed by a predator on the shores of animal, like bones a lake 150 million years ago. The soft parts of the dinosaur are eaten away by the predator and by trace fossil—fossilized signs of life, bacteria. Most of the bones remain. The bones are quickly covered by SEDIMENT—that means dirt. like footprints, nests, or burrows Over time, the materials that make up the bones are gradually replaced by minerals found in the coprolite—fossilized animal poop sediment around them. Over a long period of time, —rock that is the bones are almost completely made up of the sedimentary rock new minerals and are as hard as rock (because they are rock). The bones are now official fossils. made from compacted particles of sand, dirt, and the remains of plants and animals; fossils are found in sedimentary rock NATIONAL MUSEUM OF NATURAL HISTORY
THINK LIKE A PALEONTOLOGIST. TRY THIS THIS IS A TRILOBITE AT HOME! Take a look at the THAT LIVED IN THE objects below. Are THIS IS A TOOTH FROM A OCEAN OVER TYRANNOSAURUS REX. they fossils? How do 250 MILLION IS IT A FOSSIL? WHAT IS YEARS AGO. you know? (Remember, IS IT A FOSSIL? FOSSILS ARE THE REMAINS OF LIFE more than 10,000 years old. A FOSSIL? They can be body YOUfossils KNOW or trace fossils.) Now that , let’s see if you ABOUT FOSSILS ! can IDENTIFY SOME
THIS IS AN THIS INSECT HAS ANCIENT BEEN PRESERVED IN ROMAN JUG. AMBER (TREE SAP) FOR IS IT A FOSSIL? MILLIONS OF YEARS. IS IT A FOSSIL?
WHICH ARE CHECK OUT FOSSILS? THIS DINOSAUR FOOTPRINT. IS IT A FOSSIL?
THIS PETRIFIED BACTERIA IS ABOUT 850 MILLION YEARS OLD! THIS IS A DENDRITE IS IT A FOSSIL? STONE. THE FERN- LIKE PATTERN ON THE STONE IS MADE FROM MINERALS FLOWING THIS 40,000-YEAR-OLD, THROUGH THE STONE. MUMMIFIED WOOLLY IS IT A FOSSIL? MAMMOTH BABY, NAMED LUBYA, WAS DISCOVERED IN RUSSIA IN 2007. IS IT A FOSSIL?
THIS IS T. REX POOP THAT HAS TURNED INTO STONE. IS IT A FOSSIL? THIS IS PETRIFIED WOOD, AN ANCIENT TREE THAT HAS BECOME A ROCK.
IS IT A FOSSIL?
Can you tell which are body fossils and which are trace fossils? fossils? trace are which and fossils body are which tell you Can
things. living of fossils are examples other the of All fossils. are Neither rock. limestone on forms that pattern occurring Answers: Only two of these are not fossils. The pottery is an artifact—something made by people. The dendrite stone shows a naturally naturally a shows stone dendrite The people. by made artifact—something an is pottery The fossils. not are these of two Only Answers:
For more activities like these, check out Awesome Adventures at the Smithsonian: The Official Kids Guide to the Smithsonian Institution at SmithsonianEducation.org/OfficialKidsGuide