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What can we learn from the fossil record?

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What can we learn from the fossil record? Since life began, parts of animals have been preserved as fossils. When the animals died their remains were covered with mud and sediment that slowly turned to rock.

When scientists examine layers of ancient rock, the oldest layers are at the bottom, and new rock is laid down on top of them. So unless the rocks have been disturbed by movements of the Earth's crust, the deeper the fossil is found then the older it is.

By studying rocks and the fossils they contain, it is possible to decide how old fossils are, and to identify creatures that lived at the same time but in different parts of the world.

Usually only the hard parts of extinct animals are fossilized, but recently some fossils have been found showing internal organs, and there are even fossils of jellyfish.

Do fos sils prove evolution took place?

There are gaps in the fossil record, so it is not possible to prove that evolution took place. In order to do this, fossils of every single change in a species would need to be preserved. However, enough fossils exist to show the relationships of all modern animals, allowing scientists to deduce their probable ancestors from the fossil record. New fossils are constantly being found, gradually filling in gaps in our knowledge.

Are there fossils of all extinct animals?

The fossil record has very large gaps in it, so there are periods where we know little about the life that once existed. Conditions may have changed long ago, making it unlikely that fossils were preserved. Also, changes on the Earth's surface may have worn away rocks that contained fossils.

Fossil shells are quite common, but fossils of larger animals are very rare. It is even more unusual to find a complete skeleton of an animal such as a dinosaur, because its carcass would have been partly eaten by scavengers and the remains scattered.

Some of the best fossils were formed in shallow lakes or mudflats, where the animal has been preserved because it was quickly covered with protective silt. Preservation of a delicate animal in fossil form requires ideal conditions, such as soft mud where there is no oxygen present, so scavengers cannot destroy the carcass.

Tags: fossil, animals, science

Category: Education  - ( Education Archive)

Date Added: 15 December '11

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