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What is a fossil?
Alister Cruickshanks

The word Fossil used to be defined as ‘something dug up’. Now-a-days it generally means ‘The remains or trace evidence of prehistoric life’. The study of fossils is called palaeontology; someone who collects and studies them is called a palaeontologists. Fossils can be as tiny as a grain of pollen or a seed for e.g. or as huge as a limb bone from a giant dinosaur. For animal or plant remains to have become ‘fossilised ‘, they must go through a certain process that preserves them for up to millions of years after they have died. Usually it is only the hard parts of plants and animals that survive this long process.

Hard seeds and woody structures are more commonly found than flowers and leaves. The flowers and leaves themselves are not preserved, but the carbon impression of them can leave most of the detail showing their delicate structure.

There has been the odd rare occasion when an entire mammoth has been discovered in places such as Alaska or Siberia, frozen solid for millions of years. These ‘frozen fossils’ have preserved not only the bones and teeth but the entire animal
Teeth, bones and shells are much more commonly found than the rarer skin, flesh, fur, and hair and feather parts. Usually only 1 or 2 bones and or teeth are found at a time and you can count yourself extremely lucky if you come across or unearth a whole skeleton.

Just like today when you can pick up sea shells along the sea shore, during prehistoric times the shells of sea animals also collected along the banks plains and coastline, when the sea retreated the shells became covered in mud, silt and sands and can be found today throughout many geological periods.

(Fossil Tree Resin) - Amber is fossil tree resin (tree sap), sometimes fossil insects can be found trapped in the amber. Amber is highly sought after and is usually made into jewellery. There are a number of locations along the UK coast where amber is found, Southwold is one of the most popular locations in East Anglia. Amber is orange, yellow, green or red.

Coal is actually dead fossil plants and animals carbonised and compressed over time which is why it is so highly flammable. Oil is also the remains of animals and plants but was formed during marine environments. Gas was formed from rotting vegetation.
More commonly known as 'Fossil Fuels'. The burning of fossil fuel is said to be speeding up climate change by increasing levels of Carbon Dioxide (Co2) in the atmosphere causing heat to become trapped causing 'The Greenhouse effect'.

(trace fossils) - Often fossils found are not the original plant or animal material, but the mould or cast of it. During fossilisation the original material sometimes dissolves away leaving a cavity, which, over time fills in with other dissolved substances. This type of fossil is known as a mould. Casts are another type of fossil found. Casts are hollowed impressions of the original fossil or mould. Types of casts that can be found are the foot prints and animal trails.

Ripple marks and mud – cracks can tell us much about the climate and environment when they were formed. For instance, we know there must have been water, sun and warm temperatures at the time they were made.

Occasionally, rocks that were formed in shallow seas, lakes or rivers have been left with ancient ripple marks on them caused when the soft mud dried. Mud cracks were formed in a similar way, when the soft wet mud dried out quickly.

Coprolites are the fossilised excrement of ancient animals.

FOOTPRINTS (trace fossils)
Fossilised footprints of dinosaurs and mammals can be found. The photo shows a dinosaur footprint at Hastings, UK. These are formed in certain conditions such as mud when the dinosaur walked over muddy land, over time sediments laid on top and the footprints can be found today.

BORINGS (trace fossils) - Borings are small channels and tunnels made by worms and molluscs that lived millions of years ago; these can sometimes be found in fossil wood and shells.

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