Fossil and Fossilization (Encyclopedia of Science)
A fossil is the remains or traces of a once-living plant or animal that was preserved in rock or other material before the beginning of recorded history. The term also is used to describe the fossil fuels (oil, coal, petroleum, and natural gas) that have been formed from the remains of ancient plants and animals. It is unusual for complete organisms to be preserved. Fossils usually represent the hard parts, such as bones or shells of animals and leaves, seeds, or woody parts of plants. Fossils occur on every continent and on the ocean floor. Through paleontology (the scientific study of fossils), it is possible to reconstruct ancient communities of living organisms and to trace the evolution of species.
Fossils of single-celled organisms have been recovered from rocks as old as 3.5 billion years. Animal fossils first appear in rocks dating back about 1 billion years. The occurrence of fossils in unusual places, such as dinosaur fossils in Antarctica and fish fossils on the Siberian steppes, is due to the shifting of the plates that make up Earth's crust and environmental changes (such as ice ages) over time. The best explanation for dinosaurs on Antarctica is not that they evolved there, but that Antarctica was once part of a much larger landmass with which it shared many lifeforms.
Formation of fossils
Most fossils are found in sedimentary...
(The entire section is 1086 words.)
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