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The significance of the fossil record

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1 | P a g e
SHAHEED BB UNIVERSITY
IMPORTANCE OF FOSSILS
The Significance of the Fossil Record
The fossil record indicates the evolutionary history of life. Many events
together, including: continental drift, changes in climatic conditions as well as
evolutionary novelties have guided the forces to yield interesting ranges of all
manner of beasties (plants, microbes too). It is the goal of a group of scientists to
determine the phylogeny (the evolutionary history of the organism). Those
involved in systematics assign organisms to various taxa based on accumulated
fossil record data as well as both anatomical and molecular similarities.
Objectives
 To become familiar with different types of fossils.
 To understand various processes that lead to fossilization.
 To examine the skulls of hominids.
 To develop knowledge of the main Eras, their Periods and Epochs
 To draw and briefly label 15 fossils that might appear on a laboratory
practicum.
 To observe a 15 minute film by a nationally recognized paleontologist
demonstrating on site discovery.
 Students are strongly encouraged to view some of the books, magazine
articles and references placed about the room.
The current system is the three domain system, previously mentioned. The
following taxa will be used to classify organisms.
Learning tip:
K P C O F G S (The expanded acronym is “King Phillip came over from Great
Spain.
K~Kingdom P~Phylum, C~Class, O~Order, F~Family, G~Genus, S~Species
2 | P a g e
SHAHEED BB UNIVERSITY
IMPORTANCE OF FOSSILS
Fossil Studies
1. A fossil is any preserved remnant or impression of a living organism that lived
many years ago. Most fossils are found in sedimentary rock.
2. Entire organisms are rarely fossilized. Most often the hard parts of an
organism including shells, teeth and bones, which do not decay quickly, remain
as fossils.
3. Fossils can be formed in many ways, including petrification; formation of
imprints, casts, or molds; freezing; and entrapment in tar pits or amber.
 Petrification occurs when minerals dissolved in ground water seep into
the tissues of a dead organism and replace its organic material, thus turning
the animal or plant into stone. The petrified bones of dinosaurs and the
petrified wood of trees are formed this way.
 Imprints, such as footprints or leaf prints, are preserved depressions
formed in soft mud or sand that subsequently dry and change into
sedimentary rock. Dinosaur tracks are examples of imprints.
 Casts or molds are formed when an organism such as a snail is buried in
mud, under water for ages; as the organism undergoes decomposition, its
shape is replaced by minerals, leaving a cast of the original animal in the
surrounding sedimentary rock.
 Freezing can occur if an organism is trapped in freezing soil, snow or ice
that does not thaw over time. Bacterial decay can be prevented and much
of the organism may be preserved. The preserved bodies of prehistoric
mammoths have been found in Siberia.
 Tar pits create a sticky material from which organisms cannot escape.
Minimal bacterial decomposition occurs within these pits, thus the
skeletons of many prehistoric animals, such as saber-toothed tigers, have
been preserved.
 Amber is the sticky, hardened resin of evergreen trees. It is responsible for
trapping many prehistoric insects. As little bacterial decay occurred, the
insect bodies have been preserved.
3 | P a g e
SHAHEED BB UNIVERSITY
IMPORTANCE OF FOSSILS
4. The age of fossils can be determined by relative dating and absolute dating.
 Relative dating entails noting the layer of sedimentary rock in which the
various fossils are found and estimating age from the position relative to
the rock formation. Fossils found at the lowest point in a rock would
generally be assumed to be the oldest.
 Absolute dating may involve the use of radioactive isotopes to determine
the ages of rocks and fossils on a scale of absolute time. These accumulated
in the fossil when it was alive. Carbon 14 has a half-life of 5,600 years;
thus half the carbon 14 will be gone in 5,600 years. It may also involve the
measurements of the L and D forms of amino acids in the fossil. While
alive, organisms synthesize only L forms of the amino acids but upon death
these are gradually converted to D forms. By comparing the ratios we can
determine the age of the organism.
5. Paleontologists have discovered evidence that life has progressed from simpler
to more complex forms.
Study of successive geologic layers of fossil sites typically reveals that the
next higher layer contains not only fossils of organisms found in the lower layers
but also fossils of newer and more complex organisms.
b. Fossils of the most recent plants and animals are found only in the highest or
newest layers of rock.
4 | P a g e
SHAHEED BB UNIVERSITY
IMPORTANCE OF FOSSILS
Are Fossils Important?
Fossils do play a role in modern society. Oil, natural gas and coal are fossil
fuels. They exist because of previous life forms. Oil and gas are created by the
decay of marine plants and animals. Coal is formed by the compression and
alteration of the remains of land plants.
Fossil-bearing rock is widely used in building stone. Indiana Limestone or
Bedford Stone is one of the most widely used building stones in the world. It can
be found in the fall of the Ohio State Park Interpretive Center. Look at it up close.
Those sand grains are actually microscopic fossils. Use a magnifying glass to see
them better.
What can we learn from fossils?
Fossils tell us about life long ago. A fossil is the evidence or remains (usually
in rock) of previously existing life. More than just a curiosity of nature, in the
proper context, a fossil can tell us about environments and organisms of long ago.
We can learn about the climate and weather. One can decipher current flow in
ancient oceans or streams by the alignment of fossils. We can discover if an area
was covered by oceans (such as at the fall of the Ohio) or deserts by the type of
fossils observed in the rock. And there is more...
Fossils give us insight in to the development of organisms. Which life
forms came first? Which share a common ancestry? How have certain organisms
changed over time? Fossils can help answer many of these questions!
` Evolution is the process by which life changes over time. This process is
almost immeasurable over the life spans of a handful of human generations. At
least a million years is needed for a species to change to a new one. Yet the
outcomes -- extinctions and changes that evolve new species -- can be found
throughout nature.
Changes may evolve from sudden catastrophic phenomena of nature
(meteorites, major volcanic eruptions) or through gradual processes like
continental drift, mountain building or shifts in the climate. Whatever the cause -
- change is a constant force in nature.
5 | P a g e
SHAHEED BB UNIVERSITY
IMPORTANCE OF FOSSILS
Are fossils valuable?
Some fossils are rare -- one (or few) - of-a-kind. Other fossils are
widespread. However rarity does not always play a role in the value.
Paleontologists can only assign one form of value -- scientific value. The dollar
value is assigned like everything else -- by the market -- how much someone is
willing to pay for it. How can someone assign a monetary value to something that
is priceless / irreplaceable?
Complete dinosaurs are rare - a small number exist in the world. Their value
in scientific terms is immeasurable, but in dollars they can be pricy. Dinosaur
bones are not rare in certain rock layers, and it is possible to purchase a chunk of
bone for a couple of dollars.
Rare fossils do not have to be dinosaurs. Certain species of corals or
brachiopods are rare, but not valuable in monetary terms because most fossil
collectors do not have an interest in them. The most "valuable" fossils rate
because they are "cute" or "beautiful."
Complete crinoids or trilobites fall into that category. Indeed, for the
paleontologist, the scientific value makes the monetary value irrelevant.
Unfortunately, museums often do not have funds to purchase rare fossils from
collectors or dealers. Like artwork, there are probably many great "pieces" in
private hands. Like art, private ownership is okay.
Eventually some will end up in museums, while others will be discarded
or destroyed due to the lack of knowledge by the owner. Should fossils be
considered as a renewal or non-renewable resource? While there are unique
individual specimens, most paleontologists consider fossils to be renewal
resources.
Fossils are destroyed by the natural forces of erosion and weathering and
human intervention (construction, quarrying) much faster than they can be
salvaged by professional and amateur paleontologists. (There have never been,
nor ever be, enough paleontologists to preserve but a tiny percent of the fossils
exposed by nature or human.

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The significance of the fossil record

  • 1. 1 | P a g e SHAHEED BB UNIVERSITY IMPORTANCE OF FOSSILS The Significance of the Fossil Record The fossil record indicates the evolutionary history of life. Many events together, including: continental drift, changes in climatic conditions as well as evolutionary novelties have guided the forces to yield interesting ranges of all manner of beasties (plants, microbes too). It is the goal of a group of scientists to determine the phylogeny (the evolutionary history of the organism). Those involved in systematics assign organisms to various taxa based on accumulated fossil record data as well as both anatomical and molecular similarities. Objectives  To become familiar with different types of fossils.  To understand various processes that lead to fossilization.  To examine the skulls of hominids.  To develop knowledge of the main Eras, their Periods and Epochs  To draw and briefly label 15 fossils that might appear on a laboratory practicum.  To observe a 15 minute film by a nationally recognized paleontologist demonstrating on site discovery.  Students are strongly encouraged to view some of the books, magazine articles and references placed about the room. The current system is the three domain system, previously mentioned. The following taxa will be used to classify organisms. Learning tip: K P C O F G S (The expanded acronym is “King Phillip came over from Great Spain. K~Kingdom P~Phylum, C~Class, O~Order, F~Family, G~Genus, S~Species
  • 2. 2 | P a g e SHAHEED BB UNIVERSITY IMPORTANCE OF FOSSILS Fossil Studies 1. A fossil is any preserved remnant or impression of a living organism that lived many years ago. Most fossils are found in sedimentary rock. 2. Entire organisms are rarely fossilized. Most often the hard parts of an organism including shells, teeth and bones, which do not decay quickly, remain as fossils. 3. Fossils can be formed in many ways, including petrification; formation of imprints, casts, or molds; freezing; and entrapment in tar pits or amber.  Petrification occurs when minerals dissolved in ground water seep into the tissues of a dead organism and replace its organic material, thus turning the animal or plant into stone. The petrified bones of dinosaurs and the petrified wood of trees are formed this way.  Imprints, such as footprints or leaf prints, are preserved depressions formed in soft mud or sand that subsequently dry and change into sedimentary rock. Dinosaur tracks are examples of imprints.  Casts or molds are formed when an organism such as a snail is buried in mud, under water for ages; as the organism undergoes decomposition, its shape is replaced by minerals, leaving a cast of the original animal in the surrounding sedimentary rock.  Freezing can occur if an organism is trapped in freezing soil, snow or ice that does not thaw over time. Bacterial decay can be prevented and much of the organism may be preserved. The preserved bodies of prehistoric mammoths have been found in Siberia.  Tar pits create a sticky material from which organisms cannot escape. Minimal bacterial decomposition occurs within these pits, thus the skeletons of many prehistoric animals, such as saber-toothed tigers, have been preserved.  Amber is the sticky, hardened resin of evergreen trees. It is responsible for trapping many prehistoric insects. As little bacterial decay occurred, the insect bodies have been preserved.
  • 3. 3 | P a g e SHAHEED BB UNIVERSITY IMPORTANCE OF FOSSILS 4. The age of fossils can be determined by relative dating and absolute dating.  Relative dating entails noting the layer of sedimentary rock in which the various fossils are found and estimating age from the position relative to the rock formation. Fossils found at the lowest point in a rock would generally be assumed to be the oldest.  Absolute dating may involve the use of radioactive isotopes to determine the ages of rocks and fossils on a scale of absolute time. These accumulated in the fossil when it was alive. Carbon 14 has a half-life of 5,600 years; thus half the carbon 14 will be gone in 5,600 years. It may also involve the measurements of the L and D forms of amino acids in the fossil. While alive, organisms synthesize only L forms of the amino acids but upon death these are gradually converted to D forms. By comparing the ratios we can determine the age of the organism. 5. Paleontologists have discovered evidence that life has progressed from simpler to more complex forms. Study of successive geologic layers of fossil sites typically reveals that the next higher layer contains not only fossils of organisms found in the lower layers but also fossils of newer and more complex organisms. b. Fossils of the most recent plants and animals are found only in the highest or newest layers of rock.
  • 4. 4 | P a g e SHAHEED BB UNIVERSITY IMPORTANCE OF FOSSILS Are Fossils Important? Fossils do play a role in modern society. Oil, natural gas and coal are fossil fuels. They exist because of previous life forms. Oil and gas are created by the decay of marine plants and animals. Coal is formed by the compression and alteration of the remains of land plants. Fossil-bearing rock is widely used in building stone. Indiana Limestone or Bedford Stone is one of the most widely used building stones in the world. It can be found in the fall of the Ohio State Park Interpretive Center. Look at it up close. Those sand grains are actually microscopic fossils. Use a magnifying glass to see them better. What can we learn from fossils? Fossils tell us about life long ago. A fossil is the evidence or remains (usually in rock) of previously existing life. More than just a curiosity of nature, in the proper context, a fossil can tell us about environments and organisms of long ago. We can learn about the climate and weather. One can decipher current flow in ancient oceans or streams by the alignment of fossils. We can discover if an area was covered by oceans (such as at the fall of the Ohio) or deserts by the type of fossils observed in the rock. And there is more... Fossils give us insight in to the development of organisms. Which life forms came first? Which share a common ancestry? How have certain organisms changed over time? Fossils can help answer many of these questions! ` Evolution is the process by which life changes over time. This process is almost immeasurable over the life spans of a handful of human generations. At least a million years is needed for a species to change to a new one. Yet the outcomes -- extinctions and changes that evolve new species -- can be found throughout nature. Changes may evolve from sudden catastrophic phenomena of nature (meteorites, major volcanic eruptions) or through gradual processes like continental drift, mountain building or shifts in the climate. Whatever the cause - - change is a constant force in nature.
  • 5. 5 | P a g e SHAHEED BB UNIVERSITY IMPORTANCE OF FOSSILS Are fossils valuable? Some fossils are rare -- one (or few) - of-a-kind. Other fossils are widespread. However rarity does not always play a role in the value. Paleontologists can only assign one form of value -- scientific value. The dollar value is assigned like everything else -- by the market -- how much someone is willing to pay for it. How can someone assign a monetary value to something that is priceless / irreplaceable? Complete dinosaurs are rare - a small number exist in the world. Their value in scientific terms is immeasurable, but in dollars they can be pricy. Dinosaur bones are not rare in certain rock layers, and it is possible to purchase a chunk of bone for a couple of dollars. Rare fossils do not have to be dinosaurs. Certain species of corals or brachiopods are rare, but not valuable in monetary terms because most fossil collectors do not have an interest in them. The most "valuable" fossils rate because they are "cute" or "beautiful." Complete crinoids or trilobites fall into that category. Indeed, for the paleontologist, the scientific value makes the monetary value irrelevant. Unfortunately, museums often do not have funds to purchase rare fossils from collectors or dealers. Like artwork, there are probably many great "pieces" in private hands. Like art, private ownership is okay. Eventually some will end up in museums, while others will be discarded or destroyed due to the lack of knowledge by the owner. Should fossils be considered as a renewal or non-renewable resource? While there are unique individual specimens, most paleontologists consider fossils to be renewal resources. Fossils are destroyed by the natural forces of erosion and weathering and human intervention (construction, quarrying) much faster than they can be salvaged by professional and amateur paleontologists. (There have never been, nor ever be, enough paleontologists to preserve but a tiny percent of the fossils exposed by nature or human.