Minerals, Metals, and Other Materials

Rocks and Minerals

How are fossils formed?

Fossils are the remains of animals or plants that were preserved in rock before the beginning of recorded history. It is unusual for complete organisms to be preserved; fossils usually represent the hard parts of animals, such as bones or shells, and leaves, seeds, or woody parts of plants.

Some fossils are simply the bones, teeth, or shells themselves, which can be preserved for a relatively short period of time. Another type of fossil is the imprint of a buried plant or animal that decomposes, leaving a film of carbon that retains the form of the organism.

Some buried material is replaced by silica and other materials that permeate the organism and replace the original material in a process called petrification. Some woods are replaced by agate or opal so completely that even the cellular structure is duplicated. The best examples of this can be found in Petrified Forest National Park in Arizona.

Molds and casts are other very common fossils. A mold is made from an imprint, such as a dinosaur footprint, in soft mud or silt. This impression may harden, then be covered with other materials. The original footprint will have formed a mold and the sediments filling it will be a cast of the footprint.


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