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Dinosaur Jungle   >   Dinosaur Facts   >   Fossils


Dinosaur Fossils

Scientists know a lot about dinosaurs and other prehistoric creatures because they have found fossils.

On this page, you can find more information about fossils:

What Are Fossils?

Fossils are preserved remains or traces of animals, plants and other organisms. They are generally found in rocks.

Dinosaur Teeth and Bone Fossils

Where Are Fossils Found?

Most fossils are found in sedimentary rocks that form from the deposits of sand and mud.

How Are Fossils Formed?

When an animal or plant dies, its body can get buried into sand or mud. Then, over ages (millions of years), the sand or mud gets compacted, and eventually turns to rock. Minerals can also leach into the animal's body, helping to preserve it.

Similarly, just as animals' bodies and plants can be preserved by this process of fossilization, so too can animals' nests, burrows, footprints, dung, etc.

Of course, most animals and plants that die are not preserved in this way. Likewise most nests, burrows, footprints, dung, etc., are also not preserved. It is far more likely that they are destroyed - for example, bodies can be eaten by scavengers or rot away, footprints can be washed away, and so forth. It is only rarely, when all the circumstances happen to be just right, that a fossil is formed.

What Kinds of Fossils Are There?

There are two kinds of fossils:
  1. Fossilized Body Parts

    These are fossils formed from parts of an animal such as:

    • Teeth

      Dinosaur Tooth Fossil

    • Bones

      Allosaurus Skull Fossil

    • Claws

    • Skin, scales, feathers, etc.

    • Soft tissues

    Since skin and soft tissues usually decay before being fossilized, the most common parts of animals to be preserved in this way are the toughest parts of the animal, especially teeth, and to a lesser extent bones.

  2. Trace Fossils

    Trace fossils (which technically known as "ichnofossils") are fossils which show the living activities of animals. Such fossils can include (for example):

    • Footprints

      Dinosaur footprint

    • Nests

    • Burrows,

    • Toothmarks,

    • Dung (known as "coprolites"),

      Coprolite (fossilized dung)

    • Gizzard stones (the stones which some animals swallowed to help digest their food)

Who Found The First Fossils?

From time to time, fossils in the ground are revealed by erosion - the wind or rain erodes rock, revealing fossils contained within. It is therefore likely than mankind has encountered fossils, including dinosaur fossils since ancient, perhaps even prehistoric times.
  • Some people think that dinosaur fossils found in this way, may perhaps have inspired legends of dragons.

  • One scholar (Adrienne Mayor of Stanford) has suggested that the legend of the griffin (a mythical beast which supposedly had the head and wings of an eagle, but the limbs and body of a lion), could have been inspired by fossils of Protoceratops.

    Greek drinking horn (rhyton) in the shape of a griffin, c.350 BCE:
    Greek drinking horn (rhyton) in the shape of a griffin, c.350 BCE
The first modern scientific description of a dinosaur fossil was written by William Buckland. Buckland wrote a paper in 1824 that was entitled: "Notice on the Megalosaurus or Great Fossil Lizard of Stonesfield".

Since then, many other scientists have contributed to finding, researching, dinosaur fossils.

Who Are Some Famous Fossil Hunters?

Many scientists (and quite a few amateur fossil-hunters too) have found fossils of dinosaurs and other prehistoric animals.

Fossils being cleaned and prepared at the Royal Tyrell Museum:
Fossils being cleaned and prepared at the Royal Tyrell Museum
Some of the most famous fossil hunters include:

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