Chapter Summary

Focus of the chapter:

  • Definition of fossils
  • How fossils are developed and how scientists study fossils
  • Limitations of the fossil record
  • Techniques to date fossils
  • Reconstruction of environment and ecology

Fossils are the remains of organisms chemically turned to rock. Fossils can occur in a variety of circumstances, and any biological organisms from plants to people can be fossilized. Interpreting the fossil records has limitations resulting from variations in preservation, accuracy in dating techniques, and the vast scale of time under study.

Fossils can be dated relatively (older versus younger fossils) and numerically (assigning an age in number of years before the present). Modern techniques have improved the specificity of fossil dating.

To understand life in the past more fully, scientists need to reconstruct ancient environments and ecologies as well as reconstruct anatomy and time. They can use temperature changes to reconstruct climatic features. Animal remains and ancient soils provide insight into the types of food resources that prehistoric animals exploited.