Fossilization is a rare event. Not every animal that dies is turned into a fossil. It woul

Master Index Current Directory Index Go to SkepticTank Go to Human Rights activist Keith Henson Go to Scientology cult

Skeptic Tank!

From: (Stan Friesen) > Fossilization is a rare event. Not every animal that dies > is turned into a fossil. It would be unusual if we *did* > find examples of every creature that ever lived. Yep. In fact it goes even deeper than that. Fossilization is a strongly *biased* process. The organisms that do get fossilized are not, by any means, a uniform sample of those in the area. Two very important factors contribute to this bias - presence or abscence of persistant tissues (aka 'hard parts'), and proximity to sediment sinks. Both of these biases can be easly demonstrated, simply be taking subfossil assemblages and comparing them to the adjacent living assemblages. This has been done, and the extent and magnitude of the biases have been estimated. But, let's get more concrete. Take a river flood plain where sedimentation is going on. What may get buried and preserved there? The plants that actually live in the flood plain, and the animals that spend time there, the more time they spend there the more likely it is that they will be preserved. Now, anyone who has studied ecology, or even simply gone out and observed such things, knows that the plants that grow in river valleys are *different* than those found outside of them. And, of course, different animals have different preferences for spending their time, some avoiding valleys, others never leaving them. Now, what do we see when we look at flood plain deposits for fossils? Guess what we see mostly (or entirely): flood plain plants, and a skewed picture of the animals. Many animals show up frequently, and with nearly complete skeletons. Others show up only in fragments, and mainly in river lag deposits (the coarse stuff at the bottom of a river that has been hauled down from the hills). Let's take a real case. In the Hell Creek beds of Montana some animals are found mostly complete - Hadrosaurus, Anatotitan, Tyrannosaurus, and a few others. Others show up mostly as isolated sturdy bones - Pachycephalosaurus, Ankylosaurus, and to some extent Triceratops (which is found mostly as skulls, few skeletons, but it is intermediate, since some skeletons are found). In fact there are articles which estimate how far these animals lived from the rivers that made the beds by using completeness statistics! -- (formerly tdatirv!sarima) or


E-Mail Fredric L. Rice / The Skeptic Tank