Fossils - Window Into Our Past

By Chris Campbell

We humans seem to have a rather curious obsession with things that happened in the past. At least humans of the age of 18 seem to. One of the best ways to get a glimpse of the way things used to be is through the analysis of fossils. This is where palaeontologists come in. With their expertise, and the help a few well preserved fossils, it's truly amazing the things they can find out about our ancient neighbours.


When palaeontologists first discover a set of fossils or even old bones, they take plenty of photographs and notes. Using the position of the remains can tell a whole lot about how the collection of bones for example will fit together. Bones can tell some interesting things that most of us probably never realized. Markings on a bone can tell where muscles were attached, and can really help palaeontologists flesh out the rest of a dinosaur. On the more obvious side, bones tell a lot about the shape and weight of the animal they belonged to.

Finding fossil footprint of a dinosaur can also reveal a wealth of information. By looking at the spacing of the footprints, a palaeontologists can understand whether a dinosaur walked on two or four feet. It can also tell what kind of gait the animal walked with, and whether it could run or only move slowly along. If there are multiple sets of footprints, then it would suggest, that this particular specie of dinosaur travelled in groups as opposed to going solo.

Examining the dinosaurs teeth and jaw structure not only helps to describe the shape and size of their head, but also says a lot about what kind of food the animal was capable of eating. Fossilized droppings can help here, and if they get really lucky, palaeontologists also will sometimes find an undigested last meal still in the dinosaurs stomach. Yum!

Now while digging through dirt, muck and mud may be appealing to some. There is another way to discover more about our ancient neighbours. One is through living fossils. That's right living fossils. There are some animals still alive today, that look much like they did millions of years ago. Take for example alligators and crocodiles. These friendly fellows are much easier to find than fossils, and are also much easier to observe in their native environments. They just need to be handled a little more cautiously then their ancient preserved brethren.

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