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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:

Related Information & Resources


See Also

Books about Fossils


Here are some books from Amazon.com:

Disclosure: Products details and descriptions provided by Amazon.com. Our company may receive a payment if you purchase products from them after following a link from this website.

Science Comics: Dinosaurs: Fossils and Feathers
By MK Reed

First Second
Released: 2016-03-29
Paperback (128 pages)

Science Comics: Dinosaurs: Fossils and Feathers
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  • First Second
Product Description:

Every volume of Science Comics offers a complete introduction to a particular topic--dinosaurs, coral reefs, the solar system, volcanoes, bats, flying machines, and more. These gorgeously illustrated graphic novels offer wildly entertaining views of their subjects. Whether you're a fourth grader doing a natural science unit at school or a thirty-year-old with a secret passion for airplanes, these books are for you!

This volume: in Dinosaurs, learn all about the history of paleontology! This fascinating look at dinosaur science covers the last 150 years of dinosaur hunting, and illuminates how our ideas about dinosaurs have changed--and continue to change.

Weird Dinosaurs: The Strange New Fossils Challenging Everything We Thought We Knew
By John Pickrell

COLUMBIA
Released: 2017-03-07
Hardcover (280 pages)

Weird Dinosaurs: The Strange New Fossils Challenging Everything We Thought We Knew
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From the outback of Australia to the Gobi Desert of Mongolia and the savanna of Madagascar, the award-winning science writer and dinosaur enthusiast John Pickrell embarks on a world tour of new finds, meeting the fossil hunters who work at the frontier of discovery. He reveals the dwarf dinosaurs unearthed by an eccentric Transylvanian baron; an aquatic, crocodile-snouted carnivore bigger than T. rex that once lurked in North African waterways; a Chinese dinosaur with wings like a bat; and a Patagonian sauropod so enormous it weighed more than two commercial jet airliners.

Other surprising discoveries hail from Alaska, Siberia, Canada, Burma, and South Africa. Why did dinosaurs grow so huge? How did they spread across the world? Did they all have feathers? What do sauropods have in common with 1950s vacuum cleaners? The stuff of adventure movies and scientific revolutions, Weird Dinosaurs examines the latest breakthroughs and new technologies that are radically transforming our understanding of the distant past. Pickrell opens a vivid portal to a brand-new age of fossil discovery, in which fossil hunters are routinely redefining what we know and how we think about prehistory's most iconic and fascinating creatures.
Assembling the Dinosaur: Fossil Hunters, Tycoons, and the Making of a Spectacle
By Lukas Rieppel

Harvard University Press
Released: 2019-06-24
Hardcover (336 pages)

Assembling the Dinosaur: Fossil Hunters, Tycoons, and the Making of a Spectacle
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A lively account of how dinosaurs became a symbol of American power and prosperity and gripped the popular imagination during the Gilded Age, when their fossil remains were collected and displayed in museums financed by North America’s wealthiest business tycoons.

Although dinosaur fossils were first found in England, a series of dramatic discoveries during the late 1800s turned North America into a world center for vertebrate paleontology. At the same time, the United States emerged as the world’s largest industrial economy, and creatures like Tyrannosaurus, Brontosaurus, and Triceratops became emblems of American capitalism. Large, fierce, and spectacular, American dinosaurs dominated the popular imagination, making front-page headlines and appearing in feature films.

Assembling the Dinosaur follows dinosaur fossils from the field to the museum and into the commercial culture of North America’s Gilded Age. Business tycoons like Andrew Carnegie and J. P. Morgan made common cause with vertebrate paleontologists to capitalize on the widespread appeal of dinosaurs, using them to project American exceptionalism back into prehistory. Learning from the show-stopping techniques of P. T. Barnum, museums exhibited dinosaurs to attract, entertain, and educate the public. By assembling the skeletons of dinosaurs into eye-catching displays, wealthy industrialists sought to cement their own reputations as generous benefactors of science, showing that modern capitalism could produce public goods in addition to profits. Behind the scenes, museums adopted corporate management practices to control the movement of dinosaur bones, restricting their circulation to influence their meaning and value in popular culture.

Tracing the entwined relationship of dinosaurs, capitalism, and culture during the Gilded Age, Lukas Rieppel reveals the outsized role these giant reptiles played during one of the most consequential periods in American history.

Curious About Fossils (Smithsonian)
By Kate Waters

imusti
Released: 2016-03-01
Paperback (32 pages)

Curious About Fossils (Smithsonian)
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Product Description:
Dig into this photo-packed Penguin-Smithsonian book about fossils—and find out what was going on in our world.

Aren't you curious about what Earth was like long ago? What creatures lived before us? What happened to the dinosaurs?

Curious about Fossils explains why and where fossils form and looks at the colorful lives and important discoveries of some of the great early fossil hunters and collectors, including Mary Anning who unearthed the first ichthyosaur skeleton; Richard Owen who coined the word dinosaur; and Barnum Brown, who discovered the first remains of a T-rex. Then the adventure continues into modern times, where scientists on fossil hunts in places like North Dakota's Hell Creek Formation use computers and other technology to dig up the fossilized bones, teeth, and even poop that provide clues to the past. 

A must read for every kid who's ever collected a shark tooth or trilobite!
The First Fossil Hunters: Dinosaurs, Mammoths, and Myth in Greek and Roman Times
By Adrienne Mayor

Princeton University Press
Paperback (400 pages)

The First Fossil Hunters: Dinosaurs, Mammoths, and Myth in Greek and Roman Times
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Griffins, Cyclopes, Monsters, and Giants--these fabulous creatures of classical mythology continue to live in the modern imagination through the vivid accounts that have come down to us from the ancient Greeks and Romans. But what if these beings were more than merely fictions? What if monstrous creatures once roamed the earth in the very places where their legends first arose? This is the arresting and original thesis that Adrienne Mayor explores in The First Fossil Hunters. Through careful research and meticulous documentation, she convincingly shows that many of the giants and monsters of myth did have a basis in fact--in the enormous bones of long-extinct species that were once abundant in the lands of the Greeks and Romans.


As Mayor shows, the Greeks and Romans were well aware that a different breed of creatures once inhabited their lands. They frequently encountered the fossilized bones of these primeval beings, and they developed sophisticated concepts to explain the fossil evidence, concepts that were expressed in mythological stories. The legend of the gold-guarding griffin, for example, sprang from tales first told by Scythian gold-miners, who, passing through the Gobi Desert at the foot of the Altai Mountains, encountered the skeletons of Protoceratops and other dinosaurs that littered the ground.


Like their modern counterparts, the ancient fossil hunters collected and measured impressive petrified remains and displayed them in temples and museums; they attempted to reconstruct the appearance of these prehistoric creatures and to explain their extinction. Long thought to be fantasy, the remarkably detailed and perceptive Greek and Roman accounts of giant bone finds were actually based on solid paleontological facts. By reading these neglected narratives for the first time in the light of modern scientific discoveries, Adrienne Mayor illuminates a lost world of ancient paleontology.



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