Fossils – What are They and Who Finds Them?

Hey kids, Kalea here!  Have you ever wondered about fossils and where they come from?  Let’s grab our gear and discover more about fossils and who finds them.

Who are paleontologists?
Paleontologists are people who study the history of life. They use fossils (like dinosaur bones) to discover the identity of the fossil and where it came from. Using fossils, paleontologists can tell us the history of the Earth. They also use a combination of geology (study of rocks) and biology (study of life) to help them understand the past.

Children are learning history dinosaur

How did paleontology start?
Humans around the world have been fascinated with fossils for a very long time. People from China used to call dinosaurs “magical dragons”.  Throughout history, fossilized bones were often ground up and used as medicine.  China and Ancient Greece were the two countries who made the earliest attempts of using fossils in a scientific way.

In the 1800s, Charles Marsh and Edward Cope spiked interest in geology and paleontology. They were responsible for discovering 142 species of dinosaurs. Their efforts in discovering dinosaur fossils were funded by their own wealth and eventually led to a personal feud to see who could discover more bones. They discovered the Morrison Formation which holds more dinosaur bones from the Jurassic period than any other formation in North America.

Dinosaur fossil still embedded in ground with head raised

What are Fossils?
There are two main types of fossils — body fossils and trace fossils.  Body fossils consist of preserved remains of a plant or animal’s body, while trace fossils are the remains of the activity of an animal.  In order for these remnants to be considered a fossil, they need to be over 10,000 years old!

 

AmmoniteMold fossils are another type of fossil. These fossils are made when an animal or plant makes an impression or mark in either dirt, sand, or mud. TTheir bodies are then covered by another layer of dirt, sand, or mud and over time the mud and sand harden into rock, preserving the impression of the body. Over time, if the mold become filled, then the mold becomes a cast fossil.

How old are fossils?
Currently, it’s very hard to determine the age of a fossil because there aren’t any scientific tests for it. Instead, scientists test the age of the rocks where the fossil was found to determine the age of the fossil itself.  Scientists also use what’s called relative dating or stratigraphy. Stratigraphy works by studying the layers of rocks.  For example, older rock layers are closer to the bottom and newer layers towards the top. If you are able to find the right layer of an igneous rock (volcanic rocks made from cooling lava), you can use this to determine the exact date of that rock layer.

 

little boy wants to be an archaeologist

 

Make your own fossil!
Now that you’ve learned about fossils, why not make your own!  Be sure to ask a parent to help you with this activity and always remember, safety first!

           

 

What you’ll need:

  • Modeling Clay
  • 2 paper cups
  • An object you would like to make a fossilized impression
  • Plaster of paris
  • Water

 

Instructions:

  1. Flatten a ball of modeling clay until it is 1 inch thick. Be sure that the top is smooth.
  2. Put the modeling clay inside a paper cup with the smooth side facing up. Carefully press the object you want to fossilize into the modeling clay until it’s partially buried.
  3. Carefully remove the object from the modeling clay. An impression of the object should be left behind.
  4. Pour half a cup of plaster of paris into the other paper cup. Add a quarter cup of water to the plaster and stir until it’s smooth. Leave it to rest for 2 minutes.
  5. When the mixture has thickened, pour it on top of the modeling clay in your other cup. Allow the plaster to fully dry. (About 24 hrs.)
  6. When the plaster is fully set tear away the sides of the paper cup and take out the modeling clay and plaster of paris. You should have your very own fossil!

Be sure to tag us @hificu on our social media accounts so we can see your creations!

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