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Fossil-Treasures-of-Florida-Newsletter, Issue #0016 -- How Are Fossils Formed?
October 03, 2012

Fossil Newsletter, Issue #0016 - How Are Fossils Formed?

In this Issue:

* How Are Fossils Formed?
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How Are Fossils Formed?

In Florida, a good candidate for fossilization would be an animal with “hard parts”. The hard parts of a vertebrate animal would be, in general, its bones and teeth. If the animal was rapidly buried soon after death, and in a low to no oxygen environment, it would be well on its way to the formation of a fossil.

In most cases, a plant or animal goes through some kind of change over a long period of time to become a fossil. It can be replaced partially or completely by minerals. These minerals could be in the groundwater or soils surrounding the fossil. A great deal of plant fossils are replaced by only a carbon film. Many fossil shells are only the molds or internal casts of the animal. Insects can get trapped in tree resins, only later to fossilize into amber with these fossil insects inside. Some animals are mummified or freeze-dried in ice or permafrost. Other animals have gotten stuck in tar pits and were preserved. When the footprints of an ancient animal are preserved they are called trace fossils. As you can see, there are a great number of ways to become a fossil.

Fossilization of vertebrate animals is a rare occurrence. Most animal bones are scavenged and scattered about, left to the elements to decay and break down.

Florida’s flat land and ample rainfall quickly wash animal carcasses into rivers, ponds, sinkholes, etc. and cover them up rapidly with mud, clays and sands. This greatly increased the chance for fossilization. Many prehistoric animal bones became deposited in great numbers in estuaries, over time, to become fossilized. In fact, Florida is considered the best state east of the Mississippi River, to find Pleistocene and Miocene vertebrate fossils.

Florida’s climate and water drew a large number of animals to the state. Like people who travel to Florida in the winter months today, Prehistoric Florida drew animals to it on a seasonal migration route.

The states limestone bed rock created an alkaline and calcium carbonate that was in the ground water. This calcium carbonate rich water, along with other minerals, was ideal for creating and accelerating fossilization of prehistoric bones and teeth (hard parts).

Florida’s karst topography, caves, sink holes, etc., helped to trap animals and increase the chance of being fossilized. Sink holes would trap animals over years and years, eventually, filling in with sediments. This would create a time capsule of fossil layers and give a fossil chronology of animals in that area over time.

When the state was underwater 50 million years ago, sediments covered ancient toothed whales, dugongs, sharks and other prehistoric sea monsters. Ancient coral reefs became fossilized and agatized. If prehistoric sea creatures like ancient shelled mollusks, gastropods, and echinoids were quickly covered with sediments, they too could became fossilized over time. And let’s not forget, that prehistoric storms, floods and hurricanes in Florida, that account for many of the mass fossilized graveyards of animals.

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