A Guide to The Past

Hello and welcome!
You have stumbled across the introduction page for me, Prillotashekta, here at h2g2.com

I am really not one for introductions, so I will be brief

Nickname: Prillotashekta
Pronounced: Pril-low-tah-sheck-tah
My passion: fossils. More accurately, those wonderful creatures know as the Dinosauria

Enough introductions, it is time for my rant.

The basis of modern biological study is evolution. Like it or not, modern theory holds true that species change over time. The theory of Natural Selection as presented by Darwin, currently is the best explanation we have for this phenomenon.

So we use evolution to study biology, but how do we study evolution?

We study evolution in many different ways, but it almost always boils down to cladistics, determining the relationships between species in a classic family tree style. Ask any biologist where most of the data for the more extended family trees comes from, and they will most likely answer the fossil record.

Fossils tell us what the world was like millions, even billions, of years ago. They tell what flora and fauna lived where, if an area was a desert, plain, forest, lakebed, beach, river basin/delta, ocean floor, etc. Assumptions on the climate itself can even be made.

But what is a fossil?

A fossil is any trace left over from ancient life that has, over the millennia, has either been turned to stone or preserved in a similar way. These are not limited to teeth and bone, but also can be in the form of footprints, coprolites (fossilized dung), shells, leaves, impressions, and even petrified wood. Generally, all these types can be organized into two categories, cast and mold.

What is the difference?

A cast fossil is a fossil that retains the shape of the original object. The dinosaur bones you see at a museum are examples of cast fossils.
A mold fossil is like an impression. The original object is no longer there, but a mold of its shape is. Fossilized footprints and many times plant fossils are preserved as mold fossils.

How does a fossil form?

Basically, the specimen has to turn to stone. In the case of mold fossils, this means the impression has to remain intact long enough for the sediment to be compressed and heated into stone. Cast fossils including, but not limited to teeth, bones, and wood fossilize when minerals permeate through the pores in the specimen and solidifies. Amazingly enough, this means that portions of the tissue itself can be preserved locked in the rock.

Are fossils valuable?

Well, they are all valuable to paleontologists (scientists who study fossils). If you are talking monetary value, it depends on the fossil. They range form the worthless to the priceless.

Priceless fossils?

Yes, some fossils are of such importance, and so rare, that no price tag could ever be placed on them. The famous Berlin Specimen of Archaeopteryx is a prime example.

Paleontology is an ever-increasing field. New discoveries are always turning up. Dinosaurs used to be perceived as giant reptiles. Sluggish, dim-witted, lumbering monsters. I remember very well when we thought sauropods (the long-necked brontosaur-like dinosaurs) were too big and heavy to spend much time on land, and so suspended themselves in water. We now know this was not true, that these leviathans lived on land and possibly traveled in herds. We are always changing our perception of the past. With new discoveries come new insights into the world that is no longer, and even into the history and origins of life on earth.

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Hi Oct 12, 2000


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