Our planet is estimated to be 4.54 billion years old, or
4,540 million years old! Imagine a birthday cake with 4,540,000,000,000 candles
on it! Modern humans have only been around for the past 200,000 years, but
scientists can date prehistoric life from 3.5 billion years ago! Fossils are
physical evidence of early organisms that lived more than 3 billion years ago!
Paleontologists are scientists that study fossils of plants
and animals. Paleontologists have found fossils of bones, footprints, internal
organs, feathers, and eggs. By studying these preserved records of life, we can
understand the environment, diet, and daily lives of these animals. Dinosaur
fossils have been found on all seven continents, allowing scientists to name
more than 1,000 species of dinosaurs!
Fossils begin to form in many ways, but fossils most
commonly form when an animal or plant dies in a watery environment and becomes
compacted in sediment. Over time, this sediment becomes compacted into
sedimentary rock, perfectly preserving the organism inside of it! Animals can
also be preserved inside tree sap, leaving an organism perfectly maintained in
amber resin. Due to fossils having such specific criteria to be preserved, there
are much fewer terrestrial (land) animals who have been fossilized compared to
animals who already inhabit the sedimentary ocean floors!
Paleontology, the science of fossils of animals and plants,
is so important to understanding the history of our planet!
Make your own fossil today? While it won’t take 3 billion
years to preserve, it will be a marvel to look at!