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Fossils: Glossary

A

amber
a fossil where the organism is trapped in resin and preserved whole

C

casts
fossils formed when water containing minerals leaks into a mold. The minerals harden to form a copy of the original structure or organism
classify
to arrange a collection of people or things into groups according to the qualities or characteristics they share. Scientists classify the different types of living things into groups called species
Cretaceous period
a geological term denoting the interval of Earth history beginning around 144 million years ago and ending 66 million years ago
Cretaceous-Tertiary boundary
a major stratigraphic boundary on Earth marking the end of the Mesozoic Era, best known as the age of the dinosaurs. The boundary is defined by a global extinction event that caused the disappearance of the majority of all life on Earth (see geologic time scale).

F

fossil
the remains of an animal and plant, or the record of its presence, preserved in the rocks of the Earth
fossilization
the process that turns a once living thing into a fossil. Only a tiny number of all the animals and plants that ever lived have been fossilized
fossil record
all of the fossils that have existed throughout life's history

G

geologic maps
maps that show the types and ages of rock of an area. These maps are used by paleontologists to find areas that are likely to contain fossils
geologic time scale
a calendar of Earth's history

I

impressions
prints or marks made when an organism's body has been compressed (flattened)
invertebrates
animals without backbones. 95% of all living animalsare invertebrates. And there were even more in the past

M

matrix
the rock that surrounds the fossil
microfossil
a very small fossil, best studied with the aid of a microscope
mineralization
the process of replacing any organism's original material with a mineral

P

Paleobotany
the specific study of fossil plants, algae, and fungi
Paleontologists
the scientists who study the remains of ancient life in fossils and the rocks they are found in
Paleontology
the study of ancient life

R

radio-carbon dating
method for determining the age of an organic substance by measuring the amount of the carbon isotope, carbon-14, remaining in the substance. It is usually used for determining ages in the range of 500 to 70,000 years

S

sedimentary rock
rocks that formed when layers of sediment such as clay, mud, silt, or sand hardened over millions of years. These types of sediments are laid down in lakes, swamps and oceans
species
Scientists classify the different types of living things into groups called species. Technically, it is a group of organisms whose members are capable of reproducing fertile offspring with each other
strata
rock layers

T

trace fossil
evidence left by organisms, such as burrows or footprints. Trace fossils are not preserved parts of the organism.
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