Our world has been around for billions and billions of years, and way back in the past, giant creatures called dinosaurs ruled the Earth. These dinosaurs are now more or less extinct, while others have managed to change and evolve in order to adapt to the world today, which is why we still have animals in our environment.
If dinosaurs no longer exist, how did we find out that they did exist in the past? The answer is easy. All over the Earth, millions of dinosaur fossils – which are naturally preserved remains – are being found and studied by a special kind of scientist called paleontologists. These professional dinosaur bone diggers are the reason why we know so much about prehistoric ages, thanks to their efforts to uncover the mysteries of the past.
1. Bones Aren’t All They Study
You would be surprised just how many clues dinosaurs left for us to find. Our modern paleontologists don’t only use bones to figure out the what’s, why’s, and how’s of the past – they can even use footprints, teeth, eggs, nests, and yes – even dung! While bones can be very helpful to figure out what a dinosaur may have looked like, these other clues can help us determine what they ate, where they liked to live, their migration patterns, and even their unique animal behaviors.
2. Fossil Means “Dug Up”
The word fossil is taken from the Latin word fossilis, which literally translates to “dug up.” This is because the fossils that our paleontoligsts are able to excavate are usually taken from sedimentary rock layers where they’ve been preserved through the years. Wondering how they got there? Good question! When a dinosaur dies, its body more or less stays in place. As the earth changes and as soil, mud, and other debris are layered over it, it slowly gets buried under the dirt. Because its death happened millions of years ago, you can just image how much earth has been piled up on top of its body! This is why paleontologists need to dig in order to find fossil remains.
3. Other Kinds of Fossils
Now, fossilization isn’t the only way that fossils form. Petrification is another common way that prehistoric remains have been preserved. Usually, prehistoric wood is found petrified. The main difference between petrification and fossilization is that the former means that components of the original object were replaced by minerals and thus preserved, while the second means the original object was lost, but its shape, size, and structure were embedded into a stone.
4. The Father of Paleontology
Georges Cuvier was a French naturalist and zoologist which many people regard as the father of paleontology. While he wasn’t the first to discover fossil remains (as people way, way back in ancient times had already unearthed them), he was given the name the father of paleontology because he ultimately proved the theory of extinction which paved the way towards the establishment of comparative anatomy and paleontology as recognized branches of science.
5. The Biggest Fossil
On display at the American Museum of Natural History in New York is what people believe to be the biggest fossil ever found. The titanosaur measures 122 feet from its head all the way down to the tip of its tail. The replica of the gigantic creature was created based off of 84 real fossils that were found in Patagonia in 2014. This species of dinosaur has yet to be given an official name, but they are believed to have existed between 95 to 100 years in the past, and weigh about 70 tons.
6. The Smallest Fossil
Funny enough, this fossil wasn’t actually the fossil being studied when it was found. Palaontologists were working to learn more about a fossilized spider, and so took an x-ray scan of it.
The results were surprising, not because of the spider itself, but because of the creature that was on it. Tiny mite just 170 millionths of a meter long, was found fossilized on the spider under scrutiny. This has now been recognized as the smallest fossil ever discovered, and can only be seen with the aid of a magnifying device such as a microscope or scanner.
7. The Oldest Fossils
Way back when the Earth was still new, the creatures that lived on it were more like organisms and less like animals. These organisms were usually bacteria, and they were the ones that really started all of it. From these tiny organisms, larger animals began to evolve and believe it or not, some even suggest that we came from them as well! The oldest fossil ever discovered was that of a cyanobacteria in Archaen rocks excavated in western Australia. It is said to be at least 3.5 billion years old.