Isle of Wight Tourist Guide - Articles
Fossils on the Isle of Wight
Fossils (from Latin fossus, literally "having been dug up") are the mineralized or otherwise preserved remains or traces (such as footprints) of animals, plants, and other organisms. The totality of fossils and their placement in fossiliferous (fossil-containing) rock formations and sedimentary layers (strata) is known as the fossil record. The study of fossils is called paleontology.
Fossil fish of the genus KnightiaFossils usually consist of the disarticulated or partially preserved remains of the organism itself. However, fossils may also consist of the marks left behind by the organism while it was alive, such as the footprint or feces of a dinosaur or reptile. These types of fossil are called trace fossils (or ichnofossils) as opposed to body fossils. Finally, past life leaves some markers that cannot be seen but can be detected in the form of chemical signals; these are known as chemical fossils or biomarkers.
Fossils on the Isle of Wight with exceptional preservation are known as Lagerstätten. These formations may have resulted from carcass burial in an anoxic environment with minimal bacteria, thus delaying decomposition. Lagerstätten span geological time from the Cambrian. Examples are the Cambrian Maotianshan shales and Burgess Shale, the Devonian Hunsrück Slates, the Jurassic Solnhofen limestone, and the Carboniferous Mazon Creek localities.
Petrified wood fossil formed through permineralization. The internal structure of the tree and bark are maintained in the permineralization process.The oldest known structured fossils are most likely stromatolites. Now understood to be formed by the entrapment of sediment by mucous-like sheets of cyanobacteria, the oldest of these formations dates from 3.5 billion years ago. Even older deposits (3.8 billion years old) of heavy carbon that are indicative of even earlier life are currently proposed as the remains of the earliest known life on Earth.
Developments in interpretation of the fossil record
Ever since recorded history began, and probably before, people have found fossils, pieces of rock and minerals which have replaced the remains of biologic organisms or preserved their external form. These fossils, and the totality of their occurrence within the sequence of Earth's rock strata is referred to as the fossil record.
The fossil record was one of the early sources of data relevant to the study of evolution and continues to be relevant to the history of life on Earth. Paleontologists examine the fossil record in order to understand the process of evolution and the way particular species have evolved.
Various explanations have been put forth throughout history to explain what fossils are and how they came to be where they were found. Many of these explanations relied on folktales or mythologies. In China the fossil bones of ancient mammals including Homo erectus were often mistaken for dragon bones and used as medicine and aphrodisiacs. In the West the presence of fossilized sea creatures high up on mountainsides was proof of the biblical deluge. During the Renaissance more scientific views of fossils began to emerge. Leonardo Da Vinci noticed some discrepancies with the biblical account:
"If the Deluge had carried the shells for distances of three and four hundred miles from the sea it would have carried them mixed with various other natural objects all heaped up together; but even at such distances from the sea we see the oysters all together and also the shellfish and the cuttlefish and all the other shells which congregate together, found all together dead; and the solitary shells are found apart from one another as we see them every day on the sea-shores.
And we find oysters together in very large families, among which some may be seen with their shells still joined together, indicating that they were left there by the sea and that they were still living when the strait of Gibraltar was cut through. In the mountains of Parma and Piacenza multitudes of shells and corals with holes may be seen still sticking to the rocks..."
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Fossils on the Isle of Wight