Taphonomy

From Academic Kids

Taphonomy is the study of the fate of the remains of organisms after they die. The term taphonomy, (from the Greek taphos meaning burial, and nomos meaning law), was introduced to palaeontology in 1940 by a Russian scientist, Ivan Efremov, to describe the study of the transition of remains, parts, or products of organisms, from the biosphere, to the lithosphere, i.e. the creation of fossil assemblages, (e.g. see Shipman 1981 p.5-6, Greenwood 1991).

Taphonomists study such phenomena as biostratinomy, decomposition, diagenesis, and epibiont encrustation.

The motivation behind the study of taphonomy is to better understand biases present in the fossil record. Fossils are ubiquitous in sedimentary rocks, yet paleontologists can not draw conclusions about the lives and ecology of the fossilized organisms without knowing about the processes involved in their fossilization. For example, if a fossil assemblage contains more of one type of fossil than another, one can either infer that that organism was present in greater numbers, or that its remains are more resistant to decomposition. Unfossilised bone is also subject to taphonomic analysis by archaeologists

Experimental taphonomy usually consists of exposing the remains of organisms to various altering processes, and then examining the effects of the exposure.

References

  • Greenwood, D. R. (1991), The taphonomy of plant macrofossils. In, Donovan, S. K. (Ed.), The processes of fossilisation, pp.141-169. Belhaven Press.
  • Shipman, P. (1981), Life history of a fossil: An introduction to taphonomy and paleoecology. Harvard University Press.

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