Palaeontologists investigate the macabre science behind how animals decay and fossilize

phys.org | 3/21/2018 | Staff
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New research has revealed how the history of life can be distorted by the ways animals decompose and lose body parts as they decay—and the ways in which decayed bodies ultimately become fossilised.

In a new study published in the journal Palaeontology, a group of palaeontologists from the UK and Ireland, led by the University of Leicester, has followed a macabre, and nasally-challenging road to knowledge—watching carefully as animal carcasses decompose in order to better understand the process.

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Like on-screen zombies in popular TV programmes such as The Walking Dead that gradually deteriorate through time, fossils preserve only incomplete remains of the living body.

A key part of palaeontological research involves reconstructing long-extinct creatures to understand what they were like when they were alive. This knowledge allows us to answer fundamental questions—how did they move and interact with their environment? How did they feed and reproduce? Which of today's organisms are they most like and most closely related to?

Fossil - Decay - Fossilisation - Picture - Animals

Understanding how much of a fossil is missing, and what has been changed by decay and fossilisation, helps to create a more accurate picture of ancient animals and ecosystems. This is particularly important for things lacking hard skeletons and shells—including crucial fossil evidence of early animal life on Earth.

"As soon as an organism dies, it starts to decay, and this process of decomposition inevitably involves changes in how features or body parts look: they may collapse, alter their shape or position; all too soon they liquefy and are eaten by bacteria until nothing remains," says Professor Sarah Gabbott from the University of...
(Excerpt) Read more at: phys.org
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