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Encyclopedia > Taphonomy

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). A paleontologist carefully chips rock from a column of dinosaur vertebrae. ... 1940 was a leap year starting on Monday (link will take you to calendar). ... Ivan Antonovich Efremov (Иван Антонович Ефремов) (1907-1972) was a Russian science fiction author. ... In biology and ecology, an organism (in Greek organon = instrument) is a living being. ... The biosphere is that part of a planets outer shell—including air, land, surface rocks and water—within which life occurs, and which biotic processes in turn alter or transform. ... The lithosphere (from the Greek for rocky sphere) is the solid outermost shell of a rocky planet. ... A fossil Ammonite Fossils are the mineralized remains of animals or plants or other traces such as footprints. ...

Taphonomists study such phenomena as biostratinomy, decomposition, diagenesis, and epibiont encrustation. Rotting fruit Decomposition is the reduction of bodies and other formerly living organisms into simpler forms of matter and, most particularly, to the fate of the human body after death. ... In geology, diagenesis refers to all the chemical, physical, and biological changes undergone by a sediment after its initial deposition and during and after its lithification, exclusive of surface alteration (weathering). ...

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 A fossil Ammonite Fossils are the mineralized remains of animals or plants or other traces such as footprints. ... A paleontologist carefully chips rock from a column of dinosaur vertebrae. ... Archaeology or sometimes in American English archeology (from the Greek words αρχαίος = ancient and λόγος = word/speech) is the study of human cultures through the recovery, documentation and analysis of material remains, including architecture, artefacts, biofacts, human remains, and landscapes. ...

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


  • 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.

External links

  • The Shelf and Slope Experimental Taphonomy Initiative is the first long-term large-scale deployment and recollection of organism remains on the sea floor.
  • The Journal of Taphonomy
  • Selected Taphonomy Links

  Results from FactBites:
Taphonomy & Preservation (810 words)
Taphonomy is the study of what happens to an organism after its death and until its discovery as a fossil.
The field of Taphonomy as it relates to steps in transformation from living organisms to fossils.
Processes that occur between the death of an organism and its subsequent burial in the sediment are termed biostratinomy.
UCMP Glossary: T (0 words)
taphonomy -- The study of what happens to a fossil, from the time of its initial creation (e.g.
For example, shells or bones can be moved my running water, and later be compressed by overlying sediment.
Taphonomy is often broken into two parts, biostratinomy and the study of diagenesis.
  More results at FactBites »



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