Taphonomy is the scientific study of the processes by which a fossil is formed and the losses of information these processes produce. The purpose of this experiment was to test and understand taphonomic processes and their effect on approximately twenty samples from different phyla. Four different kingdoms were represented in the selection of the samples: Animal, Plant, Fungi, and Bacteria. All the samples were buried on the fringe of a cornfield under the same conditions for a twenty-two day period. The weather was monitored during the experiment, and all of the samples were weighed, photographed, and described prior to burial and after exhumation using the same scale. The results were fairly consistent with expectations based on the premise that certain parts survive under certain conditions. The samples with hard parts had the most preservable material left after burial and therefore, the greatest potential for preservation in the fossil record.
For example, we predict mussels and clams, will likely have a relatively complete fossil record because they have hard parts, were rapidly buried in the experiment, and were therefore not likely to be scavenged and redistributed elsewhere. Conversely, the squid we buried were less likely to become preserved in the fossil record because they are mostly composed of soft parts; very little was left at the end of the experiment, even thought they were also rapidly buried
Bryanne Sullivan, ’02 Greenwood Village, CO
James Wilson, ’01 Mt. Vernon, IA
Valerie Gamble, ’01 St. Paul, MN
Majors: Biology and Geology
Sponsor: Benjamin Greenstein