Essay on The Fossil Fiasco: Expect The Unexpected

Essay on The Fossil Fiasco: Expect The Unexpected

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Theme 1: Inferring behavior from the fossil record.
Title: Fossil Fiasco – Expect the Unexpected
Background & Rationale: When an organism dies, there are numerous taphonomic processes that occur from the death up until the discovery of the preserved fossil. Weathering of the fossil due to prolonged exposure to inadequate conditions such as wind or rain, scavenging of the remains, and plastic deformation which occurs when the pressure and weight of the overlying material results in permanent damage to the fossil, are some of many more factors that play a role in its damage and decay. Whether the researchers are then able to distinguish the features of the fossil as a result of damage are of utmost importance. This is so because it can be very difficult to decipher between distinctness due to speciation or damage to the preservation. Errors because of this can result in numerous inaccurate conclusions. Rowe et. al (2001) examined the paleontological mishap when an Archaeoraptor fossil was deemed as the missing link that claimed birds evolved from carnivorous dinosaurs. It was later realized from extensive technological testing (X-ray Computed Tomography), that in fact, this missing link was a hoax after all as the bones of a bird and a non-avian dinosaur were combined to create this fossil. Three recent publications discuss some of the methods and experiences in inferring behavior from fossils.

Benton, Michael J. (2010): Inferring behavior from fossil a record is a difficult task because such hypotheses can never be tested in the real world and thus, leaving room for uncertainty. Three main approaches of behavior and function inference from fossils are known today. The first approach uses empirical evidence, a pro...

... middle of paper ...

...would benefit from placing less emphasis on morphological data and incorporating other ecological data into their studies to expand their understanding of organisms’ behaviour.


Benton, Michael J. 2010. Studying Function And Behavior In The Fossil Record. Plos Biology 8.3: 1-5.

Collard, M., and Wood, B. 2000. How reliable are human phylogenetic hypotheses?. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 97(9): 5003-5006.

Chiappe, L.M., Z. Bo, J.K. O’Connor, G. Chunling, W. Xuri, M. Habib, J. Marugan-Lobon, M. Quingjin, and C. Xiaodong. 2014. A new specimen of the Early Cretaceous bird Hongshanornis longicresta: insights into the aerodynamics and diet of a basal ornithuromorph. PeerJ2: e234.

Rowe, T., Katchum, R., Denison, C., Colbert, M., Xu, X., and P. Currie. 2001. Forensic paleontology: The Archaeoraptor Forgery. Nature 410: 539-540.

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