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Most of the remains of fossil animals which are found
in Florida, are petrified. That is to say, the structure of
original bones or teeth have been completely replaced by
mineral substances. This mineral replacement or substitution
has been effected molecule by molecule, over a great
period of time, usually by mineral matter that is carried in
solution by the waters covering the entombed animal. Only
the smallest percentage of all the animals that die are ever
fossilized Ideal conditions must exist for these
animals to be preserved or mineralized as we find them
today. The body must be covered with silt or sand almost
immediately upon dying so that rapid decay or scattering by
predatory animals or the elements will not destroy the remains
before they begin their fossilization. Percolating
waters, carrying the mineral matter plus heat and pressure
of the overlying segments over a long span of time, will then
do their workto preserve these animals in the same skeletal
form that they exhibited when they were first covered by the
flood-borne silts.
The important thing to remember is that vertebrate
fossils truly represent life. They are not just dry bones
butare animals that ate, drank, fought, andreproduced much
in the same manner as similar animals are doing today. By
the form of the teeth and bones these remains can be interpreted,
analyzed and compared with animals that are familiar
to all of us as inhabitants of the present day world. A person
who studies and interprets the remains of animals of the past
is called a paleontologist. In order that he may do an accurate
and thorough job, the paleontologist must possess a working
knowledge of anatomy, physiology, and the ecology of living
animals, as well as an understanding of the geology of the
area in which he is working. Much of the interpretation of
vertebrate fossil remains is gained by a study of the teeth.
This is due in part to the fact that these structures are dense
andhardandare more likelytobe preservedthanarethe more
spongy parts of the ribs, vertebrae and long bones of the skeleton.
Also, the teeth of an animal are adapted to the diet of
the animal sothat a true herbivore or "plant eater" is rarely
misidentified for a carnivore or "meat eater" when such an
identification is based on the dentition. It is not true that an
entire animal c'an be reconstructed from a single bone. It
is true that a pretty fair knowledge of an animal's form, and

hence his habits, can be gained from very little in the way
of actual remains, but almost never is an animal's skeleton
restored for museum exhibition unless the skeletal remains
of the animal are well represented. Usually when an individual
animal has the mis sing parts of its skeleton restored in plaster,
the measurements and form of these restored parts were
taken from another individual in which these bones were
completely known.
The age of the various strata, in which animal remains
are found, can be interpreted from evidence based on the
rate at which radioactive minerals undergo chemical changes
that can be detected and measured as to the amount of change
that has taken place since these minerals became a part of
the strata which is being dated.

Why devote time, energy and money to a science that
is as far removed from our everyday world as is the study
of fossils? In these days of great world-shaking events, why
concern ourselves with the remains of animals of another
age? These are questions commonly asked a paleontologist.
In our modern world of economic problems and threats of
atomic war, the study of fossils seems distantly removed
from the realities of everyday life, and it is true that much
of paleontology has little bearing on direct economy. Paleontology
is a cultural science, one of the few "pure" fields of
science today which is not primarily concerned with an economic
return. Man does not read the newspaper or history
texts, or visit a museum of art or a national park, for economic
gain. Emerson has said, "Man loves to wonder, and
that is the seed of his science." We have arisen to the heights
of our mental development, and proportionally to our status
in this world, through the human characteristic of wanting to
know something about everything. We wish to know something
of the past, partly for pure pleasure, and partly for an
increased understanding of life today as based on life as it
existed in the past.


How Fossils Are Formed
In very simple words, a fossil is anything of organic
origin which has been preserved in the earth's crust by
natural causes. (Organisms which have been buried in the
earth during historic times are usually not included in this
category.) Some strata, as coal or limestone, are made up
wholly of fossils, but are popularly termed "rocks" rather
than fossils. Fossils are found in various states of preservation,
from those such as the Mammoth of Siberia, which
retains most of the original flesh, skin, hair and bones, to
mere tracks which retain no part of the animal itself. Some
fossils have been turned to stone, or petrified; many others
are preserved, without any change other than the loss of soft
tissues. Except under the most unusual conditions, as in
the natural cold storage of the far north, or preservation in
amber (fossil gum), the soft tissues decay leaving only the
bones, teeth and hard parts behind to fossilize

For a wealth of information on Fossil Mammals Of Florida,check out the Florida Geological Survey special publication 6.You will need Adobe Reader to view this .pdf file