The thought experiment: How could I become a fossil?

If you want to be preserved for future generations to discover you are going to need time, patience, and a lot of luck.

26th March 2016
The thought experiment: How could I become a fossil? © Phil Ellis/BBC Focus

1. PICK THE RIGHT PLACE TO DIE

How could I become a fossil? (© Phil Ellis/BBC Focus)
© Phil Ellis/BBC Focus

Fossils form best in oxygen-starved environments that keep out bacteria. These conditions also encourage the chemical reactions that replace your body’s soft tissues with hard minerals. Drowning in a stagnant lake is a good bet, or a cold sea.

2. GET BURIED QUICKLY

How could I become a fossil? (Image: Phil Ellis)
© Phil Ellis/BBC Focus

A layer of sediment keeps out scavengers and protects your skeleton from being scattered by currents. Shallow seas are good because a constant, gentle rain of dead plankton and sediment is washed down by rivers. It will take at least 10,000 years to fossilise you.

3. GET DISCOVERED

How could I become a fossil? (Image: Phil Ellis)
© Phil Ellis/BBC Focus

If you want to be found as a fossil, pick a place where the motion of tectonic plates will lift you above sea level, so erosion can start peeling away the layers of rock above you. If the rock below you is crumbly, so much the better – it will collapse into cliffs that expose fossils faster.

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