How do scientists learn about plants and animals that are no longer here on Earth? Through studying fossils, of course! Fossils are created through a process called fossilization, in which materials like bone are slowly replaced by minerals. Another way fossils are formed involves the decay of an organism, which leaves behind a mold that gets cemented into a cast. Fossils can show bone, teeth, plant and skin textures, eggs, footprints, and imprints left behind. The scientists (called paleontologists) who study fossils have even found fossilized dinosaur poop with animal remains inside of it!
Paleontologists have been able to learn a lot about dinosaurs from studying their fossils. Based on evidence from bone and footprint fossils, we can learn the sizes of different species of dinosaurs, where they lived, how far they traveled, and whether they preferred to live in groups or on their own. Fossils have also given us information about how dinosaurs looked, moved, and even how they may have sounded!
While we’ve uncovered many of the mysteries of animals from the past, paleontologists are constantly finding new fossils and learning new things! For example, in 2016, a cache of hundreds of pterosaur eggs were discovered in China. Before this discovery, only six well-preserved eggs had ever been found! (You can read more about that discovery here.)
Now it’s time to make some discoveries of your own – with some DIY fossils!
What you’ll need: Flour, salt, water, craft sand, measuring cups, a large bowl, and dinosaur toys to make some fossil imprints.
Step 1: Mix together 2 cups of flour, 1 cup of salt and 1 cup of craft sand.
Step 2: Add ½ cup of warm water to the bowl containing the sand, flour, and salt.
Note: For more vibrant fossils, add food coloring that matches the sand to the water before mixing.
Step 3: Use your hands or a wooden spoon to knead all of the ingredients together until they feel like a grainy bread dough. You may need to add small amounts of water or flour to get the consistency where you want it.
Step 4: Using a small amount of dough, gently press your fossil object into it to leave an imprint.
Step 5: Allow this to harden overnight. For a faster dry, you can also bake the dough at 250 degrees for 1-2 hours.
Once your fossils are dry, examine them and discuss what you may be able to learn from them!
To make this project more challenging, use a variety of animal toys or plant textures to study a larger variety of fossils!