The fossil record is incomplete. Most organisms do not fossilize and most fossils are only the partial remains of once-living organisms. Those organisms that do fossilize are usually changed in some way. Most plants and animals are not preserved in their life position and their composition is usually altered.
The study of the history of an organism from its death to its discovery within a rock or sediment is known as tapho-nomy (Fig. 1.5). After the death of an organism, physical and biological processes interact with the organic remains. This determines the extent to which the organism is fossilized and the nature of the fossil.
The general taphonomic history of a fossil is as follows. After death, the soft tissues of the organism decay. The remaining hard tissues are then transported resulting in disarticulation and possible fragmentation. The broken hard tissues are then buried and are physically or chemically altered. Postburial modifications are termed diagenesis. This sequence of events results in a major loss of information about the organism and its life habit.
An organism decays until the process is halted by mineralization. Therefore the quicker the organism is mineralized the more complete the preservation, particularly of the soft tissues. Decay is limited in oxygen-poor environments. Decay rates are slower at lower temperatures and in acidic environments
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