Hear the word fossil, and most people go directly to thinking about dinosaurs, arid dusty sites crawling with paleontologists, and perhaps even Jurassic Park comes to mind.
Actually, fossils are far smaller and more common that you might think. Ever heard of amber, coral, or peanut wood? All fossils. How about petrified palm or petrified wood (think Petrified Forest)? Yup, fossils. Septarian (dragon stone)? Nope. Though they certainly look like they could be. Consider this your primer on fossils. Let’s start with some basics, then I’ll get into some of my favorites.
Coral, yes that coral that you see in the ocean and brightly colored in Florida gift shops. I’m sure you know coral is an actual animal, right? Corals are simple animals that secrete skeletons made of calcium carbonate. The proper name for fossilized coral is agatized fossil coral because during formation, the skeleton is gradually replaced with agate.
Crinoids are marine animals from the same family as starfishes, sea urchins, sea cucumbers, and brittle stars–crinoids are echinoderms, animals with rough, spiny surfaces and a special kind of radial symmetry based on five or multiples of five.
Petrified Palm, Petrified Wood are, as their name implies, fossils…Peanut wood, is also a fossil, though it is not made from peanuts. All three are fossilized from wood. You can see the likeness of wood in the petrified palm and petrified wood. Peanut wood is recognized by its white-to-cream-color markings that are ovoid in shape and about the size of a peanut, and it receives its name from these markings.
Septarian or Dragonstone is not actually a fossil, but sure looks like it could be, right? As a result of volcanic eruptions, dead sea life was chemically attracted to the sediment around them, forming mud balls. As the ocean receded, the balls dried and cracked.
Several of my favorite fossils to work with are amber, ammolite/ammonite, and orthoceras. Let me tell you a little about them.
Amber is fossilized resin. While you are probably familiar with the traditional clear yellow stone, usually with some critter or plant trapped for eternity within, you probably didn’t know that amber comes in many different colors, and is not always clear.
Ammolite is an opal-like organic gemstone found primarily along the eastern slopes of the Rocky Mountains of North America. It is made of the fossilized shells of ammonites, which are an extinct group of marine mollusk animals.
Orthoceras fossils are the remains of an invertebrate, no backbone, that belongs to the Phylum Mollusca. Some examples of Orthoceras fossils animals are snails, slugs, oysters, clams, octopus, and squid. They are the ancestor to ammonites and squid.
See? Dust them off and polish them…fossils can be beautiful, too!
Until next time,