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10 Paleontology terms you can use

1. Formation

In geology, a body of rock that has a consistent set of distinct, physical characteristics. It must be different enough in appearance from surrounding rocks, that a geologic mapper can distinguish it. Some of the well-known formations in the United States that contain fossils are the Morrison Formation (Jurassic period) Hell Creek (Cretaceous period), Green River (Eocene period). More details on the eras and periods within the geologic timescale.

2. Fossil

Body fossils and trace fossils

Body fossils are the fossilized remains of an animal or plant, like dinosaur bones, shells and leaves.

Trace: The second type of fossil records the activity of an ancient organism or animal while it was alive. Trace fossils include footprints, trackways, burrows, nests and coprolites (fossilized dung).

3. Holotype or type specimen

When a new species is found, the specimen upon which the description and name is based, and about which an original published description has been written is called the holotype. All other specimens are only referred to the species. (pictured: Homo habilis)

4. Jacket

A jacket is the protective shell used to cover and transport a fossil from the field to the fossil prep lab. After fossils are excavated from the ground, a layer of protective paper or material is placed to cushion and protect the fossil. This protective material is then covered in either plaster bandages or burlap sealed with plaster which is left to harden before transporting. Jacket is both a verb and a noun. Fossils are “jacketed” in the field and transported in fossil jackets.

5. Matrix

Matrix is the rock or sediment in which a fossil is embedded. Matrix can be as fine as sandstone that can be swept away from a fossil using a brush or for sediment that’s so hard that jackhammers and airscribes are needed to expose the fossil.

6. Prospecting

The term used by paleontologists for the search for fossiliferous (fossil-bearing) deposits in a particular area.

7. Quarry

Fossil quarries are large, deep pits from which fossils can be extracted. Some well-known fossil quarries in the United States include Stonerose Interpretive Center in Washington, with an abundance of Eocene plant and insect fossils and the Green River Formation in Wyoming with Eocene fish fossils.

8. Taxon (taxa plural)

The unit used in the science of biological classification using a hierarchical system. Taxa are arranged in a hierarchy including, in order: kingdom, phylum, class, order, family, genus and species)

Bonus term: Species

The last rank in the taxonomic hierarchy. Species are organisms that have one or more diagnostic characteristics that make them capable of exchanging genes or interbreeding. Formal naming includes the genus and species names, such as humans: Homo(genus) sapiens (species) and dog: Canis (genus) familiaris (species).

9. Stromatolites

The oldest known fossils on the planet Earth are layered rocks called stromatolites. They are about 3.5 billion years old and they represent some of the earliest life on this planet. They can be found in such places as Marble Bar in Pilbara, Western Australia and in the United States in Wisconsin, Michigan and Montana. Amazingly, living stromatolites can still be found today in Australia. They form in extremely salty lagoons, where microorganisms trap sediment.


All events that happen to a living organism after its death which include burial and removal from the ground. This can include transport, surface weathering, displacement by animals and in regard to paleontology, this deals with the processes of fossilization.

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