- Education and Science»
- Life Sciences»
The Fossil Record...and You!
A good fossil can be worth more than goldClick thumbnail to view full-size
Will you be "here" in a million years?
As your happy hubber - me - seems to end up doing a lot of hubs on Natural History, its rare indeed if the Fossil Record doesn't come up in many of them. Without this sketchy, incomplete and often misleading history of life on the planet, going back millions - even billions - of years, our lives would be a stage play in one act - the present. Some would say that wouldn't be a bad idea - all our teenagers, for example.
Also, without this trail of fossilized bones leading back to the ancestors of all life, Linnaeus and Darwin, to name but two, would have not been able to postulate their famous theories on evolution, now accepted as fact for most thinking people the world over. Instead, we would still be mired in the man-made fairy stories of Adam and Eve, pretty though they are. In the light of today's knowledge, they explain nothing about what man is, nor why all the animals in the "Ark" got to be on Earth in the first place.
How about you? How do you want time to treat you; how would you like to appear to, say, observers one million years into the future? You won’t do as well as lobsters, scorpions and all the creatures with a hard exterior exoskeleton. But you do have substantial bones: the skull, spine, ribs, shoulder blades, pelvis and thick leg and arm bones. You can forget just about all the rest. The thrilled scientists pouring over your fossilized remains 1,000,000 years hence won't be able to do more than guess at the size and striations of your marvellous brain, nor do more than ponder at whether you had a sizeable penis, or if you're a woman, whether the "camel's foot" was aesthetically appealing, much less whether their sizes mattered or not. Your skin, entrails, and all the soft parts of your body will be lost, as well as your good looks, having been devoured by insects, bacteria, virus and fungi not long after you passed away. The only exception to this - if it wasn't too far into the future - was if you were lucky enough to be preserved in glacier ice; in this case, you might have some soft parts preserved in a mummified state, like the Woolly Mammoths and the rest that glaciers sometime cough-up.
And forget the NHS dentist, too; if you want your teeth to survive the trip through future time, you need to have the originals in your head when you die, or at least some of them. Same with your bones, they will be in better shape if they have a good calcium diet, so drink your milk in 2010.
Next. Where do you plan on being interred? You probably don't live in a deep cave, but it would be a good idea to be buried in one. Same for natural disasters; you may hate the idea of being buried under thousands of tons of discharge from your nearest volcano, but you stand a good chance of withstanding the vagarities of time like that, and you won't be found any too soon; look at the bleak moonscapes from the larva fields we have littered around, mainly above the "ring of fire" and not too many people are digging down hundreds of feet to see what's buried underneath. These fossilized treasures won't come to light until shifts in the Earth's surface, ice-ages and tectonic plates do the digging for future man - should man still be around to even see "you" in millions of years. See how difficult it is to become this most rare of artefacts, a fossil of an ancient creature?
A few more ideas if you have an inkling of your impeding demise: being buried in river mud and silts might work; and with your volcano, you need to time things so that you are covered with nice fine ash, not cremated by white hot larva - well, we never said it was easy!
If you can handle the expense, finding a stable part of the abyss in the deep ocean will be ideal: away from subduction zones which will haul you down under the Earth's mantle and melt you into the magma. An ideal spot would be around a couple of miles deep, away from most scavenger-predators and into fine clay silt. You would gently lie under the surface until - in about 200,000 years - you would be a fine fossil. Finders would know your name; the year you died and other info from the gold plate you had attached to your skull. They might even be so advanced and able to use your genes to reproduce you again...if you wanted to suffer another 100 years that is!
You will want those in the future wondering all about you to have a few clues. So your final meal should include something that will survive. Kentucky Fried Chicken is no good unless you can swallow the bones, neither will a Big Mac or a Dominos Pizza make it through, Fruit with the seeds in would be good, perhaps some grains, but this might all be too hard for you, chomping on a pomegranate while you are in the middle of a cardiac infarction ain't easy!
You really play your cards right - and have more luck than winning the lottery jackpot - you could have a large part of what was you preserved as a fossil, This is called "Lagerstatten," (probably because Hitler fancied the idea!). This only happens in very exceptional circumstances : quick burial where bacteria couldn't reach, etc. This has happened where remains were discovered in shale, slate or limestone (hope you are making notes...a copy of my hub to your mortician? I'm flattered).
You probably know that little remains of the original material in any fossils, the bone, etc., is filled with minerals and takes on the shape of the original, sometimes to an astonishing degree of accuracy. Occasionally, small creatures are found as fossils inside the fossils of larger, predatory creatures; the two dying together and being preserved that way. If you could find an extrusion large enough, the best way to become preserved en toto would be inside amber, as some insects and mosquitoes are found in rare circumstances, sparking-off idiotic movies (which I loved how about that Tyrannasaurus!) like Jurassic Park and its spin-offs.
Not much chance of becoming "Living Fossils," I'm afraid. For that to happen, you would have to be alive in this future time, but thought to have been extinct for many years and only existing in the fossil record, like the Coelacanth, Chinese Maidenhair Tree, Stromatolites and several more discovered in our own times.
This despite irreverent hooligans who have referred to moi and some of my contemporaries as "You old fossil!" Their day will soon come; much sooner than they believe Ha, hahahahahah!