Answered By: Steven Profit Last Updated: Aug 24, 2016 Views: 43
from Oxford Dictionary of Biology:
The remains or traces of any organism that lived in the geological past. In general only the hard parts of organisms become fossilized (e.g. bones, teeth, shells, and wood) but under certain circumstances the entire organism is preserved. For example, virtually unaltered fossils of extinct mammals, such as the woolly mammoth and woolly rhinoceros, have been found preserved in ice in the Arctic. Small organisms or parts of organisms (e.g. insects, leaves, flowers) have been preserved in amber.
In the majority of fossils the organism has been turned to stone – a process known as petrification. This may take one of three forms. In permineralization, solutions originating underground fill the microscopic cavities in the organism. Minerals in these solutions (e.g. silica or calcite) may actually replace the original material of the organism so that even microscopic structures may be preserved; this process is known as replacement (or mineralization). A third form of petrification – carbonization (or distillation) – occurs in certain soft tissues that are composed chiefly of compounds of carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen (e.g. cellulose). After the organism has been buried, and in the absence of oxygen, carbon dioxide and water are liberated until only free carbon remains. This forms a black carbon film in the rock outlining the original organism. Moulds are formed when the original fossil is dissolved away leaving a mould of its outline in the solid rock. The deposition of mineral matter from underground solutions in a mould forms a cast. Palaeontologists often produce casts from moulds using such substances as dental wax. Moulds of thin organisms (e.g. leaves) are commonly known as imprints. Trace fossils are the fossilized remnants of the evidence of animal life, such as tracks, trails, footprints, burrows, and coprolites (fossilized faeces).
The ideal conditions for the formation of fossils occur in areas of rapid sedimentation, especially those parts of the seabed that lie below the zone of wave disturbance.