Why Don’t All Skeletons Become Fossils?


Hey Brainstuff — it’s me, Jonathan. You
know, sometimes in a lull between events at CES I’m digging a six-foot hole in the middle
of the desert outside Las Vegas and I start to wonder: Where are all the dead animals?
Shouldn’t we be wading knee-deep in fossils every time we go outside? You can probably guess that not every animal
that dies leaves behind fossil evidence. But why is that? Just to get our terms straight, a fossil is
any physical remnant left behind by an organism that died long ago. In many cases, fossils
might only be things like preserved footprints or nest sites. But today, we’re looking
at direct remains of animal bodies, like bones. The likelihood that any particular animal
body will become fossilized is amazingly small, way less than 1%. You might as well buy a
lottery ticket. So let’s look at the stations of the obstacle
course to fossilization: First, there’s body type. Fossilization
has a strong preference for animals with hard body parts, like bones, teeth and shells.
Animals with soft bodies, like slugs and jellyfish, will usually just decompose completely and
disappear after death. The second main hurdle to fossilization is
exposure. To become a fossil, you need to be one of the rare animal bodies that is rapidly
buried soon after the animal dies. This is most likely to happen in or near the site
of a moving body of water, like a river or a flood plain, where runoff, floodwaters or
regular flow may quickly cover a dead body in sediment. It might also happen in arid desert settings,
where wind can quickly bury animal remains in sand dunes. If the remains are not rapidly
buried, scavenging animals are likely to scatter and consume them — after all, nature hates
to pass up a free lunch. We’re alike in that way. And even a clean skeleton left out exposed
to the elements will eventually be erased by decalcification, erosion and corrosion. But let’s say your bones are lucky enough
to be rapidly buried somehow. The next big hurdle is the sediment itself. A nice dry
sand or alkaline mud might be a good place to become a fossil. But if your bones are
buried in soil with a higher temperature and higher acidity, your prospects are a lot slimmer. Acidic environments (meaning soils with a
low pH) tend to dissolve hydroxyapatite — a calcium phosphate mineral that is a main structural
ingredient in our bones. So, many soil types on Earth will simply destroy all the bones
they swallow. I’m counting on it. (I kid, I kid) But even in friendly sediment, over a long
enough period of time, bones can break down. The organic proteins in bones, like collagen,
eventually decompose, and the inorganic minerals in bones can be crushed, dissolved or otherwise
destroyed by physical forces over the centuries. So if you want your actual bone structure
to survive, you have to be lucky enough to undergo a little transformation. Most really
ancient bones we find, such as dinosaur bones, aren’t the unaltered, original bones that
were buried millions of years ago, but either minerally modified versions of those bones,
or “stone photocopies.” Two processes represent the majority of these
cases: permineralization, and replacement. In permineralization, mineral-rich water seeps
into the buried bones and fills the pores of the bones with its mineral content. These
minerals form crystals inside the bones, causing them to modify and harden over time. Sometimes
this process is also called “petrification.” In “replacement,” the original bones can
be completely dissolved, but still leave fossil copies, as the minerals in the groundwater
completely replace the shape of the bones over long periods of time. So let’s say you’re the rare dead animal
that wins the fossilization lottery, and you just happen to pass ALL these tests? You still
have to be found. The total surface of the Earth is almost 200
million square miles, and even for a guy like me, there’s only so much time to dig. Do you have another question about fossils?
Let us know in the comments, and we might be able to answer it in a future episode!
If you liked this video, hit the like button and subscribe to our channel so you never
miss another video. And of course, if you want to learn more about dinosaurs, fossils,
and, well, everything, head on over to Howstuffworks.com.

Comments 53

  • cool, i love your videos! useless knowledge ftw

  • What is the rarest creature ever found fossilized?

  • 4th

  • Poop๐Ÿ’ฉ

  • I bet if you washed and sifted the dirt from Vegas, You would find lots of microscopic fossils.

  • shells an exoskeleton?

  • how is poop fossilized?

  • We see plenty of fossils all over the world, as if they were created by a world wide flood.

  • How do they explain soft tissues in fossils if they were millions of years old.

  • Who did you bury in the desert? I bet it was Jeff.

  • very interesting but how does a foot print get fossilized? there is no bone to be replaced and it seems highly unlikely that a foot print went undisturbed for millions of years so how? and don't they have fossils of invertebrates like jellyfish and whatnot? how is that? the gears are spinning like crazy in my head, I NEED ANWSERS!!!!

  • Long story short: it requires special conditions that aren't common.

  • I pretty much love everything Jonathan says. I haven't put together yet just why.. but somehow, he is my hero.

  • Can science make something fossilize? For example, can a person (no I don't want to) decide that instead of a regular burial or cremation they want to be fossilized.

  • Johnathan looks like he carries in FPS games. That sweet neutral facade replaced with bloodthirst for digital ass.

  • How long takes a bone to become a fossil?

  • Wow! Does that guy ever have hair?

  • You didn't talk about fossils preserved in Amber

  • 1:08 Terraria anyone? ๐Ÿ˜€

  • Did he forget the fact that the majority of the fossils that exist are from life that lived before we had bacteria that could eat bones? You know that's why fossil fuels will eventually run out.

  • Great video! here's a question maybe you guys would like to answer: why can't we extract DNA from fossils? I mean, like if we wanted to clone dinosaurs?

  • "Bones!" Kirk?

  • If the bones are replaced with the minerals in the water, doesn't that mean they are no longer organic material. If so, how do they carbon date them?

  • We all haves life goals, but my death goal is to be a fossil found by a future civilization to be studied upon.

  • I've been hearing about fossilized DNA. As a long time amateur scientist I'm open to a lot of things, but fossilizing DNA? I'm very skeptical. Could you do a show on that?

  • why does the jellyfish don't have any bones

  • So humans who are put into a box shortly after death will be around for a long time?

  • Finally some truth on the topic. Fossilisation is a rapid process and does not require millions of years as the evolutionists have led everyone to believe. Rapid death and burial such as in the global flood recorded in the book of Genesis would be a perfect explanation for the billions of fossils in sedimentary rock. The fossil record is a testimony to the accuracy of the Bible.

  • The t rax skeleton is real or fake

  • is there a possibility that there are dinosaur bigger than blue whale because their body is too large to be buried and were exposed to scavengers and elements ?

  • Great video

  • Hmm I wonder if global flood is responsible?

  • well good because I found a shell submerged in rock in my backyard so…

  • Thanks!

  • I fucking hate u

  • Hey you the one who made it I don't like this video your boo and I never going to subscribe I rather watch Minecraft Roblox itsfunneh and someone else

  • Trees dont become fossilized in tall mountains over billions of years…. they'd rot and fall down…needed to be a world wide flood and there are huge scars around the earth when the crust of the earth broke open.

  • Indoctrination and deception

  • Million of years when dinosaurs died and still how the bones of it does extinct and does not turned into dust?

  • it is so cool

  • It really boils down to luck whether a dinosaur is lucky enough for its bones to fossilize

  • Now this, is epic.

  • Youโ€™re naughty and bad and baby ๐Ÿ‘ถ ๐Ÿผ๐Ÿผ๐Ÿผ๐Ÿผ๐Ÿผ๐Ÿผ๐Ÿผ๐Ÿผ๐Ÿผ๐Ÿผ๐Ÿผ๐Ÿผ๐Ÿผ๐Ÿผ๐Ÿผ๐Ÿผ๐Ÿผ๐Ÿผ๐Ÿผ๐Ÿผ๐Ÿผ๐Ÿผ๐Ÿผ๐Ÿผ๐Ÿผ๐Ÿผ๐Ÿผ๐Ÿผ๐Ÿผ๐Ÿผ๐Ÿผ๐Ÿผ๐Ÿผ๐Ÿผ๐Ÿผ๐Ÿผ๐Ÿผ๐Ÿผ๐Ÿผ๐Ÿผ๐Ÿผ๐Ÿผ๐Ÿผ๐Ÿผ๐Ÿผ๐Ÿผ๐Ÿผ๐Ÿผ๐Ÿผ๐Ÿผ๐Ÿผ๐Ÿผ๐Ÿผ๐Ÿผ๐Ÿผ๐Ÿผ๐Ÿผ๐Ÿผ๐Ÿผ๐Ÿผ๐Ÿผ๐Ÿผ๐Ÿผ๐Ÿผ๐Ÿผ๐Ÿผ๐Ÿผ๐Ÿผ๐Ÿผ๐Ÿผ๐Ÿผ๐Ÿผ๐Ÿผ๐Ÿผ๐Ÿผ๐Ÿผ๐Ÿผ๐Ÿผ๐Ÿผ๐Ÿผ๐Ÿผ๐Ÿผ๐Ÿผ๐Ÿผ๐Ÿผ๐Ÿผ๐Ÿผ๐Ÿผ๐Ÿผ๐Ÿผ๐Ÿผ๐Ÿผ๐Ÿผ๐Ÿผ๐Ÿผ๐Ÿผ๐Ÿผ๐Ÿผ๐Ÿผ๐Ÿผ๐Ÿผ๐Ÿผ๐Ÿผ๐Ÿผ๐Ÿผ๐Ÿผ๐Ÿผ๐Ÿผ๐Ÿผ๐Ÿผ๐Ÿผ๐Ÿผ๐Ÿผ๐Ÿผ๐Ÿผ๐Ÿผ๐Ÿผ๐Ÿผ๐Ÿผ๐Ÿผ๐Ÿผ๐Ÿผ๐Ÿผ๐Ÿผ๐Ÿผ๐Ÿผ๐Ÿผ๐Ÿผ๐Ÿผ๐Ÿผ๐Ÿผ๐Ÿผ๐Ÿผ๐Ÿผ๐Ÿผ๐Ÿผ๐Ÿผ๐Ÿผ๐Ÿผ๐Ÿผ๐Ÿผ๐Ÿผ๐Ÿผ๐Ÿผ๐Ÿผ๐Ÿผ๐Ÿผ๐Ÿผ๐Ÿผ๐Ÿผ๐Ÿผ๐Ÿผ๐Ÿผ๐Ÿผ๐Ÿผ๐Ÿผ๐Ÿผ๐Ÿผ๐Ÿผ๐Ÿผ๐Ÿผ๐Ÿผ๐Ÿผ๐Ÿผ๐Ÿผ๐Ÿผ๐Ÿผ๐Ÿผ๐Ÿผ๐Ÿผ๐Ÿผ๐Ÿผ๐Ÿผ๐Ÿผ๐Ÿผ๐Ÿผ๐Ÿผ๐Ÿผ๐Ÿผ๐Ÿผ๐Ÿผ๐Ÿผ๐Ÿผ๐Ÿผ๐Ÿผ๐Ÿผ๐Ÿผ๐Ÿผ๐Ÿผ๐Ÿผ๐Ÿผ๐Ÿผ๐Ÿผ๐Ÿผ๐Ÿผ๐Ÿผ๐Ÿผ๐Ÿผ๐Ÿผ๐Ÿผ๐Ÿผ๐Ÿผ๐Ÿผ๐Ÿผ๐Ÿผ๐Ÿผ๐Ÿผ๐Ÿผ๐Ÿผ๐Ÿผ๐Ÿผ๐Ÿผ๐Ÿผ๐Ÿผ๐Ÿผ๐Ÿผ๐Ÿผ๐Ÿผ๐Ÿผ๐Ÿผ๐Ÿผ๐Ÿผ๐Ÿผ๐Ÿผ๐Ÿผ๐Ÿผ๐Ÿผ๐Ÿผ๐Ÿผ๐Ÿผ๐Ÿผ๐Ÿผ๐Ÿผ๐Ÿผ๐Ÿผ๐Ÿผ๐Ÿผ๐Ÿผ๐Ÿผ๐Ÿผ๐Ÿผ๐Ÿผ๐Ÿผ

  • I bet they failed step one: Die.

  • why does Uranus spin on its side?

  • There are like MILLIONS of fossils so wouldnโ€™t there be only like a couple thousand?

  • So can this process make the bones bigger?

  • So dinosaurs are fake?

  • Nice belly!๐Ÿ˜‚

  • How do trees become fossilized standing upright (or even upside down) as polystrate fossils?

  • When I die I want my body to be fossilized

  • Famous paleontologist Dr. Jack Horner (aka "Dinosaur Jack") discovered a fossil bed in Montana that contained approximately TEN THOUSAND Hadrosaur dinosaurs!
    How large a flood would it take to bury TEN THOUSAND dinosaurs???

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