Most of us have heard of this word at some stage, something old and shriveled or something like that.
This concept plays a large role in science about the living nature.
If one tries to explore how plants and animals looked like in the past then one searches what is still left of it in the soil.
Then it's mostly not about 100 or 1000 years but about millions of years. These are eras where normally everything from the living nature is completely perished.
However, there may be special events which ensure that something is stored. Think of a canning tin in which salmon or smelts do not spoil. That's because they are completely locked off from the air. Because air (actually the oxygen in it) spoils the fish and converts it into food for all kinds of organisms.
If an animal in the past came to its end near a river, which flooded each year, his remains became covered with sludge which locked off oxygen in the long run and his skeleton remained preserved, however, usually only a few parts of it. Those layers piled themselves up thousands of years and changed into stone.
The remnants which remain in this way is called a fossil.
So, fossils are searched for in many parts of the world. For example, one has found the remains of dinosaurs, the antediluvian great monster that we know from movies about Jurassic park.
Everything you see there is derived from fossils of those animals, without fossils we would never have known they existed. They lived 200 million years ago.
Recently I talked about our hands that have made us so smart and how they emerged. Through fossils we found out how this worked.
This did not happen momentarily. There were generations of scientists who have been chopping, digging, scraping layers and sifting sand over the past 100 years. And that is still going on.
We know a lot but not all.