Science: Reading the Fossil Record

The clues to man's past are chiefly fossils, a farrago of frequently undecipherable—and occasionally contradictory—bits of evidence that often raise more questions than they answer. Fossils, the souvenirs of ages gone by, have survived through a still incompletely understood process whereby minerals from the soil infiltrate and gradually replace the very molecules of bone or other hard tissues of an organism, leaving its form and many features preserved.

Fossilization takes place only under special conditions. An animal or plant that dies and is soon after buried in mud or covered by volcanic ash stands a decent chance of being preserved; one that...

Want the full story?

Subscribe Now

Subscribe
Subscribe

Get TIME the way you want it

  • One Week Digital Pass — $4.99
  • Monthly Pay-As-You-Go DIGITAL ACCESS$2.99
  • One Year ALL ACCESSJust $30!   Best Deal!
    Print Magazine + Digital Edition + Subscriber-only Content on TIME.com

Learn more about the benefits of being a TIME subscriber

If you are already a subscriber sign up — registration is free!