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What can fossils tell us?

Fossils give us information about how animals and plants lived in the past.

Once people began to recognise that some fossils looked like living animals and plants, they gradually began to understand what they were. They realised they were actually the ancestors of today's plants and animals.

Fossil sea urchin Fossil snail Fossil fern leaf
Some fossils are easy to identify and look like plants and animals alive today.

While we can easily recognise and identify some fossils, many fossils represent animals that no longer exist on Earth. We only know about extinct groups like dinosaurs, ammonites and trilobites through fossils.

Tyrannosaurus rex skull Ammonite Trilobite
Some animals and plant are only known to us as fossils.

By studying the fossil record we can tell how long life has existed on Earth, and how different plants and animals are related to each other. Often we can work out how and where they lived, and use this information to find out about ancient environments.


Fossils can tell us a lot about the past. Why not find out more about fossils?

If you read these pages you should get a pretty good idea of what a fossil is.

Introducing the basics What can fossils tell us?
How do fossils form? Different types of fossils

Find out more about fossils by visiting Invertebrate I.D. or the History of life