Questions for Fossils in a flash


Before reading:

  1. Have you ever handled a fossil? In what sort of environment or under what sorts of conditions do you think the animal’s remains became fossilized?
  2. Now picture a fossil fish, bird or snake. Create two lists that detail 1) what body parts you would expect to find preserved in the fossil and 2) what body parts you would not.

During reading:

  1. Why do the bluish-gray rocks described in the first paragraph resemble fish?
  2. Explain why David Martill used an acid bath instead of a power saw to reveal contents of his Brazilian rocks.
  3. Other than bones, what else did Martill discover inside the rocks?
  4. Define “taphonomy.”
  5. What is the legend of the Medusa? What is the “Medusa effect?”
  6. Describe why a paleontologist would be interested in learning how modern animals rot after death.
  7. Why is apatite important in the preservation of delicate features?
  8. What are the “replicas” that Rudolf and Elizabeth Raff study?
  9. Why does Sarah Gabbott say you must rot an animal before comparing it to a fossil?
  10. What surprising discovery did Robert Sansom make during his rotting experiments?
  11. What is a source of the phosphate needed to flash fossilize fish?

After reading:

  1. “The absence of evidence is not the evidence of absence.” What does this expression mean? How can it relate to Sansom’s experiments on amphioxus, and what do those experiments suggest about Cathaymyrus?


  1. Think of a body of water in or around your community. Describe a scenario under which any fish in that body of water could become flash fossilized.
  2. The Medusa isn’t the only myth that may have been inspired by a fossil. Working with a partner, research how the discovery of the fossilized skull of a pygmy elephant may have inspired the myth of the one-eyed creature known as the Cyclops.