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What is a Dinosaur Fossil?

Posted on February 1st 2016

Dinosaurs walked the earth between 230 and 65 million years ago. Because of this, you might expect there not to be much left to see from the times that they lived.

However, because of the amazing process of fossilisation, we humans have found thousands of dinosaur fossils scattered all over the world. These have given us clues about what they were, how they looked and even how they lived their daily lives!


Dinosaur-Fossil - daveynin – Flickr - source

What are Fossils?

Fossils are the remains of plants and animals which have been preserved for over 10,000 years. Some fossils show us what an animal looked like and others show what’s left of their habitat, such as their nests, tracks or footprints.

How do Fossils Form?

Fossils can be created in several different ways. Sometimes an imprint of an animal or plant can be preserved – like a footprint in the sand. At some other times, an animal’s body slowly breaks down underground and is replaced by other materials. Over time, these materials turn into rock in the shape of the animal. Some fossils are created when insects fall into tree resin and are preserved when this hardens into stone called amber.

Only a tiny number of animals turn into fossils after they die, as the conditions have to be just right for them to be preserved. Most animal bodies end up getting broken down by the weather, or becoming another animal’s dinner, so it’s only those which are protected from these things which become fossils.

How is a dinosaur fossil made?

What Can Fossils Tell Us?

As well as showing us what different dinosaurs looked like and where they lived, fossils can give us a clue as to how long ago they walked the Earth. This is how we know that a lot of dinosaurs died out at once (known as becoming extinct) around 65 million years ago.

Fossils have also shown us which dinosaurs lived at different periods. This means that we can tell the difference between those that lived in each of the three great dinosaur ages, the Triassic period, the Jurassic period and the Cretaceous period.


Triceratops-fossil - Greg Goebel – Flickr - source

Fossils have also shown us how smart (or silly) dinosaurs were, as they give clues to the size of their brains. We know, for example, that the huge Stegosaurus only had a brain about the size of a lime! What’s more, we’ve been able to tell what dinosaurs ate and how they are related to other animals from looking at their fossils. We can even see if they lived in groups or on their own from where their bones are found.

Make Your Own Fossil

One of the best way to understand fossils is to see them for yourself. The cool thing is, it’s really easy to create something which is just like the real thing. All you’ll need is some plaster of paris, modelling clay, water and two paper cups.

Make sure that you make these fossils with the help of an adult, it can get very messy otherwise!

  1. First off, make a ball about the size of a golf ball out of your modelling clay, then squish it into the bottom of a paper cup.
  2. Secondly, grab the item that you want to fossilise, and squish it into the clay in your cup.
  3. Once it’s well wedged in, carefully remove the item from the clay. Now you’ll have an imprint which will create your fossil.
  4. Now, in another cup, mix the plaster of paris with a little water (it will say how much on the packaging), then pour it on top of the clay in your cup.
  5. Leave this to dry for 24 hours, then carefully pull away the sides of the paper cup, and separate the plaster from the modelling clay. You will be left with a fossil poking out of the plaster!

Do it yourself dinosaur fossil

If you like your dinosaurs a little more - shall we say - alive, and want to see some for yourself, be sure to visit the Lost Kingdom dinosaur land at Paultons Park. You’ll be able to come face to face with these fascinating creatures on some amazing rides, as well as getting up close and personal on our ALIVE dinosaur encounter!

There are also some amazing dinosaur themed rides at the Lost Kingdom. There’s the amazing Flight of the Pterosaur, the swirling Boulder Dash and the swooping Temple Heights, as well as the fun Dino Chase for our junior adventurers!

To keep you going until you visit for yourself, we’ve put together a guide to drawing a dinosaur here, and have also created a fun Lost Kingdom game.

Last but not least, if you want to get your hands on some real fossils, there are some perfect places along the Jurassic coast, an amazing stretch of prehistoric coastline which is close to us here at Paultons Park. Some of the best places to visit are Charmouth, Lyme Regis and Seatown, each of which are covered in ancient fossils. Be sure to take a visit if you’re spending the weekend with us!

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