Definition: Trace Fossil - physical evidence of the activities of past organisms in their natural environment (i.e. burrows through the soil, tracks, trails, etc.) These fossils are often found in sedimentary rock. They are preserved if they are rapidly buried before they are eroded by wind or water or otherwise altered.

Objective: To determine what information can be found from trace fossils. To determine the motion of a person from his/her tracks.

Materials Needed: paint (finger or tempura), long sheets of butcher paper, a walking cane, volunteers, other props

Preparation: Have some brave souls volunteer to get a little messy. Each volunteer will have a certain way of moving across the length of the butcher paper. Some possibilities include: walking, running, walking with a cane, limping skipping, hopping on one foot, cartwheeling, walking in pairs, etc. Each volunteer needs to remove shoes and socks and dip feet into paint until the bottoms are well-covered. On the butcher paper, each person has to go across the length in a particular way chosen so that a nice trail of feet tracks are laid down.

Lesson Body: Have other students try to come up with ways of determining how the tracks were made. What observations/evidence can they provide to support their guesses? (They are not allowed to ask direct questions to either the teacher or volunteers.)

Bring out actual examples of trace fossils (books, internet, pictures, or actual fossils if possible). Have students make hypotheses as to what organism made them and what the organism doing.

Wrap Up: Review the relevance of trace fossils to understanding past organisms. Relate how their process of thinking and questioning during "paint tracks activity" is similar to approach used on actual trace fossils.


National Standards Addressed:

This activity helps build the skills under the science inquiry standard. The students develop observational skills, making hypotheses (about the activity), inferring possible reasons for their observations, finding evidence to support their proposed activity, and communicating with other student scientists their ideas and methods.


Link to Fossilization Page