How to become a fossil?

Every fossil is a small miracle. As Bill Bryson notes in his book "A Short History of Practically Everything", only one bone of a billion becomes a fossil. According to such calculations, the whole fossilized legacy of 320 million people living, for example, today in the US, will represent about 60 bones – or less than one-fourth of the human skeleton. Less than 1/10 of one percent of all species that have ever existed have become fossils. But if you try, you can coolly increase your chances of eternal life, even in this form.

If we imagine that these 60 bones will be scattered over an area of ​​9.88 million kilometers, there is virtually no chance of finding these bones in the future. In general, petrification (or fossilization) is such an unlikely process that, according to scientists, less than 1/10 of one percent of all the species that ever existed turned into fossil fossils. And certainly not all were discovered.

People in this sense have a certain advantage: we have heavy skeletons and we are relatively large. Thus, we are more likely to go through fossilization than a jellyfish or a worm. However, there is something that will help you stay in the land for a long time.

Tafonomy – the science of burial, decay and preservation – that is, of the processes that take place after the body dies and becomes petrified. To learn how to become a fossil, the BBC spoke with the best tafonomists in the world.

Bury yourself and quickly

"Maintaining a good state of the body after death is a big question. Long enough to sink into the sediment layer and then change physically and chemically deep underground to become a fossil, "says Sue Beardmore, a tafonomist at the Museum of Natural History at Oxford University.

"To survive for millions of years, you must also survive the first hours, days, seasons, decades, centuries, and thousands of years," adds Susan Kidwell, a professor at the University of Chicago. "That is, you must survive the initial transition from the" tafonomically active zone "to the permanent burial area, when your remains are unlikely to be exhumed."

There are infinitely many ways to disrupt successful fossilization. Much can happen at a depth of 20-50 centimeters, in the soil or on the seabed. Remains can be eaten and scattered by scavengers, for example, or exposed to elements for too long. Also, I would not want them to be touched or moved by earth-shaking animals.

When it comes to a rapid burial, natural disasters can help, floods, for example, which immerse huge volumes of sedimentary rocks or volcanic eruptions. "According to one theory, the bones of dinosaurs were laid down initially in dry conditions, which led to the death of dinosaurs, and then the streams demolished the sedimentary rocks that buried them," says Berdmore.

Of course, we are accustomed to dig in human bodies at a depth of two meters (without cremation). But this is not enough.

Find water

Of course, the first step is to die, but you will not be able to die anywhere. We need to find a suitable place. It is also worth remembering the water. If you die in a dry environment, as soon as you find scavengers, your bones will just be on the surface. Most experts agree that it is better to dive into sand, mud and sedimentary layers, and for this purpose, lakes, floodplains and rivers, or the bottom of the sea, are best suited.

"The paleo-facade in which we find the best fossils is lakes and river systems," says Caitlin Sima, a taffist from the University of Queensland in Brisbane, Australia. An important factor is the rate at which fresh precipitation bury an object. She recommends rivers flowing from the mountains, which cause erosion and carry a lot of precipitation. Another option is the coastal delta or floodplain, where river sediments are rapidly dumped when water is sent to the sea.

Ideal would be an "anoxic" environment in which there is very little oxygen and in which there can not exist animals and microorganisms that can disturb and digest the remains.

Kidwell recommends avoiding diving 50 centimeters below the seabed, because at this depth crabs, shrimps, worms and other animals are usually buried.

"We must as soon as possible to find ourselves in a place with a relatively low rise, so that it would soon fall into a sediment rather than rise, and preferably with standing water – a pond, a lake, an estuary or an ocean – so that an oxygen-free environment appears in it."

In rare cases, fossils created in this kind of calm, anoxic conditions, retain their soft tissues – skin, feathers and insides. In China, feathered dinosaurs were found, and in the Bavarian quarries – the first birds, archeopteryxes.

Once your fossils are below the biologically active surface layer, they will stably dip deeper and deeper as the sediment accumulates, says Kidwell. The risk of destruction in this case goes to a completely different geological scale, namely to tectonics.

The question is how long it takes for the sediments surrounding the corpse to turn into a strong stone, then to be raised in the process of geological activity to a height where erosion can expose the remains.

Give up the coffin

Now we turn to the technical aspects of the fossil – and to what kind of fossil your body can become.

If very generalized, anything of an age of 50,000 years can be called "subfossilia" (under-fossil). They mostly consist of original body tissues. The extinct Pleistocene megafauna found in caves, such as giant land sloths in South America, cave bears in Europe and marsupials in Australia, will be a good example.

However, if you want your remains to become a fossil that is millions of years old, you will need minerals that can seep through your bones and replace them with harder substances. This process, known as "permineralization", actually creates a full-fledged fossil. And it can take millions of years.

In short, you will not need a coffin at all. The fastest of all the bones are replaced by minerals, when water flows through them rich in minerals, which feeds them with iron and calcium. The coffin, of course, will keep the skeleton in beautiful form, but it will hinder this process.

However, there is a way that can work in the coffin. Mark Archer, a paleontologist from the University of New South Wales, offers burial in a concrete coffin filled with sand, with a hundred holes 5 mm in diameter drilled on the sides. Then it must be buried deep enough that underground waters can pass.

"If you want to become a classic bony fossil, like a Canadian dinosaur, rough river sand will do. All soft tissues will be destroyed, and you will remain with a perfectly expressed skeleton. "

As for the minerals, calcium ions are perfect, because they can settle in the form of calcite, a form of calcium carbonate. "They will begin to cement or cover the body and will protect it in the long term, because it is likely to lie deep."

Intentionally sowing your body with suitable minerals, such as calcite or gypsum, will also speed up the process. Encouraging the growth of hard minerals, rich in iron, will also be reasonable, because they survive weathering in the long term.

Sand silicates are also suitable for inclusion. Archer even noted that you can fill the body with copper strips and nickel granules, if you like beautiful petrified blue bones and teeth.

Avoid the edges of tectonic plates

If you survive the first few hundred thousand years and the minerals start replacing your bones, well, congratulations! You have successfully become a fossil. As the sedimentary layers accumulate above you and you sink deeper into the earth's crust, heat and pressure will do their work (and the body).

But that is not all. Your fossil can sink so deep that it will be melted by the heat and pressure of the Earth.

How can this be avoided? You need to stay away from the edges of the tectonic plates, where the bark will eventually be swallowed by the surface. One of the subduction zones is in Iran, where the Eurasian plate hangs over the Iranian plate.

Let them find you

Let's think about the potential for detecting your fossils.

If you want to give someone a chance to find once your carefully preserved body, you need to plan a burial in a place that is now low enough to store the deep-seated deposits – but also to be lifted up again. In other words, you will need a place in which weathering and erosion will eventually expose the surface layers with your remains.

For example, the Mediterranean Sea. It falls short as Africa moves towards Europe. Other small internal seas are also suitable. For example, the Dead Sea. A high salt content will preserve your body and marinate it properly

You can stay in amber

We examined the standard method of creating solid, durable, bone fossils, largely replaced by stone. But there are other unusual methods.

For example, amber. There are many fossils ideally preserved in this precious stone made from wood tar – birds, lizards and even the tail of a feathered dinosaur that was found in Myanmar. "If you can find a large amount of wood tar and turn into amber, you guarantee the perfect preservation of your soft tissues and bones," says Sima. "But to a large animal like you, it will not be easy to do."

Can not find enough amber? The next option will be resin pit, which preserved saber-toothed cats and mammoths in La Brea in Los Angeles. Although in this case you will lose shape, your bones will be confused with other animals. You can still freeze in a rock or glacier, like the snowman Otzi, found in the European Alps in 1991.

The next option is a natural mummification, when your body just dries up in the cave system. "There are many cave systems with remains, calcium-covered groundwaters, which also form stalactites and stalagmites," says Sima. "People like caves, and if they still exist in the future, you can use them."

Finally, there is another way to keep your corpse almost forever, albeit not in the form of a fossil: launch it into space. Or leave on the surface of a geologically inert celestial body without an atmosphere, such as the Moon.

"The vacuum of the cosmos can perfectly preserve the body," says Sima. And he adds that he will have to attach a radio beacon to him so that he will be found someday.

And what will remain for later?

Let's say you've been safe and sound for millions of years. What else can be saved with you?

Plastic (yes, fidget spinners), other oil-based products that are not biodegradable, and inert materials (alloys, gold and rare metals, which are full in mobile phones) – all this can also be preserved.

Glass is also quite resistant and can withstand temperature and pressure changes. Perhaps in the future they will find smartphones. And where would you like to be found? Tell us about this on our telegram channel .

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