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This information can be used to help understand when different layers of rock were formed even when large distances separate them (reference 1).Environmental interpretation, or understanding how the Earth has changed over time, is another area where fossils supply invaluable evidence.There are many ways fossils can form, and we'll get to all that in a minute.First, let's discuss the two main ways that fossils can be classified: The remains of a Hadrosaur are an example of a body fossil, or fossils of the actual organism.Using information pieced together from fossil evidence, scientists can reconstruct body types of animals that no longer exist and put together a “Tree of Life” to describe the evolutionary relationships between organisms (reference 3). Most organisms are not preserved in the fossil record.Because soft-bodied organisms, for example, usually don’t form fossils, there can be “gaps” in the fossil record.

The other type of fossil is called a trace fossil, where evidence of the organism but not the actual organism is preserved, such as a track, a burrow, a nest, or even feces.

Many exceptional deposits of fossils nevertheless provide a surprisingly detailed glimpse into the past and allow scientists to piece together a more complete picture of the history of life on Earth (resource 2).

Liz Veloz is a writer, scientist and college teacher living in Madison, Wis.

The many different ways organisms are preserved gives fossils different characteristics. Permineralization is when an organism dies and sediment enters the body, filling in the pores of a leaf, or a bone or a shell.

Oftentimes, minerals from the sediment will eventually replace the organism's tissues, leaving a replica of the original organism.

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