Jewels of the Fossil Record
David J. Bottjer, Walter Etter, James W. Hagadorn,
and Carol M. Tang
THE FOSSIL RECORD IS THE REPOSITORY OF THE HISTORY of life and the processes that have governed it. Most nonscientists are usually aware of fossils, but it is commonly believed that they are extremely rare. This seems to be because people typically do not know how or where to look for fossils—and even what a fossil would look like if they were to find one. But, in fact, fossils are exceptionally common in many sedimentary rocks and are used extensively in geology for such things as age dating, interpreting ancient environments, and exploring for natural resources. Similarly, most typical fossils preserve aspects of the skeletons of once-living organisms and thus have provided us with the evidence for much of what we know about life's history, and the broad trends that have played out during this history (Bambach 1977, 1983; Bottjer and Ausich 1986; Sepkoski 1993).
However, there is another type of fossil deposit that is truly rare. These rare fossil deposits preserve the remains of soft tissues or the articulated nature of skeletal elements. These deposits with exceptional preservation have been known for centuries, and because they have long been popular with the public, it is not unusual to find museums associated with such deposits.
These deposits of exceptional fossil preservation were typically considered to be scientific curiosities, where, because of unusual preservation, paleontologists could decipher usually unobtainable aspects of organism morphology, behavior, function, and evolution. These deposits have long had significance as the place where soft tissues fundamental to