Rotten Fish & Fossils: How Experimental Decay is Transforming our Understanding of Ancient Life | University of Oxford

Rotten Fish & Fossils: How Experimental Decay is Transforming our Understanding of Ancient Life

Event date
Event time
19:00 - 20:00
Venue
Event type
Student Gateway
Event cost
Free
Disabled access?
No
Booking required
Required

Please note that this is an online talk, not an event held at the Museum of Natural History building.

Without fossils we would know little about the amazing journey that life on our planet has taken, evolving from oceans full of green slime through to the myriad of animals and plants we share our existence with today.

Fossils are mainly familiar to us as bones, teeth and shells - the durable mineralised parts of animals. But happily for palaeontologists, and for our understanding of evolution, rare and remarkable fossils preserve the parts of animals that usually decay away after death. Guts, eyes, livers, brains, skin and other decay-prone anatomy all occur in the fossil record making up 'soft-bodied' exceptionally-preserved fossils.

But there’s a problem – when they are preserved in rock such fossils often look nothing like they did when the animal was alive. This makes it difficult to interpret these fossils in terms of their anatomy and crucially where they should sit on the evolutionary tree. 

Professor Sarah Gabbott is palaeobiologist from the University of Leicester. Her research focuses on exceptional preservation, and the use of a variety of analytical techniques and novel laboratory decay experiments to understand the transformation of animal remains during fossilization.