Ich...- WHAT?!?!?


What is ichnology?

Apart from birds and insects it is hard to spot any animals when we are out in the nature. But just because we do not see these animals, does not mean that they are not there. Many mammals are crepuscular or nocturnal and have a much better hearing than us humans. When we walk in the forests or over the fields and medows, for most animals we make enormous noise. Already a normal-volume conversation, the sound of the feet while walking or even breathing is noticed. Unknown and unfamiliar sounds are perceived as potential threads by these animals which is the reason why they are hiding from us. Many returning visitors from the wild are therefore disappointed when they have not seen any animals although they should have been there. These people could take so much more out of their Sunday walks if they would be a bit more attentive and notice the many traces that all the inhabitants of the wild have left behind.

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The science addressing traces and trace fossils is called ichnology. The term ichnology derives from Ancient Greek ͗ίχνοϛ [“ikhnos”], meaning “footprint” or “trackway” and λόγοϛ [“lógos”], meaning “word” or “doctrine”. Neoichnology deals with Recent traces, palaeoichnology deals with their fossilised counterparts. Traces and trace fossils (the petrified traces) are not only footprints and trackways, but also feeding places, burrows, faeces etc. Anything that an animal (plant or other organism) has left behind during a certain activity of their lifes can be classified as trace. In the fossil record a trace fossil is defined as any activity of an organism that has altered a substrate (e.g. Bertling et al. 2006). Trace fossils therefore are sedimentary structures. (We will go into details on the following pages.) Luckily, we can observe Recent animals in their behaviour and therefore can match certain traces with certain behaviours and certain species. With trace fossils it is slightly more complicated because we cannot observe the tracemakers anymore. Matching of a trace fossils with a certain tracemaker is only possible in very few exceptional cases.

So what is a trace fossil worth, when you can’t even tell who made it??? Well, trace fossils very often are preserved in rocktypes that usually do not contain any body fossils. They very often are the only sign of life within these sediments. Further, many trace fossils are produced by animals without hard body parts. These animals cannot be fossilised under normal conditions, their traces, however, can! Although we usually cannot match the tracemakers on species-level, we at least can narrow the possible tracemakers down which also may provide quite important information. Where body fossils only can show us that these animals were present during the time when a rock was deposited (Caution not place, because body fossils can be easily transported! Sometimes it is not even true for time, when body fossils have been eroded and redeposited!), trace fossils can show us that their tracemakers were living during that time in that particular space! (Exceptions of redeposited trace fossils exist here as well, although they are very, very, very, very, very rare...)

If you want to know more, please click on one of the following links or just here which will bring you one step further...

Picture reproduced with kind permission of Anthony J. Martin 2014                          >>


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