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Fossils
  
Men with fossil teeth of a mastodon unearthed during phosphate miningby State Library and Archives of Florida on Flickr

These men are finding fossils. People who look for fossils and study them are called paleontologists. Often paleontologists find fossils in hot, dry desert areas. 
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Scuba diver examining mastodon bones at Wakulla Springsby State Library and Archives of Florida on Flickr

But paleontologists can also find fossils underwater.
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Blue Mesa Log Tumbleby Petrified Forest Ranger on Flickr

This is petrified wood. Petrified wood and fossils are created when organisms are buried in mud or sand.  Minerals replace the wood or body materials of animals and plants. The minerals take the place (and shape) of the original organism. Over many years, the minerals form rocks that are in the shape of the organisms. 
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Fossils Uncovered, Freeze Out, 1900-1935.by Smithsonian Institution on Flickr

Here are some large bone fossils that have been uncovered by paleontologists.
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1025146by El Bibliomata on Flickr

After paleontologists find the fossils of bones of animals, they need to make inferences to figure out how they go together. Often they only find pieces of the bones and not the whole skeletons.
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1025144by El Bibliomata on Flickr

Once they have an idea of how a skeleton fits together, they can make drawings or models of what they think the animal or plant looked like. Often they find lots of bones of vertebrates and can piece them together.
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1025155by El Bibliomata on Flickr

Here is another vertebratepossibly drawn from clues from fossil bones 
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1025152by El Bibliomata on Flickr

Another possible vertebrate that lived a long time ago, drawn from fossil clues.
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1025135by El Bibliomata on Flickr

Fish are also vertebrates-they have backbones.
Sometimes fish die and their bodies are covered with sand or mud. Their bodies are eventually replaced by minerals which over long periods of time, harden and form rocks. The shape of the original body can be seen as a fossil in the rock. 
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fossil frogby kevinzim on Flickr

Frogs and other amphibian fossils have been found telling us that there were frogs alive millions of years ago.  They are also a kind of vertebrate (animal with a backbone).
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1025157by El Bibliomata on Flickr

Animals that are not vertebrates, (do not have backbones) also can form fossils.

Shells embedded in the mud or sand can also form fossils.
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1025004by El Bibliomata on Flickr

An ammonite is a very old kind of marine animal that used to be common.
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fossildragonfly2by kevinzim on Flickr

Insects, like this dragonfly, can also be found as fossils. 
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Petrified Forest National Park fossil Laccopteris smithii, fernby Petrified Forest Ranger on Flickr

Fern fossils can often be found.
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Life in the Silurianby Ryan Somma on Flickr

Here is an underwater scene that was drawn from clues from fossils. Many of these animals are extinct today, but lived millions of years ago. Notice the trilobite on the bottom right side.
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1025158by El Bibliomata on Flickr

Scientists can get ideas about what life was like millions of years ago from fossils. They draw pictures and make models and scenes to help us learn about ecosystems long ago.
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