Five different types of fossils

Updated July 20, 2017

Fossils are the remains of prehistoric organisms or other evidence those organisms left behind. There are a number of different kinds of fossils, including moulds and casts, petrification fossils, whole body fossils, footprints and trackways and coprolites, among others. Fossils that consist of all or part of a plant or animal or an impression of the plant or animal are known as body fossils. A second type of fossil, known as trace fossils, show indications of an organism's activity.

Mold and Cast Fossils

When a plant or animal buried under layers of sediment decays, the impression of its body left in the rock forming around it is known as a mould fossil. Sometimes the space left behind will then fill with other sediment, forming a cast fossil. Most dinosaur bones fall into the mould and cast category.

Petrification Fossils

Petrification occurs when groundwater permeates the remains of an organism and leaves minerals behind. In replacement fossils the body dissolves and minerals are left in its place. In permineralization, the water enters the cells of the organism and deposits minerals in the spaces inside them. Petrified wood is a permineralized fossil.

Whole Body Fossils

Whole body fossils occur when an entire organism, including soft tissues, is preserved. Examples include insects entombed in tree sap, which hardens to become amber, and mammoths encased in ice.

Footprints and Trackways

Footprints made by prehistoric animals walking through the mud sometimes harden and become fossils. Several footprints occurring together and made by the same animal are referred to as a trackway. Trackways may also include impressions made by other parts of the animal, such as the tail or snout.


Coprolites are fossilised faeces. Their location offers clues about where animals lived. Close examination of coprolites can also yield information about what the animals that produced them ate.

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About the Author

With interests in film and theater, Joan Spitzer began writing articles professionally in 2010. She has been published in “The Puppetry Journal,” Spitzer holds a Master of Fine Arts in scriptwriting from the University of Southern California.