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Fossil stories

Learning from the past


Fossils are the remains of animals which died millions of years ago and their hard body parts have turned to stone. However, occasionally the soft parts can be preserved such as the skin, eyes, and feathers. They are a window into what life was once like on earth. Trace fossils, the evidence an animal or plant was present such as footprints and roots are known throughout the fossil record. However, body fossils, the skeleton and shells of animals first appear around 550 Million years ago during the pre-Cambrian. During this time, many unique animals existed which we would otherwise not have known.


Charnia is a very simple early life-from made famous by its discovery in Charnwood forest, near Leicester. This animal appears to resemble a leaf, but its very nature is an unknown and that is what makes fossils fascinating. Charnia and the bizarre life-forms which shared the oceans during the pre-Cambrian appear to go extinct 50 million years after first appearing in the fossil record and their exact relationship to animals or plants remains unclear. Thanks to the continual study of fossils and geological samples we can continue to learn about the environment and life that continually evolved, and by learning about the past we can continue to investigate the possibilities of our future. Geology and palaeontology are important to Northampton’s rich cultural and geological history.

Where to find out more

If you have a keen interest in the past and would also like to learn more about dinosaurs and fossils there are several other museums around the country which have a wide display of these mysterious giants. The Lapwoth museum of geology in Birmingham houses exceptionally preserved vertebrate material and even has a cast of a T-rex skull. The Museum of Natural History Oxford has the remains of Megalosaurus one of the first dinosaurs.