Email Print Share
May 11, 2020

Taphonomy: Dead and fossilized

Becoming a fossil is the ultimate game of chance. From the manner of death, to the place where the corpse is buried, to the transformational events that follow, it’s a rare occurrence for a specimen to hit a combo that will get it into the fossil record. And only the luckiest of fossils become part of a scientific collection you would see in a museum. Drawing inspiration straight from the source material, two researchers from The University of Texas at Austin have designed their own game of chance and skill – a board game that puts students in the role of time-travelling paleontologists – to teach key concepts about how fossils form. According to a study published in the Journal of Geoscience Education, the game is a useful tool in teaching the notoriously difficult subject of taphonomy, or how dead things become fossils. For the study, the researchers enlisted the help of 760 students enrolled in undergraduate geosciences courses at 20 institutions during the 2018-2019 school year. The class sizes ranged from four to 252 students. The study found that 71% of students thought the game helped them learn about fossilization, and 66% of students who played the game thought it was fun. While the game is designed with undergraduates in mind, Martindale said that the game is flexible and adaptable to different players and settings. Martindale and her team are currently testing an abbreviated version of the game for high school students. Find more information about the game here:

Credit: UT Austin Jackson School of Geosciences

Images and other media in the National Science Foundation Multimedia Gallery are available for use in print and electronic material by NSF employees, members of the media, university staff, teachers and the general public. All media in the gallery are intended for personal, educational and nonprofit/non-commercial use only.

Videos credited to the National Science Foundation, an agency of the U.S. Government, may be distributed freely. However, some materials within the videos may be copyrighted. If you would like to use portions of NSF-produced programs in another product, please contact the Video Team in the Office of Legislative and Public Affairs at the National Science Foundation.

Additional information about general usage can be found in Conditions.