Fossilization is a process of preservation of once living life forms by a variety of different processes. The most well known types of fossilization are permineralization and carbonization or distillation. Certain parameters must be met in order for fossils to form. They are a rapid death and fast burial in relatively anaerobic conditions. Any prolonged exposure to the elements will decrease the chances of fossilization.
Permineralization or petrifaction is the most common method of fossil preservation. Minerals fill the cellular spaces and crystallize. The shape of the original plant or animal is preserved as rock. Sometimes the original material is dissolved away leaving the form and structure but none of the original organic material remains. One of the best examples of this type of fossilization is petrified wood.
The next most common variety of fossilization is carbonization or coalification. These fossils form when plant leaves, and some soft body parts of fish, reptiles, and marine invertebrates decompose leaving behind only the carbon. The carbon creates an impression in the rock outlining the fossil, sometimes with great detail. A good example of this type of fossil is the famous set of fossils that comprise the Archaeopteryx series of extinct birds, thought by evolutionary scientists to be a transitional fossil between dinosaurs and birds. Creationists counter this claim by pointing out that all the features in Archaeopteryx can be found in modern birds and bats today and only an entire series of fossils demonstrating the transition of a dinosaur into a bird could be used as real evidence of Darwinian evolution.
Similar to carbonization is authigenic preservation. These fossils are formed by the molds and casts of organisms which have dissolved or rotted away, leaving only a trace of their existence. Sea shells, bivalves (scallops & mussels), sponges and echinoids (sea urchins) are all common examples of this type of fossilization.
Another form of fossilization is by freezing or refrigeration. Although is occurs only rarely, the animal must be continually frozen from the time of death until discovery. Discoveries such as these will be limited to the Ice Age fossils that have been discovered such as the mammoth and wooly rhinoceros found in ice from Alaska and Siberia. Some of these specimens with flesh, skin, and hair intact have been found suggesting that they were flash-frozen, with food still in the mouth and stomach.
There are other forms of fossilization that are less well known such as drying or desiccation. Mummified bodies of animals including humans have been discovered in arid parts of the world. The soft tissues including skin and organs are preserved for thousands of years if they are completely dried.
Life forms have also been found preserved in amber. Insects, spiders, and even small lizards have been found, nearly perfectly preserved in amber. One of the more interesting things about the insects found in amber is that they are often identical to their now living counterparts. These fossils are extremely rare and are often counterfeited by unscrupulous merchants and sold to unsuspecting tourists.
A final and also rare form of fossilization is asphalt. The most famous of these is the park called The La Brea Tar Pits, officially Hancock Park, in downtown Los Angles, CA. Creatures that fell into these tar pits were preserved and later discovered. The tar pits were formed by crude oil seeping through fissures in the earth. The lighter elements of the oil evaporate leaving thick sticky asphalt. There are a number of the large animal species found at La Brea that are no longer found in North America. The list includes native horses, camels, mammoths and mastodons, long-horned bison, and sabre-toothed cats.
It was once thought that permineralization or petrifaction would take tens of thousands of years to occur. More recently it has been proposed that this process can take place in relatively short periods of time under the right conditions. The following links contains proof that permineralization can, and has, taken place rapidly.
While fossils are often thought to be used as evidence for the Theory of Evolution, recent discoveries like the blood cells, cellular remnants, blood vessels and necrotic tissue have discovered in the bones of dinosaurs. The most famous being the T. Rex discovery made by Mary Higby Schweitzer of North Carolina State University.
As Bible believing creationists, we see no conflict in a discovery of bone marrow and tissue inside the femur of a T. Rex. We see the sudden death and rapid burial of those creatures that constitute the fossil record as reflective of the world wide cataclysmic Flood described in the Book of Genesis. The fact that the geologic column shows us virtually every living thing appearing abruptly, fully formed in the fossil record indicates that the Bible is the Word of God and it is trustworthy.
Pastor Steve Rowitt, Th.M., Ph.D.(c) Chief Technical Advisor Creation Studies Institute