Fossils are among the most valuable sources of information about the Earth's history. They tell us about the organisms that lived on Earth from the time of the oldest fossils, about 3.8 billion years ago, to the present. By studying fossils we can learn not only about the creatures and plants of the distant past, but how they grew, what they ate, how they interacted, and many aspects of their behavior.
Fossils reveal many fascinating facts about the past, but they do a lot more. Do you own anything made out of plastic? Plastic comes from oil, which also provides gasoline, gas heat, and many other necessities of modern life. Fossils are one of the most useful aids to finding oil, because oil tends to accumulate in the pores of particular rock layers. Rocks of different ages contain different fossils. Study of microscopic fossils brought up in chips of rock during drilling of wells has led to many major oil and gas discoveries. Also, the oil itself is derived from fossil remains of ancient organisms.
Study of fossils has led to important new understanding about how life evolved on earth and about diseases, both ancient and modern. Fossils also help us understand past climates, including ice ages and periods that were warmer than our present climate. Knowledge from the study of fossils is helping geoscientists understand global warming and its effects. By studying the catastrophic extinction of the dinosaurs and many other life forms at the end of the Cretaceous Period, geoscientists have gained insight into the evolutionary implications of impacts by extraterrestrial objects. Investigating the physical and chemical characteristics of fossil organisms that lived during times of drastic climatic change helps us understand the implications of the changes we are making in our own environment.
Information about Earth history, practical help in finding energy resources, and information that helps us anticipate the effects of possible environmental changes are not the only benefits derived from fossils. Fossils are beautiful. Many thousands of people collect, buy, sell, and trade fossils all over the world. Some jewelry and furniture are made from fossils, and many stone buildings are made from stone that is composed largely of fossils. Many people collect fossils simply because they are beautiful, but others do so because fossils tell fascinating stories. Neither Barney the Dinosaur nor Jurassic Park would exist if there were no fossils.