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Linné on line arrow Plants and Animals arrow The order in nature arrow Fossils are petrified organisms

Fossils are petrified organisms


Silvianthemum suecicum pictured in high magnification with a scanning electron microscope.
Photo: Else Marie Friis.
 

Fossils are petrified plants and animals that have been preserved through millions of years. They show us how different groups of organisms have changed during the time with life on earth. Many existing fossils have been found, not least in Sweden.

It is very unusual to find intact fossilised flowers, but in the Scanian clay in ”Åsen” (in the southernmost part of Sweden) scientists from The Swedish Museum of Natural History (Stockholm) have made sensational findings. When the clay was dissolved in water, small black granules were found. These showed to be only a few millimetres long petrified flowers, when studied in high magnification.

The flowers from ”Åsen” are about 80 million years old and grew in Scania when there were dinosaurs living there. The flowers belong to plant families that no longer exist, but because all the details of the flowers are intact we can often see what extant plants the fossils are related to. One of these ancient plant species is named after the Swedish queen Silvia and Sweden: Silvianthemum suecicum. It is also called ”the queen's flower”.

Linnaeus and his colleagues knew that there were fossilised plants and animals, and since there were no theories of evolution to explain the fossils they had to use knowledge from their own time. When Linnaeus travelled to Gotland (a Swedish island) in 1741 he saw large quantities of fossils along the beaches. He supposed they were corals from the deep sea that had reached the shores. Another common theory in Linnaeus time was that fossils represented plants and animals that had died during the biblical Flood.