How to Become a Fossil

Eventually, I will die. Maybe I’ll be buried, maybe cremated, but over time my body will decompose and return to the earth. I say this, of course, with glee, since the prospect of my organic matter rejoining the global flux of carbon, nitrogen, and phosphorus is as close to heaven as a geologist gets. Some of the molecules that comprise me might be incorporated into canyons and volcanoes. Maybe one will find its way into the tooth of a pterodactyl (I’m assuming that dinosaurs will make an epic comeback once humans have driven themselves to extinction). That said, there is one thing that bothers me. I’ve become rather attached to my human form.

Not to worry – there’s an easy fix. I’ll simply preserve myself as a fossil. As it happens, being a geologist comes with several advantages, not the least of these being some knowledge about fossils and how they are formed. Or, in this case, how to best turn yourself into one. I mean, it’s not like it hasn’t been done before. All sorts of organisms leave behind fossils, although generally unintentionally. Some of these are full skeletons (body fossils), while others are little more than footprints (trace fossils). But even footprints can reveal a lot – such as this dinosaur‘s rather poor balance and coordination.

For the purposes of my geological integration, I won’t worry about who will find me and when. I’d like to keep that a surprise – after all, I do need something to look forward to through my long and potentially dull wait. I’ve given some thought as to what I’ll take with me, but the trouble is that I’m not quite sure about the internet connection.

After doing some reading on the subject, I’ve come up with three major conditions that my burial environment has to meet. First, I must be buried quickly. The longer I spend exposed to weathering forces such as wind and water, the higher the chance that I will be ‘structurally compromised’. Second, I need an environment with little to no biological activity. Even the most ambitious fossilization plan can be ruined by a couple of eager earthworms. Finally, I need to avoid post-burial modification. In particular, my concern is disarticulation, which is just geology lingo for ‘waking up and finding yourself in more than one piece’.

All things considered, I’m really only left with three options, not all equally glamorous. The first is to go the way of Pompeii and be encased in ash. This would require a large volcanic eruption with a pyroclastic flow (terrifying massive cloud of ash and hot gas that rolls down the mountain slopes, wiping out everything in its path). After spending most of my life in Canada, hot ash certainly sounds welcome, although I’d have to avoid lava, since melting seems a tad counterproductive.

My second option is to jump in a swamp, however icky this may sound. Before long I’d sink to the bottom and be swallowed up by mud,  the low oxygen environment hopefully keeping pesky critters away. While clearly not as glamorous, this option gives me a little more say in the location, although I doubt that’ll be of much importance once I’m six feet under.

Finally, I could freeze myself in ice. After the volcanic option, this seems almost cruel, but there’s something almost poetic about finding yourself in the bowels of a glacier. I’d start in the accumulation zone of an ice sheet, and gradually be ‘swallowed’ like this squadron of WWII fighter jets in Greenland. Climate change might play against me here, sending me on a waterslide ride into the ocean, where I could at least do a small part to contribute to sea level rise.

If all else fails, I could always opt for Jabba the Hutt’s favorite method of freezing enemies in carbonite (à la Han Solo). This does mean that I’d have to choose my final pose rather carefully, so as to seem suave and self-assured to whatever audience I may be exposed to in the coming millennia.

As I was digging around for ideas for this article, I came across a similar one in National Geographic that I got a kick out of, so I figured I would share it as well.

This has been your daily dose of mostly harmless science.

If you enjoyed this article or have suggestions for future posts, please comment below! I’d love for you to follow me on WordPress or on Twitter @harmlessscience (just click Follow on the right sidebar). Thanks for reading!

Cover photo courtesy of Stevie Gill, Flickr Creative Commons.

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4 responses to “How to Become a Fossil

  1. “UNDER THE EARTH

    Again we found skulls.
    But there were no signs on them.
    One was split with
    An ax. The other pierced
    With an arrow. But not for us
    Are these signs. Crowded
    They were lying, without names, all
    Resembling each other. Under them
    Were scattered coins
    And erased were their faces.

    Dear friend, thou hast guided me
    Falsely. The sacred signs
    Shall we not find
    Under the earth.”

    Nicholas Roeich, 1874 –1947) Russian painter, writer, archaeologist, theosophist, philosopher, 1907,

  2. Pingback: How to Become a Diamond | Mostly Harmless·

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