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Taphonomy

  • By: A. Sebastián Muñoz & Mariana Mondini
  • In: Encyclopedia of Geography
  • Edited by: Barney Warf
  • Subject:General Geography, Earth & Environmental Science

Taphonomy is a multidisciplinary, multitasking body of knowledge that studies the processes affecting organic remains after death—that is, the transition of these remains from the biosphere into the lithosphere. Taphonomic studies are key to paleobiology, paleontology, archaeology, geology, and geography, among other disciplines, as they impinge directly on our capacity to reconstruct paleoenvironments and past biotas. They do so by understanding the postmortem processes on biological materials and how they affect the fossil record—broadly defined as the set of nonliving remains and traces of organisms—and the information therein.

The term taphonomy, from the Greek taphos and nomos (the “laws of burial”), was coined by Ivan Efremov in 1940, although such inquiries had been carried out well before, notably by German paleontologists in the late 19th and ...

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