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Book Chapter

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Publication Title

The Study of Trace Fossils: A Synthesis of Principles, Problems, & Procedures in Ichnology


Although marine burrows of unusually large dimensions have long been known in certain areas, they are probably much more widespread in the rock record than is generally recognized. Such burrows constitute a heterogeneous group, having little in common other than "exceptional" size. Yet their size alone unites them in difficulty of interpretation: e.g., densely spaced-dwelling burrows of combined dwelling-escape burrows as much as 12 cm in diameter and 5 m long; vertical dwelling burrows only 0.5 cm in diameter but up to 9 m long; possible escape structures as much as 24 cm in diameter and 3 m long, subsequently penetrated in some cases by secondary burrow-like structures.

Numerous special problems are encountered in the study and interpretation of burrows of these extreme dimensions: (1) field exposure and accessibility, so that the full extent, or a large part, of the structures can be studied; (2) preservation of the burrows in continuity, not merely in places where they pass through certain beds or within concretion horizons; (3) the "fossilization barrier" ; our knowledge of comparable modern structures of similar dimensions or of the animals responsible for them is negligible; and (4) the possibility that certain of these unusual structures were formed by physical rather than organic processes; again, our criteria for comparisons are limited.

The examples selected by us—from the Permian of Montana, Idaho, and Wyoming, the Cretaceous and Paleocene of northwestern Europe, and the Pleistocene of North Carolina—are intended primarily (1) to call additional attention to such intriguing structures, and (2) to illustrate some of the problems involved in interpreting their origin and function. Hopefully, future work will solve many of these problems.


©1975 by Spinger-Verlag New York Inc.


Chapter 16 of The Study of Trace Fossils: A Synthesis of Principles, Problems, & Procedures in Ichnology, edited by Robert W. Frey; archived as published

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