Fowl Fossils

This is fun to do around Thanksgiving, or any time you have a chicken or turkey carcass available. 

This fossil activity connects to the New BC Science Curriculum – Grade 7 Big Idea:  Earth and its climate have changed over time. The activity was originally published in the South Vancouver Island Earth Science Fun Guide 1998 by E. Van der Flier-Keller.

What You Need

  • A whole turkey or chicken carcass
  • Strong string
  • Shovel and a place to dig a hole

What To Do

  1. After a roast chicken or turkey dinner, ask your parents if you can have the bones.
  2. With an adult’s help, split the carcass in half lengthwise using a sharp knife, or break it carefully in half.
  3. Tie one half together with a string and attach the other end of the string tightly (at ground level) to a tree.
  4. Bury the other half. Check where it is ok to dig a hole, and using the shovel, dig as deep as you can (60 cm is fine). Put the turkey bones in the hole, close together. Fill the hole and mark the spot with a stick.
  5. Wait two weeks.  (Meanwhile, you can look at what is happening with the above-ground turkey or chicken bones if you like). Dig up the buried bones and compare them with the turkey or chicken half that you tied to the tree.

What’s Going On?

Fossils are the remains of animals and plants that lived more than 10,000 years ago and are preserved in sediment or rock.  When an animal dies (your turkey or chicken bones), it will get fossilised or not depending on what happens to the body. If it dies and the carcass is left on the ground, other animals will scavenge the bones. This means the bones get eaten and other bits will be taken away by animals. The rest of the carcass will decompose. This leaves nothing to be fossilised.

The bones that get buried quickly won’t have a chance go get eaten by animals and so have a much higher chance of being fossilised. Most of the fossils we find in rocks are there because they were buried very soon after the animal died. The animals might have been covered by sediments from a river flood, or landslide or storm.

SFU Scientists

Meet James MacEachern, Trace Fossil Detective

James studies trace fossils and the rocks they are preserved in to help work out the kinds of environments that existed long ago. He looks for and studies the tracks, trails and burrows  left behind from animals living in their ancient environments.  

Find out more here!