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If medals struck by nations, cities, kings, Reveal, recall their names, their deeds and dates These fossil medals struck by life and death, Reveal the forms, the existence, sad fate Of countless beings; names receiving now From us, when brought to light from their dark tombs. Some of their deeds also may be imprest Upon their frames, localities and shapes; But bear no dates, except the local signs That successive convulsions indicate, And we restore, comparing sites of graves.
Constantine Samuel Rafinesque (The Former Earth, 1836)
The most obvious question to ask about trace fossils is: What animal is responsible for a given track or burrow? This question is one of the most difficult to answer. Except in the case of some trilobites and a few other arthropods, clear-cut “fingerprints” preserved in tracks and burrows are rare or difficult to recognize. As far as the identity of the animal that made them is concerned, many trace fossils may remain a mystery forever. Such fossils can nevertheless be sorted out and classified according to the behavior that gave rise to them.
Adolf Seilacher (Scientific American, 1967)


Classification is simply the orderly arrangement of voluminous amounts of information to aid in interpreting various kinds of relationships between items and also in communicating ideas about these items with other workers. Five different aspects of trace fossils have provided a basis for their classification, i.e., based on preservation (toponomy), taxononomy (systematics of presumed trace-makers), ichnotaxonomy (systematics of trace fossils), ethology (behavior) and paleoenvironment (bathymetry, etc.). The preservational and taxonomie classification schemes are primarily descriptive (i.e., objective); the behavioral and paleoenvironmental approaches to classification, on the other hand, are largely interpretive (i.e., subjective).

Ichnology, sometimes divided into neoichnology and paleoichnology (palichnology), depending on whether you are dealing with modern or ancient settings, is centered on the study of biogenic (i.e., biologically produced) structures. These are categorized as follows (Table II-1).

A number of specialized terms, most of which are listed in the Glossary at the end of this book, apply to various kinds of biogenic structures. For example, a “shaft” is a dominantly vertical burrow; a “tunnel” is a dominantly horizontal burrow (Fig. 2-l); a “U-shaped burrow” or “U-tube” is one comprising two shafts that join at depth in the sediment. If shafts and/or tunnels form a complex unit of highly branched burrows, the entire structure is a “burrow system”. A system of interconnected burrows is a “maze” or “gallery”, if dominantly horizontal, or “boxwork”, if both horizontal and vertical components are included (Fig. 2-2).

Some burrows possess a “lining”, which is a distinct, thickened, burrow wall reinforced by mucus-like

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