A fossil is a window into the history of our world, providing clues about plants and animals that lived thousands or millions of years ago. And because fossils are fairly easy to find, many kids and grownups enjoy the sleuthing that amateur palenotology (the study of ancient life) offers. [Editor's Note: An updated version of this topic can be found here: Fossils]
The 18-million-year-old Thomas Farm fossil preserve, owned by the University of Florida, has produced tens of thousands of bones of extinct vertebrates. This cyber-exhibit explores stratigraphy (the geology and history of the earth's layers) and the evolution of the modern horse. Best fossil clicks are the Gallery of Fossil Horses, Stratigraphy Layer by Layer and The Sedimental Journey. "Animal remains are most likely to be fossilized if their hard parts are covered by layers of sediments soon after death. Therefore, most fossils are found in sedimentary rock, like sandstone, shale, limestone and coal."
"Fossil collecting is a brilliant hobby for kids and adults -- for a start you are collecting things which are millions of years old. You can't collect dinosaurs very easily - but you can collect fossils of creatures which lived at the same time as the dinosaurs." This English site is a great introduction to fossil hunting, no matter where you live. Highlights are the sections that explain What is a Fossil?, How Fossils were Made, How to Collect Fossils, Fossil Care and Fossil Safety. The authors welcome photos of fossils you've found and will post answers to readers' questions.
Reproduced from a free print publication of the U.S. Geological Survey, this online booklet is a marvelous introduction (in non-technical language) to how geologists study fossils to learn about the earth's history. "People who study Earth's history also use a type of calendar, called the geologic time scale. It looks very different from the familiar calendar. In some ways, it is more like a book, and the rocks are its pages. Some of the pages are torn or missing, and the pages are not numbered, but geology gives us the tools to help us read this book."
"In this exhibit, you will learn about the fossils of invertebrates -- animals without backbones. Snails, clams, worms, and insects are all invertebrates. In fact, 95% of all living animals are invertebrates. This number was even greater in the past." For elementary students, the Royal Ontario Museum presents the who, how, where, why and when of invertebrate fossils. My favorite click is the Fossil Game: "Can you match these fossils with their modern relatives?"