The only chance to preserve yourself permanently is to become a fossil, but your chances of success are slim. Of all the species that have ever lived, fewer than 1% have left their mark in the geological record, so any individual’s hope of becoming a fossil is millions of
Even if your body fails to make it onto the record, the one thing that could become your permanent legacy is your faeces. Fossilised dinosaur droppings (coprolites) are plentiful and, when mined and mixed with sulphuric acid, have been used as raw material for artificial fertilisers in farming since the mid-19th century, when the first ‘superphosphate’ was developed.
The word ‘dinosaur’ was coined in 1842 by Richard Owen, who went on to run the Natural History Museum.
The first geological find to be positively identified as a fossil was dug up near Chipping Norton in 1676. It was identified as the lower thighbone of either a giant human or a Roman elephant. By 1763, both these possibilities had been ruled out, and the unknown creature that it had came from was given the name Scrotum humanum, because it was shaped like a huge human scrotum. It is now known to be part of a Jurassic-period dinosaur called Megalosaurus bucklandii.
The convention for settling a discrepancy where a single species has inadvertently been given two Linnaean classifications is that the earliest given name is the one that stands (which is why brontosauruses are now called Apatosauruses). This means that strictly speaking the Megalosaurus bucklandii ought to be called the Scrotum humanum - but an exception seems to have been made in this case.
No complete Megalosaurus skeleton has yet been found, so we don’t know for sure what it looked like, but it was bipedal, weighed about one tonne and was about 27ft (9m) long. The Megalosaurus is the first dinosaur to appear in a work of fiction: Dickens’s Bleak House (1852) opens with the words: ‘It would not be wonderful to meet a Megalosaurus, forty feet long or so, waddling like an elephantine lizard up Holborn Hill.’
No fossil is buried with its birth certificate.
Dinosaur droppings (coprolites) are used in modern fertilisers and sold as jewellery.
When the film Jurassic Park was made in 1993, the scenario of cloning dinosaurs from blood in a fossilised mosquito was thought to be impossible for several reasons - but one of them was that no fossilised mosquito that had been discovered up till then was old enough to contain dinosaur blood; but in 2000, the first ever mosquito fossilised in amber from the Cretaceous period was found in Canada.
Farts can be fossilised: as bubbles of digestive gases from termites that died by getting trapped in glutinous blobs of amber.
The sabre-tooth squirrel featured in the 2002 film Ice Age was fictional - until a real one was discovered in 2011.
‘The Jurassic Coast’ in Dorset is a World Heritage Site but if you find a fossil there, the rule is ‘finders keepers’. In a US National Park, you could be arrested if you so much as touched a fossil. The Jurassic Coast’s free-for-all spirit applies whether you have spotted a common ammonite or a mighty ichthyosaur, no matter if you are a commercial dealer in fossils, a schoolchild on a field trip, or just someone walking the beach. As long as you allow major finds to be registered and don’t hack into the raw cliff, that fossil is yours.
In 2005 the town of Bassingbourn, Cambridgeshire proposed to erect a bronze statue of a pile of fossilised dung to acknowledge the role in their history of the 19th century trade in coprolites for the fertiliser industry. In the end the scheme was scuppered by cost overruns and a poll which showed only 26% support from locals. The result was described as ‘very demoralising for the Parish Council’.
Language is fossil poetry.
The oldest fossil known is of a blue-green algae that lived on some rocks in South Africa over 3.2 billion years ago.