Fossils (from Latin fossus, literally "having been dug up") are the mineralized or otherwise preserved remains or traces (such as footprints) of animals, plants, and other organisms. Using radiometric dating techniques, geologists have determined most fossils to be several thousands to several billions of years old. Fossils vary in size from microscopic examples, such as single cells, to gigantic specimens like dinosaurs. Fossilization is actually a rare occurrence because most components of formerly-living things tend to decompose relatively quickly following death. In order for an organism to be fossilized the remains normally need to be covered by sediment as soon as possible. There are several different types of fossils and fossilization processes, each giving the fossil a unique set of characteristics.
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