Studying the matrix, or sediment, that surrounded the specimen in the ground provides evidence for how the animal lived and where it died:
- Fossil pollen and leaves tell about ancient vegetation and climate.
- Invertebrate shells contain chemical signals in their oxygen isotopes that can reveal the water temperature when the animal was alive.
- Sediments and invertebrate shells can show wether the animal was buried in a lake, stream, ocean, or bog.
- Animals can die from old age or they can be killed by:
- Disease such as osteoarthritis, infections, tumors.
- A natural catastrophe, such as a flood.
The way an animal dies may leave marks on the animal's bones or affect how the bones are deposited at a burial site. Here's what you might see:
- Bone deformed during life (osteoarthritis, infections, tumors).
- Bone that was thin and weak during life (starvation).
- Crushing or tooth punctures on bones, missing skeletal parts (predators).
- Bones of many different animals preserved in one area (a natural catastrophe, such as a drought flood).