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Science, Maths & Technology

Tym the Trilobite

Updated Tuesday 5th August 2008

How better to understand what fossils can tell us than by listening to one's inner thoughts? Meet Tym the Trilobite.

Hi, I’m Tym the Trilobite…

A drawing of an anthropomorphised trilobite Creative commons image Icon The Open University under Creative Commons BY-NC-SA 4.0 license

Hylô, Sut mae… to you all: that means ‘hello, how are you’ in Welsh, but up until last night I would have had no chance of saying ‘hello’ to anyone, let alone doing this blog!

So first of all, I had better fill you in on how I’m able to talk to you right now. Well, I’ve been trapped in shale rocks on the coast of North Wales - Tremadog to be exact, for the past 530 million years. Yep, you heard me right, that is five hundered and thirty million years – and it’s been dull, dull, dull! But plenty of time to pick up the accent!

So last night, there I am, hanging out in the cliff, minding my own business, when there was the mother of all storms and the next thing I know I’m lying right out on the beach, being blinded by dazzling sunlight. I don’t know what happened to my mates; there were loads of us in the cliff. But, I hardly had chance to get my bearings before I was picked up by – Yes, you’ve guessed it, one of these new, later (and I think rather cocky) additions to our planet - a ‘human being’. I reckon I must be a human’s pocket right now – its all dark and fuzzy in here and there’s something stuck to the side of my head, probably a sweet paper (oh, the humiliation of it), plus all this walking and jiggling about is making me feel really queasy. I don’t like this upright, two-legged method of getting around at all!

I can hear pebbles crunching on the beach and the sound of waves breaking. Well, that’s not exactly new – I’ve been listening to the sound of the sea for hundreds of thousands of years. But at first it was far off in the distance, like an old radio being played inside a sock down in the garden shed – but of late it’s been getting progressively louder as the cliffs have slowly been eroded away. Until now … here I am – DEAD, but, BORN AGAIN, as it were.

Fossilization: It’s not easy becoming a fossil – to start with you have to die, or get buried alive!! Neither of which is a very pleasant experience I can tell you. Plus, you’ve got to avoid being ripped to bits by scavengers or battered to bits by waves, this is then followed by a less-than-lovely period of several 1000’s of years of slowly being squeezed flat and suffering the indignity of having your body relentlessly invaded by so called ‘fossil preserving minerals’. Although I think I’ve done rather well on that front – if you have a look at me in ‘real life’, well I mean in my present, preserved form you’ll see all my beautiful detail:

Picture of a Paradoxides davidis trilobite. © Sam Gon III Copyrighted image Icon Copyright: SamGonIII via Wikimedia
Picture of a Paradoxides davidis trilobite. © Sam Gon III

That’s because I’ve been preserved by silica. Don’t worry, I’ll tell you more about this later in my blog, but I have more pressing concerns to tell you about first… (Sorry, I couldn’t resist the pun).

The fact is, we ‘fossils’ need to undergo this sort of ‘embalming’ process, because frankly our soft squishy bits are just not going to make the grade when it comes to surviving 350 million years. That’s why it can be quite difficult for you humans to get an accurate idea of what we looked like – take the dinosaurs. None of you Humans really know what their skin looked like, what colour they were, how they lived, mated and all the rest. But I do. I was already permanently stuck here on this planet as a fossil and I saw it all. I saw the dinos come and go! And I’ve also seen other species like crocks, sharks and cockroaches not only come into the world, but also tough it out for millions of years until the present day as well!

Over the next few weeks I’d like to share my story with you... I’ll tell you what I know about myself and my surroundings. But remember, there’s a whole lot of other stuff you humans don’t know about us trilobites - stuff you can only guess about – and hey – I’m not going to give away too many secrets… its up to you to find them out.

 

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