Faculty Publications

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Biology | Paleobiology | Paleontology | Philosophy | Philosophy of Science


Organisms leave a variety of traces in the fossil record. Among these traces, vertebrate and invertebrate paleontologists conventionally recognize a distinction between the remains of an organism’s phenotype (body fossils) and the remains of an organism’s life activities (trace fossils). The same convention recognizes body fossils as biological structures and trace fossils as geological objects. This convention explains some curious practices in the classification, as with the distinction between taxa for trace fossils and for tracemakers. I consider the distinction between “parallel taxonomies,” or parataxonomies, which privileges some kinds of fossil taxa as “natural” and others as “artificial.” The motivations for and consequences of this practice are inconsistent. By comparison, I examine an alternative system of classification used by paleobotanists that regards all fossil taxa as “artificially” split. While this system has the potential to inflate the number of taxa with which paleontologists work, the system offers greater consistency than conventional practices. Weighing the strengths and weaknesses of each system, I recommend that paleontologists should adopt the paleobotanical system more broadly.

Document Type

Accepted Version


This article is the author-created version that incorporates referee comments. It is the accepted-for-publication version. The content of this version may be identical to the published version (the version of record) save for value-added elements provided by the publisher (e.g., copy editing, layout changes, or branding consistent with the rest of the publication).


This is a post-peer-review, pre-copyedit version of an article published in Biology & Philosophy. The final authenticated version is available online at: https://dx.doi.org/10.1007/s10539-019-9680-4.

Original Citation

Leonard Finkelman
Crossed tracks: Mesolimulus, Archaeopteryx, and the nature of fossils.
Biology & Philosophy, 2019, volume 34, issue 2, article 28



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