The preservation of compounds of biological origin (nucleic acids, proteins, carbohydrates, lipids, and resistant biopolymers) in terrigenous fossils and the chemical and structural changes that they undergo during fossilization are discussed over three critical stratigraphic levels or “time slices.” The youngest of these is the archeological record (e.g., <10 k.y. b.p.), when organic matter from living organisms undergoes the preliminary stages of fossilization (certain classes of biomolecule are selectively preserved while others undergo rapid degradation). The second time slice is the Tertiary. Well-preserved fossils of this age retain diagenetically modified biomarkers and biopolymers for which a product–precursor relationship with the original biological materials can still be identified. The final time slice is the Carboniferous. Organic material of this age has generally undergone such extensive diagenetic degradation that only the most resistant biopolymers remain and these have undergone substantial modification. Trends through time in the taphonomy and utility of ancient biomolecules in terrigenous fossils affect their potential for studies that involve chemosystematic and environmental data.
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