Fossils and Coal Formation

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Updated on Apr 18, 2013

Coal is a fossil fuel that is formed from organic materials. Millions of years ago vegetation that died and piled up in layers slowly, over time formed into peat. After many more years the pressure of sediment and other rock pressing down on the peat forced all moisture out thus leaving coal. Coal is a vital natural resource that can be used for heat and electric energy.


How do fossils form? How do fossils contribute to the formation of coal?


  • Plant leaves
  • Fern fronds
  • Twigs
  • Sand
  • Plastic container such as shoe box


  1. Pour about 6 inches of water into the container. Spread about 2 inches of fine sand in the bottom.
  2. Drop in twigs, fern fronds, and leaves. Make a prediction of what will happen after a week and a half. Place the container in a ventilated area that will not allow the smell to invade your house!
  3. After a week and a half, record your observation of the container.
  4. Next, pour about 1 inch of sand on top of the rotting matter. What happens? Record your observations.
  5. Carefully pour off the water and allow the material to dry. Observe the layers. Which layer do you predict will eventually turn into coal if given enough time? Allow the container to sit for two or three more days.
  6. Observe the matter again. Record any changes.
  7. Remove a sample of the sediment. Can you find any evidence of the plant life that you originally placed in the container? How is this like the fossils preserved over time on Earth? How are these fossils aiding in coal formation?
Angela Pike has been in the world of elementary education for almost a decade, working as a classroom teacher, school writing specialist, and later a school administrator. After a recent leave from the education realm to stay at home with her children, she channeled her passion for education, science, and writing into a composing articles and educational activities for various companies.

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