ta·​phon·​o·​my tə-ˈfä-nə-mē How to pronounce taphonomy (audio)
: the study of the processes (such as burial, decay, and preservation) that affect animal and plant remains as they become fossilized
also : the processes themselves
taphonomic adjective
taphonomist noun

Examples of taphonomy in a Sentence

Recent Examples on the Web DeBruyn is an environmental microbiologist at the University of Tennessee studying how animal, including human, remains become part of the environment — a field sometimes referred to as taphonomy. Joan Meiners, Discover Magazine, 6 Aug. 2020 Watch a Lizard Decay and a Gecko Catch a Fly The scientific practice of recreating the fossilization process is called taphonomy. Rachael Lallensack, Smithsonian, 7 June 2019 The taphonomy of how skin and protofeathers preserve, or do not, is little known, and the positive presence of skin can’t automatically be taken as an indication protofeathers were absent. Brian Switek, Scientific American Blog Network, 14 June 2017 Paleoanthropological and paleoecological implications of the taphonomy of a sabertooth’s den Journal of Human Evolution, 29 (6), 515-547 DOI: 10.1006/jhev.1995.1074 MILFORD H. WOLPOFF, JOHN HAWKS, BRIGITTE SENUT, MARTIN PICKFORD, JAMES AHERN (2006). Brian Switek, WIRED, 20 Jan. 2011

These examples are programmatically compiled from various online sources to illustrate current usage of the word 'taphonomy.' Any opinions expressed in the examples do not represent those of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback about these examples.

Word History


Greek taphē burial + English -nomy

First Known Use

1940, in the meaning defined above

Time Traveler
The first known use of taphonomy was in 1940

Dictionary Entries Near taphonomy

Cite this Entry

“Taphonomy.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/taphonomy. Accessed 4 Mar. 2024.

Love words? Need even more definitions?

Subscribe to America's largest dictionary and get thousands more definitions and advanced search—ad free!