The subject taphonomy is dealing with the transition of organic remains from the biosphere into the lithosphere. It comprises all processes affecting an animal body from its death until the analysis of its remains by scientists. Beginning with the cause of death it includes research on agents like transport, putrefaction, weathering, trampling, erosion or diagenesis. Analysis focuses on effects of heat, cold, draught, water, fire, wind, carnivores, rodents and other animals, plants, micro-organisms, chemical agents, tools and last but not least the scientific analysis and inventory itself.
Taphonomic agents cause a loss of information. They are the reason for the fact that we never dig up an unmodified image of the past. In fact every past object or site has been modified in numerous ways. If the taphonomy is not considered misinterpretations can be the result. On the other hand taphonomic research provides important insights about the history of the feature.
The term taphonomy is based on the Greek word taphos (grave) and was invented by Ivan Efremov in 1940. It replaced the term biostratonomie published in the 1920s by Johannes Weigelt.