Article by: Adam Manning
Edited by: J. D. Dixon and Harry T. Jones
Any fan of the Pokémon franchise will likely be familiar with the Fossil Pokémon archetype. Since the very first games, the player has been able to locate fossils and resurrect those they find or are given in their journey and add them to their team. As you may have guessed, these fossil Pokémon take inspiration from real life fossils and most even have the ROCK type, a nod to their origins as fossil rocks. So in this lighthearted article, what does the Pokémon franchise get right and where do they get creative with these extinct monsters?
In the very first Pokémon games, Red, Blue, and Yellow, there were 3 fossils available. The Helix Fossil gifts the player an Omanyte. This is a ROCK/WATER type and is based on an ammonite, one of the most common and recognisable fossils in the world. Its depiction is fairly accurate, looking how you would expect a cartoon version of an ammonite to look. Similarly, Kabuto, another ROCK/WATER type, is based on trilobites and again has a cartoon resemblance, as well as an accurate typing as trilobites were exclusively aquatic. Their evolutions are both much more elaborate and less realistic, but both are still discernible to their origins, which is often the case with these fossil Pokémon.
The last fossil Pokémon of this Gen is Aerodactyl, a ROCK/FLYING type. This Pokémon comes from an Old Amber, which is likely a reference to Jurassic Park, where they obtain dinosaur DNA from mosquitoes trapped in amber. Whilst this method seems extremely farfetched, there have been recent finds of very small reptiles trapped and preserved in amber. However, a creature as large as an Aerodactyl is simply too big to be preserved like this. The inspiration for Aerodactyl comes from pterosaurs, more specifically the earlier pterosaurs called Rhamphorynchoids which typically had longer tails and teeth, just like this Pokémon. However, it is distinctly heavier-looking than the delicate pterosaurs of the early Mesozoic but is still a recognisable reinterpretation.
The following games in the series, Gold, Silver, and Crystal, didn’t add any new fossil Pokémon. The next batch would come in the third set of games, Ruby, Sapphire, and Emerald. They introduced the root fossil, which can be resurrected into a Lileep. Lileep is possibly the most unique fossil Pokémon, as its origins are not easily identifiable. Whilst it comes from a root fossil and has a partial GRASS typing, it does not seem to be based on a fossilised plant. Instead, its lore, which states it lived on the seafloor, hints at the inspiration of crinoids, which also have a long column and arms around the ‘head’. The other fossil that can be obtained is the claw fossil, which turns into the Pokémon Anorith. A ROCK/BUG type, Anorith clearly takes its inspiration from Anomalocaris, a Cambrian arthropod and one of the first large predators to evolve.
Diamond, Pearl, and Platinum also added two new fossil Pokémon and provided an interesting method to obtain them. In these games, the player must dig them out of tunnels in an underground section instead of being gifted them, allowing the player to be a palaeontologist in the field for the first time. In this game, the skull fossil can be turned into the Pokémon Cranidos. Again, this Pokémon clearly takes inspiration from the dinosaur clade Pachycephalosauria, ornithischian dinosaurs characterised by their reinforced skulls. Like Craniodos, pachycephalosaurs likely used their heads in fights over territory and mates, although this is debated, and were susceptible to extreme injury from these fights, unlike Pokémon.
The other fossil that can be obtained is the armour fossil, which evolves into Shieldon. A ROCK/STEEL type, it and its evolution Bastiodon seem to be based on Ceratopsia, specifically Protoceratops for Shieldon. These Pokémon are much more cartoony in their appearance, with literal shields for their faces, whilst ceratopsian dinosaurs had head frills that covered their necks. It is stated in their lore that these Pokémon are virtually impenetrable from the front. This is not the case for most ceratopsian dinosaurs. Many of them had large imposing frills, but the frills of most species would have been fairly weak. Instead, these frills would have been used for social and sexual display amongst their species and could have been used to intimidate potential predators by making the animal appear bigger.
Pokémon Black & White added the Cover and Plume Fossils, which evolved into two new Pokémon, Tirtouga and Archen. Tirtouga is based on fossil turtles and looks exactly like a cartoon turtle. Its evolution, Carracosta, is likely based on the Archelon, a giant prehistoric turtle, measuring 4.6 m in length, from the Late Cretaceous. However, Carracosta is shown to be able to walk on land on two legs, which Archelon couldn’t do, making it very inaccurate but reflecting the terrestrial origins of the turtle group.
Archen and its evolution Archeops are heavily based on Archeopteryx and other stem birds. Like Archeopteyrx, Archen and Archeops have teeth, a long bony tail, and claws on their forelimbs, but they have wings and feathers just like a modern bird. Archeops is capable of flight, even if they are not very good at it. Overall, these Pokémon are very accurate to their fossil inspirations.
Pokémon X & Y introduced the Jaw and Sail fossils. The Jaw fossil regenerates into Tyrunt, which evolves into the fearsome Tyrantrum. Dual ROCK and DRAGON types, these Pokémon are clearly based on the most famous dinosaur of all, Tyrannosaurus rex, and have a fairly accurate design for a cartoon T. rex, with a large jaw and disproportionately small arms, but they do seem to have more of an upright posture than T. rex would have been capable of. Its lore is accurate as well, including mentions that it might have had feathers, similar to T. rex, and that it had a bite strong enough to tear through metal – this is also accurate. It has been estimated that an adult T. rex could bite with a force of up to 57,000 Newtons through a single tooth, and robotic models have shown that T. rex could tear apart a car.
The Sail fossil regenerates into Amaura, which evolves into the beautiful Aurorus. A ROCK ICE type, these Pokémon are clearly based on the sauropod dinosaurs. However, the appearance of Aurorus isn’t very accurate. It is most likely based on the sauropod dinosaur Amargasaurus cazaui. In Aurorus, the designers have used the proposed theory that the long spines of Amargasaurus supported sails, which has now been refuted. Interestingly, when I started this article I assumed that the ICE typing and cold habitat of Auroros was another inaccuracy. However, there is evidence for sauropods living and breeding in polar regions. Isolated sauropod teeth dating back to the Early Cretaceous were found in Eastern Siberia, and one tooth was from a juvenile, suggesting that they stayed in high latitudes all year round and would breed there. This was a fantastic surprise that speaks to the diversity and success of the sauropod group, to be able to adapt to polar regions, and reminds myself and others to check our assumptions!
Finally, we have the latest Pokémon games, Sword and Shield, and the most interesting take on fossil Pokémon. In this generation, there are four fossils you can obtain, the Fossilized Bird, Drake, Fish, and Dino. These fossils appear to be based on the Velociraptor, Stegosaurus, Dunkleosteus, and Plesiosaurus, respectively, although it’s difficult to tell. These fossils can be combined with two of the other fossils from this generation to create different Pokémon when they are revived, creating strange Frankenstein’s monster-like creatures.
On the positive side, it is interesting that they have included incomplete fossils. The Fossilized Bird, for example, is only the head, torso, and forearms. This reflects how in real life, it is very rare to find perfect complete fossils and we have to reconstruct the animal from only a few bones that have been preserved. However, I personally do not like the fossil Pokémon of this generation. They appear to reference early palaeontology and the inaccuracies of our early assumptions of these creatures. This is best seen in the Crystal Palace Park sculptures, where the dinosaurs look like large, sluggish lizards rather than active and warm-blooded animals. At the time, fossils were sometimes reconstructed incorrectly (to our current knowledge), for example, the dinosaur Iguanodon was reconstructed to have its horn on its head and not on its thumbs. All of this is accurate to our early understanding, and I enjoy the premise they were going for, but I don’t like the extreme way they executed it. Early palaeontologists often had extreme assumptions and biases about the fossils they described, but it is very far fetched that they wouldn’t realise the preposterous anatomy of these Pokémon is inaccurate, and it doesn’t make sense why it would stay that way when they started reviving them accurately. Of course, this is my personal opinion, and I am aware I am critiquing a children’s game!
Overall, the Pokémon franchise has done a fantastic job of adapting and incorporating a diverse range of fossil creatures into their games and keeping them recognisable while incorporating their real-life characteristics into game mechanics. Most of all, it helps us to appreciate the creativity that goes into beloved games like these and helps introduce concepts to young audiences that they can learn about in detail later.
 Left: some of the fossil Pokémon available in the game. Middle: a Pikachu, dressed up as Alan Grant from Jurassic Park. Right: the real-life inspirations for the fossil Pokémon pictured on the left. Taken from Bulbabpeida.
Information References and Further Sources
 Averianov, A. O., Skutschas, P. P., Schellhorn, R., Lopatin, A. V., Kolosov, P. N.,
Kolchanov, V. V., Vitenko, D. D., Grigoriev, D. V., and Martin, T. (2019). ‘The northernmost sauropod record in the Northern Hemisphere’, Lethaia, 53, pp. 362–368. Accessed 10th August 2021. Click Here.
 Bates, K. T., and Falkingham, P. L. (2012). ‘Estimating maximum bite performance in Tyrannosaurus rex using multi-body dynamics’, Biology Letters, 8 (4). Accessed 10th August 2021. Click Here.
 Bulbapedia ‘Fossil’. Available at: https://bulbapedia.bulbagarden.net/wiki/Fossil. Accessed 10/08/2021.
 Farke, A. A., Chapman, R. E., and Andersen, A. (2010). ‘Modeling Structural Properties of the Frill of Triceratops’, in Ryan, M. J., Chinnery-Allgeier, B. J., and Eberth, D. A. New Perspectives on Horned Dinosaurs: The Royal Tyrrell Museum Ceratopsian Symposium. Indiana University Press. pp. 264-270. Accessed 10th August 2021. Click Here.
 Jaffe, A. L., Slater, G. J., and Alfaro, M. E. (2011). ‘The evolution of island giantism and body size variation in tortoises and turtles’, Biology Letters, 7 (4), pp. 558-561. Accessed 2nd September 2021. Click Here.
 Knapp, A., Knell, R. J., and Hone, D. W. E. (2021). ‘Three-dimensional geometric morphometric analysis of the skull of Protoceratops andrewsi supports a socio-sexual signalling role for the ceratopsian frill’, Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, 288 (1944). Accessed 10th August 2021. Click Here.
 Peterson, J. E., Dischler, C., and Longrich, N. R. (2013). ‘Distributions of Cranial Pathologies Provide Evidence for Head-Butting in Dome-Headed Dinosaurs (Pachycephalosauridae)’, PLOS ONE, 8 (7). Accessed 10th August 2021. Click Here.
 VanBuren, C. S., Campione, N. E., and Evans, D. C. (2015). ‘Head size, weaponry, and cervical adaptation: Testing craniocervical evolutionary hypotheses in Ceratopsia’, Evolution, 69 (7), pp. 1728-1744. Accessed 10th August 2021. Click Here.