Elvis, Zombie and Lazarus Taxon


A Lazarus taxon is a group of organisms that has disappeared from one or more periods of the fossil record, thought to be extinct, only to appear again later. The term refers to the account in the Gospel of John, in which Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead.

An Elvis taxon is a group of organisms which has been misidentified as having re-emerged in the fossil record after a period of presumed extinction, but is not actually a descendant of the original taxon, instead having developed a similar morphology through convergent evolution. By contrast, a Lazarus taxon is one which actually is a descendant of the original taxon, and highlights missing fossil records, which may be found later.

A zombie taxon or the zombie effect refers to a fossil such as a dinosaur tooth that was washed out of sediments and re-deposited in rocks and/or sediments millions of years younger. This basic mistake in the interpretation of the age of the fossil leads to its title. The discovered fossil was at some point mobile (or “walking”) while the original animal or plant had long been dead. When this occurs the fossil is described as a “reworked fossil”.