Soils are the skin of the earth. From both poles to the equator, wherever rocks or sediment are exposed at the surface, soils are forming through the physical and chemical action of climate and living organisms. The physical attributes (color, texture, thickness) and chemical makeup of soils vary considerably, depending on the composition of the parent material and other variables: temperature, rainfall and soil moisture, vegetation, soil fauna, and the length of time that soil–forming processes have been at work. United States soil scientists1 have classified modern soils into ten major groups and numerous subgroups, each reflecting the composition and architecture of the soils and, to some extent, the processes that led to their formation. The physical and chemical processes of soil formation have been active throughout geologic time; the organic processes have been active at least since the Ordovician.2 Consequently, nearly all sedimentary rocks that were deposited in nonmarine settings and exposed to the elements contain a record of ancient, buried soils or paleosols. A sequence of these rocks, such as most ancient fluvial (stream) deposits, provides a record of soil paleoenvironments through time.
Paleosols are also repositories of the fossils of organisms (body fossils) and the traces of those organisms burrowing, food–seeking, and dwelling activities (ichnofossils). Indeed, most fossil primates are found in paleosols. Careful study of ancient soils gives new, valuable insights into the correct temporal reconstruction of the primate fossil record and the nature of primate paleoenvironments.