Calibrating levels of time resolution that are accessible in the fossil record is important in understanding what evolutionary phenomena can be profitably studied using fossils. A model for attritional bone assemblage formation in fluvial deposits, based on observations of taphonomic processes in modern environments, provides order-of-magnitude estimates for time intervals represented in single unit, ‘contemporaneous' vertebrate samples. In order to form units with adequate material for analysis of morphological variation or paleoecological associations, it appears that bones must be spatially concentrated or stratigraphically condensed by sedimentary processes or biological agencies. In many cases this means that significant periods of time will be represented by single unit assemblages. According to predictions from modern environments, carcasses contributed through normal attrition can accumulate in the soil to ‘fossiliferous' densities over time intervals of 102–104 yrs. Attritional channel assemblages include bones from three sources: floodplain land surfaces, floodplain deposits, and the active channel, and represent time intervals on the order of 102–104 yrs. Given additional limitations on the composition of the fossil sample imposed by circumstances of preservation, outcrop availability and collecting strategy, attritional fluvial assemblages probably can be resolved only to 103 years even under the best conditions. Time intervals represented by fossils are not necessarily the same as those represented by sedimentary events in fluvial systems because bones can continue to accumulate and may be concentrated during times of erosion or non-deposition. Fluvial vertebrate assemblages of comparable taphonomic history can be used to document evolutionary changes over periods longer than their finest level of time resolution. While they may not be applicable to questions of punctuated or gradual transitions over shorter time scales, the longer-term patterns should have their own evolutionary significance.