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Paleontology is the study of life on Earth through fossils. Fossils are what remains of living things preserved in rock such as plants, animals, fungi, and bacteria. Paleontology lies on the border between biology and geology, but it differs from archaeology in that it excludes the study of human artifacts and remains. Paleontologists use fossil remains to gain understanding of how extinct and living organisms lived. Paleontology is the study of the behavior of these organisms and the evolutionary history of the organisms. [1] Paleontology studies the ecologies of the past from gathering information from fossils. The science of paleontology brings together knowledge gained from biology, geology, ecology, anthropology, archaeology, and even computer science. Studying paleontology explains the evolution of different types of organisms since life began.[2]

Subdisciplines of paleontology

Paleontology can be divided into many subdisciplines or specialized field of study. Each subdiscipline focuses on a specific aspect relating to the fossil or the Earth.

Vertebrate paleontology

Vertebrate Paleontology is the study of animals with backbones. Animal fossils studied range from primitive fish to mammals. Paleontologists discovered and reconstructed skeletons. They also report on how the animals lived and the history of their evolutions.

Invertebrate Paleontology

Invertebrate Paleontologists study the fossils of animals without backbones; corals, crabs, shrimp. These animals do not have bones so the Invertebrate Paleontologists study the impressions the animals leave behind in the form of fossilized shells and exoskeletons. They also study and reconstruct prehistoric aquatic environments.


Paleobotanists study the ancient plants fossils. Impressions left one rock or plants themselves that have been preserved are studied. Paleobotanists study the evolution of plants. Paleoecology, the study of ancient environments, and paleoclimatology, the study of ancient climates, are studied and are researched along with paleobotony.


Micropaleontology is the study of microscopic fossils, such as algae, crustaceans, and pollen. Micropaleontologists use electron microscopes to study the these fossils. They also study the oldest fossils on earth, cyanobacteria- bluegreen algae.[3]

History of paleontology

Although ancient scientists recognized the fossils were remains of early life, they were unable to completely understand the fossils. Fossils were used for religious purposes and for decorative purposes in early civilizations. Greek and Roman scientists believed fossils were evidence of remains of life forms. Some early scientists even believed fossils were evidence of mythological creatures. Many believed that fossils even had special powers. Many scholars believed fossils were the remains of biblical occurrences, left by Noah's flood or other disasters . A Greek biologist named Xenophanes, found seashells on land and came to the conclusion that the land must have once been a seafloor. Shen Kuo, a Chinese scientist, had a theory on climate change that he related to fossilized bamboo. Ancient scientists did come to realize that fossils were a view to the past. [4]

It wasn't until the 1700's that the true paleontology began. That period of time was known as The Age of Enlightenment. Geologists concluded that rock layers were formed from sediment built up over time. Georges Cuvier and William Smith, were considered the pioneers of paleontology. They actually compared different rock layers in different areas, could be analyzed based on the fossils. Charles Lyell and Charles Darwin influenced how people viewed the history of Earth. Darwin suggested that new species evolved from old ones. <ref name=society,national geographic</ref

Paleontology today

Modern Paleontologists have many tools at their disposal that they utilize in their research and discovery of fossils. Electron microscopes are used to study the smallest fossils. X-Ray machines and CT scanners are used. Computer programs also help analyze, revisualize and reconstruct fossils. CT scanners can actually construct 3D representations of bones and tissue of organisms. Another modern day advantage is scientists get bone and tissue samples by extracting the materials from fossils. Even with all the modern day advancements and technologies, Paleontologists still also use the simple tools in the field.

See also

Other closely related articles in this wiki include:


  1. Society, National Geographic, and National Geographic Society. “Paleontology.” National Geographic Education. N.p., 29 Apr. 2011. Web. 31 Mar. 2016.
  2. UCMP. (n.d.). What is Paleontology? Retrieved April 19, 2016, from
  3. Sepkoski, D. (2014). Paleontology at the “high table”? Popularization and disciplinary status in recent paleontology. Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part C: Studies in History and Philosophy of Biological and Biomedical Sciences, 45, 133–138.
  4. Society, N. G., & Society, N. G. (2011, April 29). paleontology. Retrieved February 3, 2016, from

External links

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