The Palaeontology Portal

Introduction

A paleontologist at work at John Day Fossil Beds National Monument

Paleontology (/ˌpliɒnˈtɒləi, ˌpæli-, -ən-/), also spelled palaeontology or palæontology, is the scientific study of life that existed prior to, and sometimes including, the start of the Holocene epoch (roughly 11,700 years before present). It includes the study of fossils to classify organisms and study their interactions with each other and their environments (their paleoecology). Paleontological observations have been documented as far back as the 5th century BC. The science became established in the 18th century as a result of Georges Cuvier's work on comparative anatomy, and developed rapidly in the 19th century. The term has been used since 1822 formed from Greek παλαιός ('palaios', "old, ancient"), ὄν ('on', (gen. 'ontos'), "being, creature"), and λόγος ('logos', "speech, thought, study").

Paleontology lies on the border between biology and geology, but it differs from archaeology in that it excludes the study of anatomically modern humans. It now uses techniques drawn from a wide range of sciences, including biochemistry, mathematics, and engineering. Use of all these techniques has enabled paleontologists to discover much of the evolutionary history of life, almost all the way back to when Earth became capable of supporting life, nearly 4 billion years ago. As knowledge has increased, paleontology has developed specialised sub-divisions, some of which focus on different types of fossil organisms while others study ecology and environmental history, such as ancient climates. (Full article...)

Selected article on the prehistoric world and its legacies

Outcrop of the Triassic Moenkopi Formation at Red Butte, Arizona.
Outcrop of the Triassic Moenkopi Formation at Red Butte, Arizona.
Saadanius is a genus of fossil primate dating to the Oligocene that is closely related to the common ancestor of the Old World monkeys and apes, collectively known as catarrhines. It is represented by a single species, Saadanius hijazensis, which is known only from a single partial skull tentatively dated between 29 and 28 mya (million years ago). It was discovered in 2009 in western Saudi Arabia near Mecca and was first described in 2010 after a comparison with both living and fossil catarrhines.

Saadanius had a longer face than living catarrhines and lacked the advanced frontal sinus (airspaces in the facial bones) found in living catarrhines. However, it had a bony ear tube (ectotympanic) and teeth comparable to those of living catarrhines. The discovery of Saadanius may help answer questions about the evolution and appearance of the last common ancestors of Old World monkeys and apes. (see more...)

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A Metapelma archetypon preserved in amber
A Metapelma archetypon preserved in amber

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Selected article on paleontology in human science, culture and economics

Photograph of Edward Drinker Cope
Photograph of Edward Drinker Cope
Edward Drinker Cope (July 28, 1840 – April 12, 1897) was an American paleontologist and comparative anatomist, as well as a noted herpetologist and ichthyologist. Cope distinguished himself as a child prodigy, publishing his first scientific paper at the age of nineteen. Cope later married and moved from Philadelphia to Haddonfield, New Jersey, although Cope would maintain a residence and museum in Philadelphia in his later years.

Cope had little formal scientific training, and he eschewed a teaching position for field work. He made regular trips to the American West prospecting in the 1870s and 1880s, often as a member of United States Geological Survey teams. A personal feud between Cope and paleontologist Othniel Charles Marsh led to a period of intense fossil-finding competition now known as the Bone Wars. Cope's financial fortunes soured after failed mining ventures in the 1880s. He experienced a resurgence in his career toward the end of his life before dying in 1897.

Cope's scientific pursuits nearly bankrupted him, but his contributions helped to define the field of American paleontology. He was a prodigious writer, with 1,400 papers published over his lifetime, although his rivals would debate the accuracy of his rapidly published works. He discovered, described, and named more than 1,000 vertebrate species including hundreds of fishes and dozens of dinosaurs. His proposals on the origin of mammalian molars and for the gradual enlargement of mammalian species over geologic time ("Cope's Law") are notable among his theoretical contributions. (see more...)

On this day...

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A molar of the proboscidean Platybelodon grangeri

A molar of the proboscidean Platybelodon grangeri. This fossil dates between 5.3 and 14 million years ago to the Miocene epoch of the Neogene period. It was discovered in the Linxia Basin of Gansu Province, China and measures 20 × 9 × 6 cm in size.
Photo credit: Didier Descouens

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Topics

General - Paleontology - Fossil - Evolution - Extinction
History - History of paleontology - Bone Wars - List of years in paleontology2024 in paleontology2024 in paleoanthropology
Locations - List of dinosaur-bearing rock formations - List of fossil sites - Como Bluff - Coon Creek Formation - Dinosaur Cove - Dinosaur National Monument - Dinosaur Park Formation - Dinosaur State Park and Arboretum - Glen Rose Formation - Hell Creek Formation - Lance Formation - Morrison Formation - Red Gulch Dinosaur Tracksite - Two Medicine Formation
Paleontologists - Mary Anning - Robert T. Bakker - Barnum Brown - William Buckland - Edward Drinker Cope - Jack Horner - Gideon Mantell - Othniel Charles Marsh - John Ostrom - Dong Zhiming
Geologic Time - Paleozoic Era - Cambrian (Early Cambrian - Middle Cambrian - Furongian) - Ordovician (Early Ordovician - Middle Ordovician - Late Ordovician) - Silurian (Llandovery - Wenlock - Ludlow - Pridoli) - Devonian (Early Devonian - Middle Devonian - Late Devonian) - Carboniferous (Mississippian - Pennsylvanian) - Permian (Cisuralian - Guadalupian - Lopingian) - Mesozoic Era - Triassic (Early Triassic - Middle Triassic - Late Triassic) - Jurassic (Early Jurassic - Middle Jurassic - Late Jurassic) - Cretaceous (Early Cretaceous - Late Cretaceous) - Cenozoic Era - Paleogene (Paleocene - Eocene - Oligocene) - Neogene (Miocene - Pliocene) - Quaternary (Pleistocene - Holocene)
Fringe and Pseudoscience - Creationist perspectives on dinosaurs - Living dinosaurs
Popular Culture - Cultural depictions of dinosaurs - Jurassic Park (novel) - Jurassic Park (film) - Stegosaurus in popular culture -Tyrannosaurus in popular culture - Walking with...

Quality Content

Featured paleontology articles - Achelousaurus - Acrocanthosaurus - Albertosaurus - Allosaurus - Amargasaurus - Ankylosaurus - Apatosaurus - Archaeopteryx - Baryonyx - Carnotaurus - Catopsbaatar - Ceratosaurus - Chicxulub Crater - Compsognathus - Cretaceous–Tertiary extinction event - Daspletosaurus - Deinocheirus - Deinonychus - Deinosuchus - Dilophosaurus - Dinosaur - Diplodocus - Dromaeosauroides - Edmontosaurus - Elasmosaurus - Giganotosaurus - Gorgosaurus - Herrerasaurus - Iguanodon - Istiodactylus - Lambeosaurus - List of dinosaur genera - Majungasaurus - Massospondylus - Megalodon - Nemegtomaia - Nigersaurus - Opisthocoelicaudia - Paranthodon - Parasaurolophus - Plateosaurus - Psittacosaurus - Seorsumuscardinus - Spinosaurus - Stegosaurus - Stegoceras - Styracosaurus - Tarbosaurus - Thescelosaurus - Triceratops - Tyrannosaurus - Velociraptor
Good paleontology articles - Abelisauridae - Alioramus - Amphicoelias - Archaeoraptor - Batrachotomus - Ceratopsia - Coelurus - Dromaeosauridae - Giganotosaurus - Gryposaurus - Heterodontosauridae - Herrerasaurus - Hypacrosaurus - Kritosaurus - Othnielosaurus - Pachycephalosaurus - Saurolophus - Sauropelta - Scelidosaurus - Species of Allosaurus - Species of Psittacosaurus - Spinosaurus - Tyrannosauroidea

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