Paleontology or palaeontology () 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 determine organisms' evolution and 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 itself originates 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 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, about 3.8 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.
On this day...
Early Triassic Marine Biotic Recovery: The Predators' Perspective
Torsten M. Scheyer, Carlo Romano, Jim Jenks, Hugo Bucher
published 19 Mar 2014
The Earliest Colubroid-Dominated Snake Fauna from Africa: Perspectives from the Late Oligocene Nsungwe Formation of Southwestern Tanzania
Jacob A. McCartney, Nancy J. Stevens, Patrick M. O’Connor
published 19 Mar 2014
A New Large-Bodied Oviraptorosaurian Theropod Dinosaur from the Latest Cretaceous of Western North America
Matthew C. Lamanna, Hans-Dieter Sues, Emma R. Schachner, Tyler R. Lyson
published 19 Mar 2014
Selected article on the prehistoric world and its legacies
is an extinct rodent
from the Pleistocene
of Buenos Aires Province
. Although known only from a single maxilla
(upper jaw) with the first molar
, its features are so distinctive that it is placed in its own genus
. Discovered in 1998 and formally described in 2008, it is part of a well-defined group of oryzomyine
rodents that also includes Holochilus
, and Pseudoryzomys
. This group is characterized by progressive semiaquatic
specializations and a reduction in the complexity of molar morphology
The single known molar is high-crowned (hypsodont) and flat-crowned (planar) and is distinctive in lacking the ridge that connects the front to the middle part of the molar, the anterior mure, and in the configuration of another ridge, the mesoloph. Carletonomys was probably herbivorous and lived in a wet habitat. (see more...)
Selected article on paleontology in human science, culture and economics
The history of paleontology
traces the history of the effort to study the fossil
record left behind by ancient life forms. Although fossils had been studied by scholars since ancient times, the nature of fossils and their relationship to life in the past became better understood during the 17th and 18th centuries. At the end of the 18th century the work of Georges Cuvier
ended a long running debate about the reality of extinction
and led to the emergence of paleontology
as a scientific discipline.
The first half of the 19th century saw paleontological activity become increasingly well organized. This contributed to a rapid increase in knowledge about the history of life on Earth, and progress towards definition of the geologic time scale. As knowledge of life's history continued to improve, it became increasingly obvious that there had been some kind of successive order to the development of life. After Charles Darwin published Origin of Species in 1859, much of the focus of paleontology shifted to understanding evolutionary paths.
The last half of the 19th century saw a tremendous expansion in paleontological activity, especially in North America. The trend continued in the 20th century with additional regions of the Earth being opened to systematic fossil collection, as demonstrated by a series of important discoveries in China near the end of the 20th century. There was also a renewed interest in the Cambrian explosion that saw the development of the body plans of most animal phyla. (see more...)
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