Paleontology, sometimes spelled 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...
Cockroaches Probably Cleaned Up after Dinosaurs
Peter Vršanský, Thomas van de Kamp, Dany Azar, Alexander Prokin, L'ubomír Vidlička, Patrik Vagovič
published 04 Dec 2013
Selected article on the prehistoric world and its legacies
is a monospecific genus
of extinct sarcopterygian
(lobe-finned fish) from the late Devonian
period, about 375 Ma (million years) ago, having many features akin to those of tetrapods
Tiktaalik has a possibility of being a representative of the evolutionary transition from fish to amphibians. It is an example from several lines of ancient sarcopterygian fish developing adaptations to the oxygen-poor shallow-water habitats of its time, environmental conditions which led to the evolution of tetrapods.
It and similar animals may possibly be the common ancestors of the broad swath of all terrestrial fauna: amphibians, reptiles, birds, and mammals. The first well-preserved Tiktaalik fossils were found in 2004 on Ellesmere Island in Nunavut, Canada. (see more...)
Selected article on paleontology in human science, culture and economics
(1799 – 1847) was a British fossil collector
, and palaeontologist
who became known around the world for important finds she made in Jurassic
marine fossil beds in the cliffs along the English Channel
at Lyme Regis
in the county of Dorset
in Southwest England. Her work contributed to fundamental changes in scientific thinking about prehistoric life
and the history of the Earth
Mary Anning searched for fossils in the area's Blue Lias cliffs. Her discoveries included the first ichthyosaur skeleton correctly identified; the first two plesiosaur skeletons found; the first pterosaur skeleton located outside Germany; and important fish fossils. Her observations played a key role in the discovery that coprolites, known as bezoar stones at the time, were fossilised faeces. She also discovered that belemnite fossils contained fossilised ink sacs like those of modern cephalopods.
Anning did not fully participate in the scientific community of 19th-century Britain, who were mostly Anglican gentlemen. She struggled financially for much of her life. Her family was poor, and her father, a cabinetmaker, died when she was eleven. She became well known in geological circles in Britain, Europe, and America. Nonetheless, as a woman, she was not eligible to join the Geological Society of London and she did not always receive full credit for her scientific contributions. After her death in 1847, her unusual life story attracted increasing interest. (see more...)
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