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Introduction

Kolihapeltis 01 Pengo.jpg
Trilobite (Kolihapeltis), Early Devonian (c. 400 million years old), Morocco.
Paleontology, palaeontology or palæontology (from Greek: παλαιό (palaio), "old, ancient"; όν (on), "being"; and logos, "speech, thought") is the study of prehistoric life forms on Earth through the examination of fossils. This includes the study of body fossils, tracks (ichnites), burrows, cast-off parts, fossilised faeces (coprolites), palynomorphs and chemical residues.

Modern paleontology sets ancient life in its context by studying how long-term physical changes of global geography paleogeography and climate paleoclimate have affected the evolution of life, how ecosystems have responded to these changes and have adapted the planetary environment in turn and how these mutual responses have affected today's patterns of biodiversity. Hence, paleontology overlaps with geology (the study of rocks and rock formations) as well as with botany, biology, zoology and ecology – fields concerned with life forms and how they interact.

The major subdivisions of paleontology include paleozoology (animals), paleobotany (plants) and micropaleontology (microfossils). Paleozoologists may specialise in invertebrate paleontology, which deals with animals without backbones or in vertebrate paleontology, dealing with fossils of animals with backbones, including fossil hominids (paleoanthropology). Micropaleontologists study microscopic fossils, including organic-walled microfossils whose study is called palynology.

There are many developing specialties such as paleobiology, paleoecology, ichnology (the study of tracks and burrows) and taphonomy (the study of what happens to organisms after they expire). Major areas of study include the correlation of rock strata with their geologic ages and the study of evolution of lifeforms.
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Selected article on the prehistoric world and its legacies

Artists's restoration of the Triassic aetosaur Desmatosuchus found at Petrified Forest National Park.

Aetosaurs (order name Aetosauria) are an extinct order of heavily armoured, medium- to large-sized Late Triassic herbivorous archosaurs. They have small heads, upturned snouts, erect limbs, and a body covered by plate-like scutes. All aetosaurs belong to the family Stagonolepididae. Two distinct subdivisions of aeotosaurs are currently recognized, Desmatosuchinae and Aetosaurinae, based primarily on differences in the morphology of the bony scutes of the two groups. Over 20 genera of aetosaurs have been described.

Aetosaur fossil remains are known from Europe, North and South America, parts of Africa and India. Since their armoured plates are often preserved and are abundant in certain localities, aetosaurs serve as important Late Triassic tetrapod index fossils. Many aetosaurs had wide geographic ranges, but their stratigraphic ranges were relatively short. Therefore, the presence of particular aetosaurs can accurately date a site that they are found in.

Aetosaur remains have been found since the early 19th century, although the very first remains that were described were mistaken for fish scales. Aetosaurs were later recognized as crocodile relatives, with early paleontologists considering them to be semiaquatic scavengers. They are now considered to have been entirely terrestrial animals. Some forms have characteristics that may have been adaptations to digging for food. There is also evidence that some if not all aetosaurs made nests. (see more...)

Selected article on paleontology in human science, culture and economics

The Tree of Life as depicted by Ernst Haeckel in The Evolution of Man (1879) illustrates the 19th-century view that evolution was a progressive process leading towards man.
Evolutionary thought, the conception that species change over time, has roots in antiquity. With the beginnings of biological taxonomy in the late 17th century, a new anti-Aristotelian approach to modern science challenged traditional essentialism. Naturalists began to focus on the variability of species; the emergence of paleontology with the concept of extinction further undermined the static view of nature. In the early 19th century, Jean-Baptiste Lamarck proposed the first fully formed theory of evolution.

In 1858, Charles Darwin and Alfred Russel Wallace published a new evolutionary theory that was explained in detail in Darwin's On the Origin of Species (1859). Unlike Lamarck, Darwin proposedcommon descent and a branching tree of life. The theory was based on the idea of natural selection, and it synthesized a broad range of evidence from animal husbandry, biogeography, geology, morphology, and embryology.

The debate over Darwin's work led to the rapid acceptance of the general concept of evolution, but the specific mechanism he proposed, natural selection, was not widely accepted until it was revived by developments in biology that occurred during the 1920s through the 1940s. Before that time most biologists argued that other factors were responsible for evolution. The synthesis of natural selection with Mendelian genetics during the 1920s and 1930s founded the new discipline of population genetics. Throughout the 1930s and 1940s, population genetics became integrated with other biological fields, resulting in a widely applicable theory of evolution that encompassed much of biology—the modern evolutionary synthesis. (see more...)

Did you know?

A Zigrasimecia tonsora preserved in amber
A fossil of Cycadeoidea marylandica on display at the National Museum of Natural History, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C., USA.
  • ... that it is all but impossible to match up species known by leaves with those known by trunks in the prehistoric cycad-like genus Cycadeoidea?
  • ... that the fossil stick insect Eoprephasma was described from two isolated forewings?
  • ... that the practice of insect husbandry by ants is at least 15 million years old?
  • ... that a fossil of the extinct monitor lizard Saniwa preserves cartilage, scales, and even a wind pipe?
  • ...that a fossil specimen of Pelagosaurus was found with the remains of a Leptolepis in its stomach?

Selected picture

A fossil of the trilobite Pseudoasaphus praecurrens

A fossil of the trilobite Pseudoasaphus praecurrens. This specimen dates back 460 – 468 Million years ago to the Darriwilian age of the Middle Ordovician epoch and was discovered near Saint Petersburg, Russia in the Koporka River deposits. It is 18.4 x 10 x 4.4 cm in size and has a mass of about 580g.
Photo credit: Didier Descouens

Topics

General - Paleontology - Fossil - Evolution - Extinction
History - History of paleontology - Bone Wars - List of years in paleontology
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 - Acrocanthosaurus - Albertosaurus - Allosaurus - Archaeopteryx - Chicxulub Crater - Compsognathus - Cretaceous–Tertiary extinction event - Daspletosaurus - Deinonychus - Deinosuchus - Dinosaur - Diplodocus - Gorgosaurus - Iguanodon - Lambeosaurus - List of dinosaurs - Majungasaurus - Massospondylus - Parasaurolophus - Psittacosaurus - Stegosaurus - Styracosaurus - Tarbosaurus - Thescelosaurus - Triceratops - Tyrannosaurus - Velociraptor
Good paleontology articles - Abelisauridae - Alioramus - Amphicoelias - Ankylosaurus - "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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