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Portal:Paleontology

Introduction

A paleontologist at work at John Day Fossil Beds National Monument

Paleontology, also spelled palaeontology or palæontology (/ˌpliɒnˈtɒləi, ˌpæli-, -ən-/), 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 interactions with each other and their environments (their paleoecology). Paleontological observations have been documented as far back as the 5th century BCE. 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.

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Selected article on the prehistoric world and its legacies

Artist's restoration of Spinosaurus.
Spinosaurus is a genus of theropod dinosaur which lived in what is now North Africa, from the lower Albian to lower Cenomanian stages of the Cretaceous period, about 112 to 97 million years ago. This genus was first known from Egyptian remains discovered in 1912 and described by German paleontologist Ernst Stromer in 1915. The best known species is S. aegyptiacus from Egypt, although a potential second species S. maroccanus has been recovered from Morocco.

Spinosaurus may be the largest of all known carnivorous dinosaurs. Estimates published in 2005 and 2007 suggest that it was 12.6 to 18 metres (41 to 59 ft) in length and 7 to 20.9 tonnes (7.7 to 23.0 short tons) in weight. The skull of Spinosaurus was long and narrow like that of a modern crocodilian. Spinosaurus is known to have eaten fish; evidence suggests that it lived both on land and in water like a modern crocodilian. The distinctive spines of Spinosaurus, which were long extensions of the vertebrae, grew to at least 1.65 meters (5.4 ft) long and were likely to have had skin connecting them, forming a sail-like structure. Multiple functions have been put forward for this structure, including thermoregulation and display. (see more...)

Selected article on paleontology in human science, culture and economics

The evolution of tetrapods from fishes.
A transitional fossil is any fossilized remains of a life form that exhibits traits common to both an ancestral group and its derived descendant group. This is especially important where the descendant group is sharply differentiated by gross anatomy and mode of living from the ancestral group. These fossils serve as a reminder that taxonomic divisions are human constructs that have been imposed in hindsight on a continuum of variation. Because of the incompleteness of the fossil record, there is usually no way to know exactly how close a transitional fossil is to the point of divergence. Therefore, we can't assume transitional fossils are direct ancestors of more recent groups, though they are frequently used as models for such ancestors.

In 1859, when Charles Darwin's On the Origin of Species was first published, the fossil record was poorly known. Indeed, Archaeopteryx was discovered just two years later and represents a classic transitional form between dinosaurs and birds. Many more transitional fossils have been discovered since then, and there is now abundant evidence of how all classes of vertebrates are related, much of it in the form of transitional fossils. The phrase missing link has been used extensively in popular writings on human evolution to refer to a perceived gap in the hominid evolutionary record. It is most commonly used to refer to any new transitional fossil finds. Scientists, however, do not use the term, as it refers to a pre-evolutionary view of nature. (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?

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A small slab of rock pr

A 95-million-year-old slab of fossiliferous rock from Hakel, Lebanon measuring 24 cm in width. The specimen prominently preserves a member of the lobster genus Pseudostacus as well as the fish Diplomystus birdii A fragmentary specimen of an additional fish, Dercetis triqueter, is visible in the lower right-hand corner of the specimen.
Photo credit: Brocken Inaglory

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 - 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 - 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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