Paleontology, 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 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.
On this day...
Selected article on the prehistoric world and its legacies
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
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?
- ... 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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