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Updated Mar 19, 2023
Goal: To encourage your interest in palaeontology, the branch of science concerned with fossil animals and plants.
Use the following questions and strategies to stimulate the discovery of paleontology.
Palaeobotany - (from the Greek words paleon = old and "botany", study of plants), is the branch of paleontology or paleobiology dealing with the recovery and identification of plant remains from geological contexts, and their use for the biological reconstruction of past environments (paleogeography), and both the evolutionary history of plants, with a bearing upon the evolution of life in general.
Palaeoanthropology - combines the disciplines of palaeontology and physical anthropology, is the study of ancient humans as found in fossil hominid evidence such as petrified bones and footprints.
Palaeonichtheology - the study of fossil fish
Palynology - the study of plant pollen, spores and certain microscopic plankton organisms (collectively termed palynomorphs) in both living and fossil form.
Zoologists - who also research the development of animal diseases, sometimes known as animal scientists or animal biologists because zoology is the branch of biology that deals with the animal kingdom.- modern animals
Evolution - the process by which different kinds of living organisms are thought to have developed and diversified from earlier forms during the history of the earth; the gradual development of something, especially from a simple to a more complex form.
Fossil Record - somewhat like an enormously complex jigsaw puzzle with many pieces still missing. Our interpretation of this record has been biased by differential preservation. Some species are underrepresented or have not yet been found. We are left with a somewhat blurred picture of portions of the past, especially the early past. Despite these realities, we have been able to piece together a remarkable understanding of the evolution of life on our planet.
Fossils - the remains or impression of a prehistoric organism preserved in petrified form or as a mold or cast in rock. People often think of fossils as being mineralized bones or shells stored in museums. However, they can be any remains or traces of ancient organisms. They even can be footprints, burrows, or casts of bodies with nothing else surviving.
Some of the best preserved fossils were rapidly frozen in permafrost soil or ice, dehydrated in dry desert caves, or encased in tree resin that hardened into amber. In any of these three environmental conditions, even soft body parts can be remarkably well preserved indefinitely.
Taphonomy - the study of the conditions under which plants, animals, and other organisms become altered after death and sometimes preserved as fossils. Research into these matters has shown that fossilization is a rare phenomenon. In order for a fossil to form, the body must not be eaten or destroyed by erosion and other natural forces.
Preservation would most likely occur if the organism were buried quickly and deeply. In most environments, soft body parts, such as skin, muscle, fat, and internal organs, deteriorate rapidly and leave no trace. Only very rarely do we find the casts of such tissues.
Similarly, the totally soft-bodied creatures, like jellyfish, are very uncommon fossils. Hard body parts, such as dense bones, teeth, and shells, are what most often are preserved. It is likely that the vast majority of fossils will never be found before they are destroyed by erosion. That coupled with the fact that extremely few living things are preserved long enough after death to become fossils makes the large collections of fossils in the museums of the world quite remarkable. It is a testament to the tenacious searching by fossil hunters over the last two centuries.